Monday, October 12, 2015

Elected Citizen Architect

San Jose, CA Post Office (now Museum)
  An interesting topic has emerged on Bob Borson's group topic discussion in "ArchiTalks." The topic is "Citizen Architect."

As one of the few women elected officials nationwide - who also happens to be a licensed architect, this topic is of great interest to me. I am a Napa, CA City Councilmember, elected in 2006, re-elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2014.

 On a regular basis, I encourage my architect colleagues to jump in and help on committees, working groups, boards, commissions, non-profit leadership, service clubs, and neighborhood associations. Since so many architects tend to be introverted, there is often resistance. My dear friend and a former City Council member is famous for saying "Come on. It'll be fun!" I've tried that line with other architects, and FUN does not seem to be their motivating factor. What I have found that resonates is, "We have a problem with _____, and need some "good heads" to help solve this problem. Can you come to a meeting on ______?" Or, "We need to generate some ideas to solve _____ (problem x)." 

Architects are trained problem solvers. Architects can generate ideas better and faster than any other "civic-minded" group. They are not judgmental, but instead are open-minded and used to working on complex problems with diverse groups of people. They are excellent volunteers.

At the heart of the "Polis" - or City - is high-functioning self-government. According to Plato, the four qualities of a "just city" are wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. He did not discuss infrastructure.

There is a lot of infrastructure in a modern city. Just think about how often an architect deals with the streets, water supply, sanitary sewer, electric utilities, gas utilities, cable and fiber optic lines, storm sewers, trees, sidewalks, traffic management, parks, and city planning. Along with "wisdom, courage, moderation and justice," architects know how to get things done in the complex world we live in. 

When I go on a campaign to "save" an historic building, I turn to a non-profit group, Napa County Landmarks, whose board is heavily weighted with - architects.

Save the Historic Napa Post Office
Help Save Our Historic Napa Post Office

Recently I attended the League of California Cities Annual Conference in San Jose, CA. Of great interest to me was a city that would build this Romanesque structure to house their Post Office. Then, when the Post Office was no longer interested in occupying the building, the city turned the structure into a signature element of their museum. 
San Jose Museum of Art
I encourage other architects to take that step to help shape the "Polis" or "City" where they live. The city will be richer for it - wherever that city is. 

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