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AIA Design for Livability

Oct 23, 2009

By Amanda Bryan, VIA Architecture

It never fails to amaze me how resilient and innovative human kind can be, when out of seemingly overwhelming adversity, a people can be mobilized into aspiring citizens of change. As I participated in this year’s Design for Livability: Sustainable Cities conference, I sensed such resilience and high aspirations in the crowd as it leaned forward in anticipation for the great solution to the problems before us. The problems we face are not just economic nor are they issues which affect merely Seattle residents and so the AIA, Cascade Land Conservancy, and UW School of Built Environments tackled the conference from both the local and regional scale. Building upon a foundation of education, presenters were encouraged to share their many experiences and projects as a teacher would share its knowledge with its pupils.

The topics of the conference ranged widely, covering issues such as ailing infrastructure ripe for overhaul, alternative ecosystem markets, large ecodistricts as a solution for overbuilt utilities, non-profits as motivators of change, formulaic changes in single family developments to combat sprawl, and typological changes in multifamily zones to revive a waning population of children. Like Karen True from Friends of Third Place Commons in her presentation Creating and Activating Great Places, the presenters aired their thoughts passionately and compellingly. The topics themselves gravitated towards interdisciplinary action that not only relied upon large scale governmental shifts but also community action.

If there was one key message I got out this conference, it was that the all too political word “Change” isn’t just about electing the correct official or voting for the right propositions (although this helps), it’s about taking what you’ve got and ‘throwing it into the pot’ to form a collective will. This might mean becoming a group activist or maybe as little as simply volunteering in a community group a few hours a month. Either way we become active participants in our society rather than mere observers.

As we have all watched the economy shift and budgets stretch to cover the endless needs demanded of cities and communities, people have both figuratively and literally ‘rolled up their sleeves’ and made use of their resources. I think this conference is yet another representation of this resilience and similar future events will mark our generation as persevering innovators for those we leave behind.