Inter-City Collaboration: The Power of Shared Knowledge

Because we design the built environments that make up cities, architects are especially poised for significant collaborations with civic leaders, community members, and urban planners in imagining and shaping different possibilities for a city. For this reason, it is important for architects to remain engaged and find opportunities to plug into their local conversations about their city’s development. As a participant in the Inter-City Visit and Leadership Conference hosted by Raleigh’s Chamber of Commerce, and as a member of the planning task force committee, I have enjoyed the opportunity to engage with civic leaders nationwide in discussions of key issues facing their cities.

With any city, questions about how to maintain it and improve it abound: How do we make sure that growth is economically viable and environmentally sustainable? How can we improve bike trails and greenways? Where should we build new development and how should we preserve or restore historic development? How do we keep a city affordable?  How do we implement accessible, more efficient public transit?  In an effort to strategize solutions to these questions, the ICVLC allows Raleighites to visit other cities, connect with those cities’ leaders, and learn how they are responding to issues that we are experiencing or anticipating given our growth.

With the ICVLC, I have visited at least a dozen cities nationwide and each visit has afforded participants incredible insight into what it takes to strengthen a city. For instance, visiting Austin helped us understand initiatives that make the permitting process more efficient. Visiting San Diego’s Balboa Park helped us think about the possibilities for the future of our own Dix Park; we also discussed strategies to address homelessness; implement light rails, commuter rails, and bike trails; and design in a way that is responsive to climate change. After our visit to Boston, we thought about how to incentivize firms to remain in research parks and how to integrate these parks with the communities around them in a balanced way. Seattle taught us about the opportunities attracting new professional sports industries like Major League Soccer as well as the challenges of maintaining affordability for those who have lived in the city for decades when a conglomerate corporation like Amazon has moved in.  With its Country Music Hall of Fame and Music, Nashville’s vibrant arts and entertainment scene taught us about political will and the process of implementing a “big idea.”

These visits also provide opportunities to reflect on what Raleigh is already doing well. After our visits, we could appreciate more deeply being a part of Research Triangle Park, which has a national reputation as the largest research park in North America. Further, Raleigh is supportive of incubators, startups, and homegrown businesses that ultimately turn into major businesses. With Oak City Cares Multiservices Center, a project that first emerged after an ICVLC trip to Austin and San Antonio and that LS3P designed, Raleigh has taken big steps in its commitment to prevent and reduce homelessness. While the need for more extensive public transit infrastructure is undeniable, our traffic isn’t as bad as some cities, which gives us an opportunity to be proactive in addressing transportation. We also cultivate our local artists, entertainment, and food scene, and we’ve begun to prioritize sustainable public spaces such as bike trails, greenways, and parks.

Upon our return, the knowledge and collaboration catalyzed through these ICLVC trips always continue to circulate. Not only do we get more information on issues about which we are already curious, but we are also exposed to new ideas that we did not know would strike our interest.  More than that, as an architect invested in the city’s future, my participation with ICVLC means that I can build relationships with developers, contractors, hospital leaders, educational leaders, policymakers and other key decisionmakers who shape the trajectory of Raleigh. The opportunity to engage in dialogue and explore innovative ideas in service to our cities is key to the concept of a “citizen architect,” and my experiences with the ICVLC have been invaluable to my understanding of that role.

About Steve

Vice President and Principal Steve Hepler serves as LS3P’s Raleigh Office Leader. Steve brings 40 years of experience to the firm as Principal-in-Charge and Architect-of-Record on a variety of project types including corporate commercial, retail, mixed-use, institutional, higher education and healthcare project types throughout the Southeast.

Steve is active in professional and community organizations, serving as the 1993 President of the AIA-Charlotte chapter and a member of the AIA North Carolina Board of Directors in 1992. He is the former Vice Chairman of the Myrtle Beach Community Appearance Board in Myrtle Beach, SC and a former member of the Historic District Commission in Georgetown, SC.

He is an active member in the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and serves on the group’s Inter-City Visit Task Force Committee. Steve is also a former member of the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board, a member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a member of the Triangle chapter of CoreNet, and a member of the National Association of Industrial Office Parks (NAIOP).