Message from the AIA-NJ Regional Director

March 6, 2011

By Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA
AIA NJ Regional Director ’11-‘13

Several years ago there was a public relations campaign delivered by the then Governor of New Jersey, Hon. Thomas Kean that went like this, “New Jersey and YOU………….Perfect Together!”  The purpose of the campaign was to stimulate the State’s tourist economy by inviting people from all over the country to the Garden State, which in the governor’s plan would in-turn stimulate the entire economy.  I believe that while a little bit corny, and maybe because it was, the State found success in the campaign and our overall economy did in fact improve.

Well times are different now and our government’s sustainability and future growth depends upon its ability to change and adapt to the current environment in which it finds itself.  No one understands this better than the national leadership at AIA and that we all have had to learn to do more with less.  Annually they provide the nearly 700 AIA leaders that come to the Grassroots Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, a Blueprint to take to “Capitol Hill on Government Day.  AIA Section and AIANJ leaders have recently returned from this always invigorating gathering.  I am sure that they will be presenting and you will be seeing this Blueprint displayed at a local section meeting soon, if not already presented.

The Blueprint is a beautiful rendering of important points on how Congress can help get our townships, villages, boroughs and cities back to work through the campaign of “Rebuild and Renew: The AIA’s Plan for Rebuilding Main Street.”  The sub title under this banner is “When architects work, the nation builds.”  There can be no truer words!

Over the past 35 years I have served first on the Main Street Development Corp. and more recently and continue to serve on the West Orange Downtown Alliance.   There have been some successes to “bring the nearly three mile corridor “back from the brink”, and in the process I coined the phrase “as Main Street goes…………so will West Orange!”  The phrase could be used for any of our home communities.  I like to view the phrase in a positive light of the glass half empty, but slowly being filled to the top.  The filling includes renovated store fronts, coordinated signage and a way finding system, to/from well lighted and landscaped municipal parking.  I am convinced that when completed, this will bring citizens back in my case to a historic downtown, where three of the founders of AIA left legacies of their work.

Not being just satisfied with presenting the Blueprint to Congressional aides, I took several copies to a recent West Orange Township Council Meeting. Presenting, one each to the five members of the council and one to the newly elected Mayor Robert Parisi, my goal was in talking about the plan; to convince these local government officials because they are on the front line facing diminishing revenues and tighter budgets, to do the following: They could, along with AIA architects lobby our federal representatives to work closer together with local officials to find ways to accomplish the goals laid out by this document:

1.    Unfreeze credit to help create jobs
2.    Remove regulatory burdens that hold small business back
3.    Jumpstart market for building retrofits as an engine of and for economic growth
4.    Pass a transportation bill to get our communities moving again

Not surprisingly, the AIA Main Street recovery plan and yours truly were well received by these local leaders and the press that was present for the meeting.  In fact the Hon. Councilman, Victor Cirilo stated, “We are all worried about the direction of the nation” and said that he would personally lobby our federal officials for the Blueprint as presented.  I know that he has a special connection to the Hon. Congressman William Pascarell, Jr. and I am certain that starting with just this one member of congress we may see some action sooner than later. In fact our AIA advocacy staff are setting up meetings with the Congressman’s staff and Past President Robert Cozzarelli, AIA and I will be seeing the Congressman here in NJ during the month of March as a continuing reminder to him that AIA architects are an important part of this recovery.

Therefore, I would ask each AIANJ member to take the AIA Blueprint and this positive campaign to your next local government meeting.  If nothing else, it will give you an opportunity to introduce yourself to the public at large, as most of these local government meetings are now televised on local access television.  Besides maybe like Councilman Cirilo, your members of local government will do the same and the remaining NJ delegation of federal leaders from both sides of the aisle will hear the cry and in fact move positive legislation in this regard.

Use the Blueprint to explain to your political leaders and the wider viewing public, these points about what we do for a living and can bring to the entire population of our wonderful State.  That as Architects are trained to see the BIG picture, that we can and do solve problems in a creative and innovative way, that we save construction dollars by maximizing building owners’ investments, that using an architect can save time, and above all that we design total environments, which are pleasing and functional for the people who will eventually use these spaces.

Like former Governor Kean’s campaign to stimulate the NJ tourist economy, your effort in this campaign may be the catalyst to start the “Rebuild and Renew” process and our economy statewide.

Thank you!


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