Denver Street Level… with a Stroller, A Guest Post from a new(ish) Mother

Nothing re-contextualizes a city’s public, street-level environment quite like having an infant in tow.  While life’s errands and events were once a seamless rhythm of transitions from home to mode of transport to destination, leaving the house as a new parent comes with an entirely new choreography.

Six months into parenthood, while I’ve eased up a bit since the early months, I still catch myself considering a list of logistics rivaling a CIA operative about to embark on a strategic mission each time I leave the house. 

What mode of transportation should I bring—a stroller or a baby carrier?   Are there sidewalks? And if so, what condition are they in? How long will I be out?  Can I run multiple errands while visiting one location?  Will this location have a changing station and/or nursing room?  Is the space I am visiting outdoors or indoors, and what additional blankets or shading do I need to temper my baby’s microclimate? 

Prior to parenthood, there were many specific ways in which I engaged with the city’s urban fabric.  As a practicing architect working near the heart of Downtown Denver, I have ridden on my fair share of entertaining mallrides, felt the warm glow of the cosmopolitan bustle at Union Station, and spent many dusky Friday evenings perusing Rino’s cultural and epicurean venues.  A fan of local businesses, seasonal markets, and public parks, I have walked and biked through many of Denver’s unique, rapidly-developing neighborhoods.

Fast-forward to early parenthood.  Suddenly my means of navigating the city has become less about novelty and more about predictability.  Prior to having an infant, I hadn’t considered IKEA’s sinuous walking paths, set amongst the backdrop of carefully-organized living environments, as an exercise and entertainment destination on a rainy day.  Nor did I appreciate the diversity of merchandise available under the roof of America’s beloved Super Target.  Despite my proximity to Cherry Creek North, I didn’t give much thought to what I now consider one of the more well-planned pedestrian environments in the City of Denver.

Borrowing Bob Dylan’s words, things have changed.

As a new mother that aspires to remain an active, urban-dweller throughout maternity leave and beyond, here are several planning features that might facilitate a positive parent outing/ experience.  While most of these planning principles cater to universal design strategies, these features have quickly become important enhancements to the quotidian routines of early parenthood.

  1. Wide, flat sidewalks with curb cuts and generous indoor circulation paths.

Many Colorado parents opt for all-terrain strollers that support the state’s “active lifestyle.”  These strollers tend to have a wide frame and impressively-large all-weather tires.  While navigating narrow, cracked sidewalks and jumping curbs might appeal to those that enjoy testing their strollers’ off-roading capabilities, a smooth and barrier free experience remains preferable while pushing perhaps such precious cargo.

While the Denver Post recently reported that the City of Denver’s 2017 operating budget has earmarked $2.5 million for new or fixed sidewalks on city-owned property.  Perhaps more challenging is how Denver might provide assistance in improving neighborhood sidewalks that fall within the responsibility of the homeowner.

This principle also applies to the idea that indoor spaces have wide circulation paths that might accommodate strollers in aisle-ways and areas surrounding displays in retail environments.

  1. Mixed-use retail environments that mimic the urban microcosm.

Three months into parenthood, I’ve appreciated mixed-use developments that necessitate only one trip via car or public transportation.  Upon arrival, being able to accomplish many activities and tasks on-foot without having to open and fold a heavy stroller or strap a sleeping baby in-and-out of a carrier numerous times creates a more enjoyable experience for all participants involved.

My new-found appreciation of Cherry Creek North stems from its rich diversity of programming and thoughtful attention to the pedestrian scale and public space(s).  In many ways creating a parallel to a small village, one might meet a friend for coffee or a meal, pick up groceries and other household items, fit in a workout, stop by the library, and/or engage in a round of retail therapy all in one trip.  These activities are enhanced by a pleasant pedestrian scale that boasts wide sidewalks and pedestrian-preferred crosswalks, ample landscaping and benches, continuous stretches of active, ground-level retail, and fairly inexpensive metered parking.

  1. Clean, sanitary restroom facilities that go beyond code. 

On a recent trip to Japan, I was struck by the universal design features in the majority of public spaces, transportation hubs, and cultural institutions.  Besides the elaborate electric toilets with multiple cleansing options, each accessible stall had an infant seat in which a child under six months could be placed while their mother used the facilities.  This small addition to public amenities would make a seemingly simple need safe and less awkward for parents out with their child.

Upon expecting, several new mothers I met told me of their appreciation for Nordstrom bathrooms, which boast comfortable couches and areas for privacy in nursing/resting while shopping with an infant.

A little extra care and investment in public restrooms for functions such as nursing and changing enable parents to feel more comfortable in leaving the house for extended stretches of time.

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of public, urban parks.

During the first two months of life, a newborn is not vaccinated, and it is typically recommended by the Pediatrician that parents avoid confined areas.

So where to go to get out of the house?

Public parks and open spaces within walking-distance of neighborhoods are critical resources for exercise, fresh air, and an opportunity to “reconnect” with the outside world.

I can’t count how many times I walked around Washington Park during the first few weeks of my child’s life (sometimes twice in one day,) but I know that this beloved public park served as a savior of both my sanity and post-pregnancy recovery.

While babies grow quickly, the first several years of life provide parents with numerous considerations that seem counter to a spontaneous, out-the-door approach to small and large outings.  My hope is that as Denver continues to grow, design features that demonstrate empathy and sensitivity to parents with young children might be incorporated in new and existing public spaces, cultural institutions, and neighborhoods and mixed-use developments.

 

Guest Post: Emily Axtman – “Finding Our Voices” – recap of AIA Grassroots 2017

This week’s guest post is by Emily Axtman, who recently attended AIA Grassroots in Washington D.C. as a representative of the AIA Colorado North Section. The following post originally appeared on the WORKSHOP8 blog (it has been edited to fit this format).

emily grassroots

I have had the opportunity over the last year and a half to serve on the Colorado North AIA Board as the Associate Director (2016) and now the President-Elect (2017). Every year, the President-Elect and President of each region travel to Washington, D.C. for the annual Grassroots Conference, an AIA leadership event. Grassroots brings together AIA members from around the country to talk about the most pressing issues we face within our communities and how architects can take leadership roles to create healthier, more sustainable architecture that will improve the built environment for all. It was an eye-opening, inspiring three-day event that will have a lasting impression in my mind for years to come.

A few B I G picture items came to me on this trip:

  • Exposure to diversity is key to combating fear. In this political climate of fear, diversity is key.
  • I have a voice. I have an opportunity and a responsibility to use that voice.
  • We really are stronger together.

Lesson 1: Exposure to diversity is key to combating fear: Public transportation is an amazing way to expose yourself to diversity. It provides a means for every walk of life to get from point A to point B. When you are put into situations where you are in close proximity to those whom you do not know, you are more likely to understand that he and she are actually quite similar to you. While traveling to D.C. I witnessed a few situations like this: a Latino man and a European man striking up a conversation about their pasts and similarities, a Muslim airport worker leading a blind man onto the tram, and a train security guard helping out two homeless people on the train. Watching people of varied backgrounds show each other compassion and understanding re-affirmed that all is not lost– and that public transportation rocks!

Day 1

On the first day of the conference, we had the chance to sit down with members of Congress to discuss federal issues that are important to our AIA Members and our professional community. Stacee Kersley, the North President, and myself sat down with Congressman Jared Polis’ Senior Legislative Assistant, Blaine Miller-McFeeley, to discuss ways in which young architects can help serve their communities in exchange for student loan assistance. It was a successful and rewarding conversation; and a great experience for me as a young designer. After visiting Congressman Polis’ office, we sat in on both the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate. It just so happened that the very day we were visiting Capitol Hill was also International Women’s Day. As I walked across the US Capitol lawn, I stumbled upon a women’s equal rights protest. It was awesome– free speech! It made me proud to be a woman, a designer and an American- with a voice.

Lesson 2: I have a voice. I have an opportunity and a responsibility to use that voice.

Day 2

The second day of the conference was the official kick-off. We spent the day getting to know the AIA National Board, learning about what professionals are doing around the country to better their communities and gaining skills to become more effective leaders.

“WE CAN CHOOSE TO LIVE WHERE WE WILL HAVE THE LIGHTEST URBAN FOOTPRINT.”

Jeff Speck, City Planner and Urban Developer of Speck and Associates, blew me away with his lecture on “Walkable Cities”. Check out his new book “Walkable City” here. TED talk here.

“WE CAN’T CONSUME OUR WAY OUT OF THE PROBLEM.”

Jean Carroon, Principal at Goody Clancy, reminded us of the importance and value that existing buildings have in contributing to our future urban fabric in her lecture “Heritage Cities”. She stated that there are thousands upon thousands of square feet of existing buildings waiting to be re-used. And that “Old is the new, new”. Check out her book “Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings” here. One of her lectures on historic preservation here.

“URBAN RESILIENCY IS THE ABILITY OF A CITY TO WITHSTAND DISASTER… NOT JUST THE IMMEDIATE SHOCKS.”

Michael Berkowitz, President of Resilient Cities and Managing Director at the Rockefeller Foundation, spoke about the necessity to equip cities around the world with tools to be more resilient against the physical, social, and economic challenges we currently face.

“THE BEST WAY TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN IS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE.”

Tom Dallessio, President, CEO & Publisher of Next City, Philadelphia, challenged architects to think critically about what a 21st Century City is and how architects have the ability to shape our cities in positive ways.

And all this was before noon. The rest of the day focused on leadership workshops and gave everyone the time to connect with like-minded professionals. Throughout the day as I connected with more and more people, I realized that we are all working towards the same goals and had similar outlooks and hopes for the future. I felt as though I was a part of this big national team of designers, all pushing forward with support from each other.

Lesson 3: We really are stronger together.

Day 3

The third day focused on leadership workshops such as “Speak Like a Pro” and “Managing Cultural Differences.” The final keynote speaker: Catherine Pugh, Mayor of Baltimore, spoke of the unique capability architects have to create change for the better.

“BECAUSE THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT IS NOT SIMPLY BUILDINGS,” PUGH SAID, “BUT THE POTENTIAL TO SOLVE REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS THROUGH DESIGN.”

Overall, the 2017 Grassroots Conference was incredible. I am thankful to the AIA Colorado for this experience and to WORKSHOP8 for supporting me throughout my AIA Board roles.

 

AIA Contract Provision Void

In early March, 2017 the Colorado Court of Appeals determined a key AIA Contract Provision was void and unenforceable in a residential project.

In Broomfield Senior Living v. R.G. Brinkmann , the Court of Appeals considered whether Section 13.7.1 of the AIA Form A101-1997 Contract was enforceable against the ownership of a senior living project.

Section 13.7.1 of the AIA contract generally states that any defect claims against the general contractor must be filed within a specified date from substantial completion of the project.

The A101 contract is a popular agreement used by owners and general contractors in construction. In this instance, it was entered into between a national general contracting firm and a national company that builds and operates senior living centers.

Brinkmann argued that the AIA’s statute-of-limitations provision (using “substantial completion” as the starting point) reflected the parties’ intent to deviate from Colorado’s 2 year statute of limitation.  The appellate court concluded that such deviation was in violation of the express purpose of the Homeowners Protection Act (“HPA”).  The decision pivoted on the determination that the senior living community was “residential” in nature.   By declaring the project to be “residential,” the Colorado Court of Appeals nullified the concept that commercially-sophisticated parties can consent to modify the statute-of-limitations by adopting long-standing AIA contract language.

Commercial contractor should be aware that Section 13.7.1, which is found in several AIA contract forms, won’t be enforced in any Colorado project involving the construction of “residential” living units.

What’s in a name?

Intern. The term that has been the source of debate, ridicule, scorn, and general hair pulling for years. Until this past December, the AIA regarded all unlicensed persons practicing architecture as “interns”, much to the dismay of… just about everyone. The term was seen as demeaning to those who go to work every day and put in the time and work at a professional architectural practice. It was seen as a title that should have been left behind as soon as that person walked across the stage and was handed a diploma from their NAAB accredited program. Finally, though, there is movement forward.

In December of 2016, the AIA opted to pivot away from using intern to describe all unlicensed persons working in the field of architecture. Instead, it will now only refer to those that are still in school and working at a professional architecture practice. Those that are unlicensed will now have the titles of architectural associate or design professional. I cannot speak for everyone, but it seems that this shift is a long overdue step in the right direction.

Without doubt, these two titles will not please everyone. In my own experience at work, the title “associate” is used to describe someone that has been elevated within the firm to a position of leadership, so using that term will most likely not work for our office or a great many other offices. The term of design professional indicates a level of professional aptitude, but omits any reference to architecture, so is inherently vague, which is possibly by design so that it encompasses those not directly working in the field of architecture.

Each term has its own positives and negatives, but all in all, the move is a positive one. A person that is forty years old and has been practicing for fifteen years, moved up within the profession, and is highly regarded by their peers, but never got around to taking their tests should not be referred to as an intern the same way that a twenty year old student with three months of experience is. It defies logical reasoning.

Regardless of how the architectural community responds to the change, it is a positive step for the AIA to be taking. The organization has taken its share of backlash over the years and even more so recently. However, the American Institute of Architects still holds, and will continue to hold, major sway in the architecture community, with government entities, and with the general public. The name carries with it major influence and represents a wide array of members. While AIA may be a bit tardy in catching up with the shift away from outdated terminology, steps are being made to set things on the right track. That being said, I will leave you with this: the best way to ensure the AIA is representing architecture and all members is to continue to stay engaged, demand accountability, and to relentlessly push forward on the issues that matter. This change would not have come about if not for a strong push from members. It’s a small step, but it is indicative of the influence that members have and will continue to have.

Making the Most of Opportunities

As many of you may know, I have moved away from Denver. This is my last official blog post as an AIA Colorado Emerging Professional. Three months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to move to DC with my firm. It was one of those instances where the stars couldn’t have aligned better had I tried to plan it myself. If you know me, then you know I do try to plan it myself. In letting opportunity guide my path and watching this unfold, I have now identified key lessons for those of you that might be making a big transition yourself.

  • Opportunity may come knocking but that still doesn’t mean you sit back and relax. As a part of the move I had to research what salaries were in DC, what the cost of living increase is and if it was even going to be possible to maintain the lifestyle I had come to love in Denver. As they say, where there is a will there is a way. You need to put in the leg work, ask the questions and take action. You are your own best advocate. My move happened rather quickly, but it was because I had prepared along the way and knew what I was hoping to get out of the opportunity.
  • Once you move, life can be a bit daunting. You don’t have your regular friends, you may or may not move to be closer to family. In my case, it is the exact same distance as before (12 hours) but in the opposite direction. Social media is a beautiful thing and when used for a move, can open doors you didn’t know existed. Upon the announcement of my move, I reached out to junior high friends, high school friends, undergrad friends, grad school friends, conference friends and professional friends. Once again, this proved to me that networking and maintaining relationships is one of the most important things you can do. In many cases, I haven’t talked to these people in years. But it is amazing how meeting up with an old undergraduate architectural school friend in an unknown place can make it feel a little more comfortable.
    • TIP: When you hear from someone or are connected to someone else and say “let’s get together”, follow through! It will make your new place feel a little more like home.
  • For me, being involved and having a community is what drives me. I knew that in moving, I would have the opportunity to start over on my commitments, broaden my horizons and embrace new experiences. I also knew it meant leaving what was comfortable. So I brainstormed what was comfortable and found a group of University of Illinois Alumni called the DC Illini. They happened to have a volunteer opportunity at the DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen engaged in food recycling and meal distribution programs. I wasn’t sure if I would meet anyone, if these alumni would be my age or what, but I figured this was a great way to get involved in the DC community and become a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable. It was only a 3-hour commitment. It was an amazing experience for a really amazing organization. And I met a few women who had graduated around the time I did who happen to work down the street.IMG_0216
  • Just say yes! My current roommates, who happen to be my Denver roommate’s parents, were having a dinner party on Monday evening. They invited me because the crowd was going to be fellow coworkers who were around my age. I went and made some connections with people doing different things than me. What’s funny is they all come from the volunteer and non-profit world. (Side note: They were throwing around acronyms and I gained a little insight into what it must feel like for non-architects to be around a group of architects.) I met a woman who is using design strategy to find solutions to poverty and marginalization in international communities. She was curious about my work as a trained designer and how that could potentially influence the work that they do.

Moving across the country, moving to a new company or going back to school are big changes for anyone. I have had a few opportunities to start new chapters in my life and it is through each start that I get a little more comfortable with the unknowns of new places and new people. But the key is to really build on the connections you have from previous chapters. Keeping all options on the table gives you the chance to create the new life you want to live.

With that, I close a Denver chapter and will hold dear the relationships and networks I built in Colorado. I already miss the architectural community and the EPs that I worked day in and day out to advance the architectural profession.

Thanks for the opportunity to guide this blog and become a leader among a group of such great leaders.

Best, Korey