With each election cycle, the stakes are high when it comes to future regulations that affect the built environment. And while architects may be short on time outside of their design duties, the AIA’s DesignVote initiative has made it a lot easier to engage in the voting process.
DesignVote, which started in 2008, is an AIA initiative that provides details on local, state, and federal elections such as where and when the elections take place, and where candidates and sitting legislators come down on the issues that matter to architects. “DesignVote is not an effort by the AIA to tell its members how to vote,” says Adam Melis, director of political affairs and engagement at the AIA. “It’s an effort by the AIA to help provide information related to the election.” DesignVote does this by detailing legislators’ voting history and Congress’s bill sponsorship records.
Participation at the local level is integral to DesignVote’s success. AIA chapters are on the front lines, ready to engage candidates early on and have them go on record about where they stand in regard to the built environment, explains Melis, who cites AIA Los Angeles as a good model for local chapter participation. Its Mayor Candidate Forums allow voters to probe a candidate on a range of issues, such as environmental and economic sustainability, resource conservation, enhanced mobility and access, community health, social justice, and planning for complete communities, says AIA Los Angeles executive director Nicci Solomons.
AIA Los Angeles also hosts a regular meet-and-greet breakfast and a Legislative Day at City Hall as a way to build relationships between civic leaders and members. AIA Indiana has had similar success with its AIA Indiana Days at the Statehouse program. “We’ve set up days all throughout the legislative session, sometimes two or three days a week, when we are inviting our members into the statehouse where they literally become lobbyists for the day,” says Jason Shelley, director of AIA Indiana/Indianapolis.
“I’ve been a registered lobbyist since 1997, so most legislators know me,” Shelley adds. “But if I am able to bring in one of their constituents or voters who is an architect, [and] they are more interested in talking to one of them, then that’s the beginning process of hopefully starting that relationship.”
While some of these events are meant to engage current legislators, they also pay dividends in the future—especially when those lawmakers may move on to higher elected offices, Shelley says.
The involvement of up-and-coming architects is also key to DesignVote’s efficacy. When younger architects participate in the electoral process, they are more likely to continue to participate over the long term. Melis outlines two ways that architects, interns, and architecture students can advocate for their profession: “One, volunteer in a campaign and let that candidate know that they are training or that they are an architect; and, two, volunteer for your local AIA chapter and say, ‘I want to help organize events related to DesignVote or meet with elected officials.’ ”
“As a profession, architects need to be engaged, then help shape the rules they have to play by,” Solomons says. “If architects aren’t civically engaged, then they aren’t going to have an easy time being architects.”
To learn more, visit aiadesignvote.org.