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Making Politics Local

Sept. 29, 2016

Legislation often affects the design community, whether we recognize it or not.

Voter fatigue … political apathy … election ennui. I don’t know about you, but I am so tired of the endless rhetoric that I am tempted to tune out any time politics comes up.

But as a U.S. citizen who knows what a privilege it is to be able to vote, and as the new chair of the ASID Board of Directors, I realize that politics goes beyond electing a president every four years. We are surrounded by issues, many of them local, which directly impact
us and our businesses. It is our responsibility to support legislation and vote for candidates who are aligned with our interests, and unify our voices with kindred spirits. ASID is on the forefront of many legislative issues that have a direct impact on our design practices, even though the connection may not be immediately apparent. Let me give you an example.

In 2009, during the depths of the U.S. recession, my firm, Steinberg, opened an office in Shanghai—our fourth office and the first overseas. The expansion was an immediate success, and soon we were being asked to design everything from hotels to office towers, while also developing master plans. However, in mid-2015, the Chinese economy began to falter and eventually tanked. Our Chinese clients started to make investments in California but hit a few roadblocks, including a big one called the Foreign Investment in Real Property Act (FIRPTA).

Since the 1980s, the FIRPTA has hampered investments in construction projects in the U.S. ASID realized that a revision to this law would expand commercial real estate investment across the nation—and cash-rich foreign developers would need interior designers to design their new office towers, apartments, condos, and hotels. So, ASID put its legislative weight behind efforts to revise FIRPTA. In December 2015, Congress passed the Real Estate Investment and Jobs Act, freeing up an influx of new funds to boost construction. Here at Steinberg, we are now working on six high rises and many other small projects across California, with a combined construction value of nearly $750 million.

It’s important to note that the passage of the FIRPTA revision was supported by the entire ASID community, even those who are not commercial designers. In the future, there will certainly be other issues that will not directly affect my own practice but will be good for our entire profession, and I will be there to speak up. It’s this mutual support and unity that is the core of the ASID “One Voice” initiative: small businesses and large firms, from all sectors of interior design, working as one to advance our industry and to support each other. We can use One Voice to amplify our messaging so that everyone, including our elected officials, understands the impact that interior design has on the human experience.

There are many other topics in interior design that may not appear to be political in nature but are potentially legislation related: universal design, ADA, the adoption of the new WELL standard, and incentivizing adaptive reuse and building repositioning. Paying attention to these issues means that I am localizing my politics. So, yeah, maybe you can’t wait for the presidential race to be over. But please, remember that politics isn’t just about the White House; politics, especially local races, can affect your house.

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

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