About The AIAPrograms & Initiatives
By Phoebe Patton Randolph, AIA
Chairperson, Livable Communities Committee
West Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
In February of 2005, a small group of AIA West Virginia members gathered at our Hale Street offices in Charleston to discuss the formation of a Livable Communities Committee. The idea was generated from the concept of a smaller scale community design assistance program similar to AIA National’s Communities by Design (AIA CxD) Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) and Rural and Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) programs. Later we were told by CxD that they had dubbed our process “Mini-DAT” and that we were the first chapter in the country to form this type of committee.
The concept was simple: Offer free design assistance to communities around the state who were organized and trying to effect change but did not have the resources or skills to organize the community, come up with concepts and express them graphically. Our idea was: if we could listen to the wants and needs of the community and visually represent them in a conceptual way, all the while implementing the AIA’s principles of livable, sustainable communities, then community leaders would have a powerful tool to pursue funding and otherwise gain momentum for their efforts. Believing that ‘a rising tide raises all ships,’ our intent was to bring architects to the planning table to influence development in its early stages.
We began by sending an introductory packet to every city, county and regional planning department in West Virginia, including a Livable Communities brochure provided by CxD. We included a letter stating our goals as a committee and the resources that we offer. Since that time, our committee has grown from eight core members to over thirty. We have completed successful projects in two communities, with six others now on our waiting list. We have developed a program that emphasizes citizen involvement, considers economic sustainability and offers the opportunity to bring ‘fresh eyes’ to the community.
The major challenge that we face as a committee is the fact that we are all volunteers. Each of us has responsibilities within our respective firms, as well as busy family and social lives. Even so, our members are really excited about the work that we do and are willing to volunteer their time for community meetings, walking tours, design charettes, etc. We travel throughout the state for meetings, with only fuel costs being reimbursed by our Committee’s limited budget.
We work to involve local architects and designers who live in the communities because of their vested interest and intimate knowledge of the needs, obstacles and opportunities in the area. We partner with affiliated design associations, such as the West Virginia ASLA Chapter, recognizing their volunteer and knowledge resources as well.
To limit taking billable time away from our practices, most meetings take place on weekends. Staff resources that are needed to produce the final project concept board are donated by a firm, with printing costs covered by our Committee budget.
West Virginia has an interesting dynamic when it comes to the AIA because we have one chapter for the entire state. While our chapter’s numbers may be relatively small - currently there are 108 architects and 70 associates, with a total membership of 311 – nearly all (93% +) of the in-state registered architects are AIA members. There exists a remarkable camaraderie among our members, which has helped our committee work together.
Even in a smaller state, the mountainous terrain makes for long drive times for volunteers traveling to and from communities that are in need of assistance. But with the successes that we have already experienced and a largely untapped potential for economic growth, we are encouraged to continue our work. Through the determination, organization and dedication of our small but committed group, West Virginia’s communities are realizing the value of increased livability and a positive sense of place.
(to view a larger version of the Old Main Corridor project board, click here)
Phoebe Patton Randolph, AIA, is the Chair of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects Livable Communities Committee. The Old Main Corridor project has received local media attention in recent months, including this article in the Herald Dispatch. Visit the West Virginia Livable Communities website for more information about their program, or contact them via email.