2020 Review & Hope for the Future: A Letter From Chapter President Cynthia Williams

It has been my privilege to serve as President of AIA Cincinnati over the past year. Defined by the coronavirus pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and subsequent uprisings nationwide, and a contentious election, 2020 has been a year filled with tumult but also with hope for a better future. The past twelve months have shown us the urgency of remaining engaged with our local, state, and national AIA networks to enact positive change in the months and years to come.

When Ohio’s first “stay at home” order was issued in mid-March, AIA Cincinnati immediately began postponing in-person programs and events, subsequently pivoting to offer them virtually. No longer constrained by geography and traffic, we partnered with all of the other chapters in Ohio to open our programs to each other, thus increasing the offerings to our members and the public. We continued to offer our VISION series of monthly lectures and classes and graduated eleven emerging leaders in October. Our Custom Residential Architects’ Network awards program (CRANawards) successfully premiered online in August, and the Cincinnati Design Awards (CDA) followed suit in November. While we were disappointed that we could not celebrate our Sesquicentennial Anniversary in person, (after all that only happens once!), we welcomed AIA national President Jane Frederick, FAIA to the virtual event, and enjoyed a presentation by Paul Muller, AIA on the history of AIA Cincinnati from the comfort of our homes.

Last summer, our Urban Design committee launched a series of programs titled “Dismantling Racism,” which offer space for discussion about how racism has shaped—and continues to shape—our communities and the profession of architecture, and what we as architects can do to dismantle it. Just last week nearly 200 people tuned in to the most recent session– “The Color of Law: Government Policy and Racial Segregation,” a talk and panel discussion on the government policies that codified residential segregation in American cities and their continued impact on our urban communities, with author Richard Rothstein and local experts Fritz (Charles F.) Casey-Leininger, Ph.D., Associate Professor Emeritus in the University of Cincinnati Department of History, and Alona Ballard, Education Outreach Manager for Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Greater Cincinnati. Planning is underway to continue this series in the coming months.

As fall arrived, our Local Advocacy Working Group offered a round table discussion on becoming a citizen architect, and hosted conversations with candidates for Hamilton County Commissioner, a format we plan to continue next year with local races including the one for mayor of Cincinnati. Also this fall, our Academy committee continued its Academy Educational Summit with programs on office culture, professional liability, new infrastructure to sustain accessible and healthy workplace environments, and new techniques to defend against airborne particulates and pathogens in indoor environments.

As we look back on 2020, we ask: “What have we learned?” We know that we are all anxious to gather in person again; we know that we can extend our reach to a wider audience with virtual programming; and one of our priorities is to continue to offer programs virtually even after it is safe for us to hold them in-person again. We know that there is much work to do to combat systemic racism; we know that many in our community are committed to grappling with it; and we plan to continue exploring the role of design practice in dismantling racism, leading from awareness to action. We know that our nation remains politically divided; we know we can effect change by participating as citizen architects and engaging candidates for local office; and we plan to continue our Advocacy programs.

Our work continues. Please be well, remain engaged, and let us know if you have ideas we can include.

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