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Finding Your Community

Oct. 24, 2016

Acting within communities now reaches far beyond what is local geographically.

I can’t put my finger on when it started, but it seems that every menu now lists the provenance of its cheeses and meats. Boutique shops and large stores alike host events that invite customers to meet the artists and designers behind the wares they sell. Farmers’ market stands are piled with produce grown locally as well as driven in from hundreds of miles away. The Nextdoor app and online network has supplanted bulletin boards at the local library. And “glocalization”—selling local goods internationally, and adapting global goods for local markets—has become a buzzword. So exactly what does it mean these days to support one’s community? What exactly is my community?

These days, I think the definition of community morphs, depending on the topic. For example, when specifying materials, LEED has taught us to favor manufacturers located within 500 miles of the project. By doing so, not only do we lower the carbon footprint of transporting those materials to the site, but we are also then supporting our local or regional firms: a win-win.

To lower construction costs, we’ve been taught to use methods that the local labor force is familiar with so we don’t have to hire expensive talent from far away. We’re also then providing employment for those who live nearest to us and helping the local economy.

My firm, Steinberg, works with many developers, some with a global presence while others are more regionally focused. They hire us to design multifamily projects that are thoughtfully distinct from those of their competitors, and often this means imbuing a local vibe to the spaces. One project, for example, consists of live-work lofts in Los Angeles’ Arts District, a vibrant, eclectic area where former factories and warehouses have given way to the hippest of bars and galleries. So, we’re hiring local muralists to create wall art, and we’re incorporating light fixtures that a local artist creates from bike chains she gets from downtown bike shops.

But the definition of community goes beyond geographic boundaries when we’re talking about communities of people with common interests. The Internet has made it possible for anyone with wi-fi (or a modem) to find kindred spirits in even the most arcane subjects. And websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, and Yelp were founded based on the notion of community, even though their users are people who may never meet in real life.

ASID is both a local and virtual community. Our members are made up of designers at every stage of their careers, who practice all types of design, for all sorts of clients. They operate their own firms, and they work for firms with thousands of employees. They live in small towns as well as huge cities. ASID strives to elevate the entire profession of interior design, and we do so by listening to what’s happening globally and looking out for the interests of designers practicing in their local areas. Our members can connect in person if they wish, at chapter events as well as national programs. Or they can go use our myriad online resources and learn about the latest in biophilic design, keep up with industry trends, or better manage their business’ cash flow, for example.

We also believe that the best designs are created with multidisciplinary teams, and that the issues the world faces are best tackled with others. So we have partnered with the International WELL Building Institute and many other organizations to tackle such challenges as building for human health and improving wellness through technology.

As I recently shared with the fantastic interior design students at the University of Arkansas, joining the ASID community was the best career move that I ever made. From my UCLA Extension student chapter, to the local L.A. chapter, to various national ASID councils, and now to the national ASID Board of Directors, I’ve met so many smart, talented designers who continue to inspire me every day, and who have helped me develop into a leader.

We’re so lucky to live in an age where we can choose to interact with countless communities. So if people ask if you are involved in your community, ask them, “Which one?” It doesn’t matter how you define community. The only caveat is, you’ve got to get involved, or else you’re just a bystander, and what’s the fun in that?  

Charrisse Johnston, ASID, LEED AP BD+C, Associate AIA, is the Chair of the Board of Directors and a principal and the firm-wide interior design practice leader at Steinberg Architects. Learn more about ASID at ASID.org.

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