by Kavitha Mathew, AIA
Five years in, AIA New York’s Civic Leadership Program has continued to attract design professionals interested in learning more about local government, advocacy, and community engagement. During the brief lifespan of the program, our city, nation, and world have seen more change than anyone could have predicted. Shifting priorities have benefitted from an already nimble model, in which prior year’s participants act as advisors and help shape the program for the current year’s class. While the program has adapted to a changing landscape, underlying commitment to encourage design professionals to recognize and act upon their agency to make a larger positive impact on our communities has remained constant.
Initiated by members of the AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA), and inspired, in part, by the results of the 2016 presidential election, the inaugural year was focused on political engagement and encouraged participants to run for elected office. Since then, we have had to navigate issues including escalating political polarization, a global pandemic, economic disparity and distress, racial injustice, social unrest, and a surge of gun violence threating public safety.
The class of 2021 was initiated into the program during a kickoff event held on June 12 that included AIANY and nycoba|NOMA leadership, an alumni panel, and guest speakers. The latest participants were also given space to share their own ideas, inspirations, and visions for the future. The expanding CLP alumni network has served as a source of support and encouragement, creating a welcoming environment for discourse around the most complex and distressing challenges facing us today.
What do those involved with the program say?
How has your involvement with CLP shaped your career path or goals?
The Civic Leadership Program directly impacted my involvement with AIA New York and was part of my path to co-chairing the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. I think the program also reaffirmed and re-energized my own commitments to equity and the wide-ranging impacts that architects can have in the civic and political arena. (Amanda Miller, Class of 2018)
The Civic Leadership Program has encouraged me to dedicate my time, energy, and unique skills to causes and organizations outside of the office. Participating in the program also gave me the confidence I needed to take on a larger leadership role in my local political club, while reinforcing the important influence I can have within my workplace. (Stephanie Jones, Class of 2020)
My involvement with the CLP has introduced me to a growing group of designer, architect, and planner alumni who are committed to development of the civic realm. For me personally, the CLP has opened pathways and potential next steps in my career that would not have been apparent to me otherwise. My interests as an architect have always been about exploring ways to activate, engage, and diversify the public realm. Through the program, I have been introduced to the people and organizations I will depend on for guidance as I continue to grow as a civic leader. (Christopher Perrodin, Class of 2020 and 2021 Advisor)
CLP has shaped how I approach my workplace by giving me the structure and the outlook on how to change the system within. I am currently involved in a Designing for Equity task group that is pushing to radically shape how we as a firm equitably approach design. CLP has taught me the importance of my individual voice as well as the collective voice to enact change that will hopefully bring about a more fair and just built environment. (Betsy Daniel, Class of 2020 and 2021 Advisor)
What is an important way that the program has evolved over the years?
The program remains nimble and adaptable, which I think is key to responding to the unique fabric and circumstances of each class. Additionally, I look forward to the input from a now critical mass of alumni on how to continue moving CLP forward. (Amanda Miller, Class of 2018)
I appreciate the organized effort by CLP alumni and AIANY leadership to continue expanding and re-defining how civic leadership happens and who is a civic leader. (Christopher Perrodin, Class of 2020 and 2021 Advisor)
What is the potential impact of partnering with organizations like nycoba|NOMA for the future success of the CLP?
Partnering with peer organizations such as nycoba | NOMA expands the reach of the Civic Leadership Program. The charge to be a citizen architect extends beyond AIA and should be embraced by the entire profession, regardless of membership affiliations. (Amanda Miller, Class of 2018)
The CLP’s partnership with nycoba|NOMA is a critical first step in making sure that all backgrounds and voices are represented within the AIA. It is exciting that CLP can be an example for positive social change among the design professions. (Stephanie Jones, Class of 2020)
Partnering with nycoba|NOMA increases the range of perspectives brought to the table. There is potential for more groups to come into contact with CLP and increase its efficacy and CLP can help other groups in return. (Christopher Perrodin, Class of 2020 and 2021 Advisor)
What was your most beneficial takeaway from the program?
The Civic Leadership Program is truly a shared learning experience—I enjoyed broadening my perspective through the insights of my peers, as well as the excellent group of speakers we had the privilege to learn from and with. (Amanda Miller, Class of 2018)
The program gave us an opportunity to have difficult conversations with our peers and guests, conversations that I wouldn’t have previously had the courage or self-assurance to face at all, let alone in a professional setting. In addition to the practical skills-building, I left the CLP with a better understanding of the influence and impact I as a designer and citizen can have in my community. (Stephanie Jones, Class of 2020)
The most critical perspective I gained was that civic leadership takes a long time to develop (years! Whole careers!). Leadership cannot be gained quicker than the speed of trust between people, so the goal of a civic leader should be to find ways to build trust before trying to push for change. I also found it invaluable to draw inspiration from and build connections with my fellow CLP classmates. It is a major benefit to know that I have support from my cohort for my interests and can lend support to them for their interests. (Christopher Perrodin, Class of 2020 and 2021 Advisor)
The ability to meet with local officials, as well as advocate on behalf of AIA New York, were such vital takeaways from the program. Also, the ability to engage with the various stakeholders that make our city run, whether they be community groups, advocates, professionals, or local officials. CLP has helped me understand that a lot of folks are doing the hard work and it is our role of as designers to insert ourselves to in order to provide support, rather than expecting to serve as the lead driver. (Betsy Daniel, Class of 2020 and 2021 Advisor)
Why would you recommend the program to potential applicants?
I found that the Civic Leadership Program provided a safe space to grow and critically evaluate the role of the architect in civic life. The program also cultivates a community, now composed of over 50 design professionals who are committed to promoting the talents and skills of architects in the civic realm. (Amanda Miller Class of 2018)
I would recommend the program because I would want to share with potential applicants the platform and support to explore new areas of the civic realm. The CLP would provide them the opportunity for a much deeper dive into areas they may already be familiar with. (Christopher Perrodin, Class of 2020 and 2021 Advisor)
As the main liaison between AIA New York and nycoba|NOMA for the CLP, what is your take on the program thus far?
Although I’ve heard about AIANY’s CLP for a couple of years now, I never imagined that I would be a part of it. However, since being asked to be nycoba|NOMA’s liaison, I’ve already had a great opportunity to witness how future leaders are made. (Talisha Sainvil, 2021 CLP/ nycoba|NOMA liaison)
How can the partnership benefit participants and both professional organizations?
The CLP has so far been a great opportunity for the newest cohort to learn how to use their voices to enact change. By being in this unique position, of basically being in the cohort myself as well as being on the advisory team, I have already gotten an introduction to what it means to be and advocate for good causes and how to build a strong support network where people of varying backgrounds and points of view can tap into useful resources that will strengthen their causes. The benefit of having the nycoba|NOMA partnership for the first time has been shown in the application pool, the topics that are being discussed, and, ultimately, in the expanded network of resources that are available to the cohort. (Talisha Sainvil, 2021 CLP/ nycoba|NOMA liaison)
What do you hope the program will offer to participants this year and in the future?
It is my hope that this partnership between nycoba|NOMA and the CLP will continue through future cohorts and that the topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion will unfold into a true dialogue wherein minority voices can not only be heard but resonate where they may not have before. (Talisha Sainvil, 2021 CLP/ nycoba|NOMA liaison)
Learn more about the Civic Leadership Program and check our calendar for CLP-hosted events and programs.