This past November, folks around the country voted in various local and state elections, deciding on the seats that will affect their lives most, including their City Council members. Our IIDA Mid-America Chapter had the honor of watching two of their members and past presidents be elected to their local City Councils. Bonnie Limbird, IIDA, and Julie Sayers, IIDA, will be serving Prairie Village, Kansas, and Lenexa, Kansas, respectively, bringing the skills and knowledge to the table that only an interior designer can. Limbird and Sayers both have multi-faceted experiences in the design industry, and in serving their communities in a volunteer capacity.
Limbird’s career includes designing low-income and independent housing, project management and business development, and she currently practices as an interior designer at Kansas City’s SFS Architecture.
Julie Sayers has specialized in the design and execution of collegiate and professional sports facilities including administration, large-scale project management, and multi-disciplinary coordination, and currently works as a senior project manager and associate at encompas where she specializes in design and execution of commercial office design.
What made you decide to run for city council?
Bonnie Limbird: No one single reason made me decide, but reasons just kept coming up until I couldn’t not run any longer. The reasons were issues that are important to me, my family, and neighbors in Prairie Village, and that the Council had trouble passing, or couldn’t get passed at all, Issues such as a Non-Discrimination Ordinance, loosening of alternative energy regulations for homeowners, enacting neighborhood design standards, and repeal of breed-specific legislation, are just a few.
Julie Sayers: I got involved in local politics during the 2018 midterm election when I was introduced to a congressional candidate through the owner of my gym. As I spent months going door to door campaigning on behalf of someone else, I found that conversations often shifted to the issues that affect people most closely here in Lenexa: creating a sense of place and providing a safe, connected community that is accessible to everyone. Volunteering for that campaign opened my eyes to the fact that we need more diversity and women’s voices at every level of our government.
Can you tell us about the issues you are most passionate about working on for your community?
JS: Like most suburban areas in the United States, Lenexa is experiencing explosive growth, which is creating an imbalance between new development and existing infrastructure. Our citizens are concerned that the older parts of our city are being left vacant and falling into disrepair, and I believe it is our responsibility as a municipality to provide cohesion between new development and revitalization to ensure that all parts of our community remain affordable and vibrant for all residents. I believe my background in design and commercial construction provides me with the skills to be a valuable voice in that process.
BL: As a designer, improving the neighborhood design standards, which were enacted to regulate the massive teardown/rebuilds, are important to me and important to our community to maintain the diversity and welcoming nature of our neighborhoods. However, a larger issue has arisen as an additional symptom of the rebuild problem: skyrocketing property values that are pushing our long-time residents and senior citizens out of their homes.
As a community, we need diversity of age, income, race, ethnicity, experience, and more in our neighborhoods and the rebuild trend right now is pushing out our seniors and fixed- and low-income residents, and keeping out most first-time homebuyers, young families under a certain income, and most folks with jobs that are foundational to our community’s well being: nurses, police officers, firefighters, and educators. Additionally, all of the homes being rebuilt are multi-story homes and are inherently inaccessible for the differently-abled and elderly with mobility issues, and they’re being built without any guidelines for sustainability or energy efficiency.
So altogether, this is a massive problem that can’t be resolved at the city level alone. However, with my experience in accessible, universal, and sustainable design, on top of my concern for our aging population and other residents, I am uniquely qualified to work with our county commissioners and local state legislators to identify the biggest concerns and write policy and create programs to resolve them.
Is there a particular project that you are especially excited to start working on?
JS: The Metro Kansas City region is one of the recent recipients of grant funding from the Global Covenant of Mayors to support a newly-formed organization called Climate Action KC (CAKC). The purpose is to develop policies and solutions that can be implemented regionally to address the problem of global climate change. Over 70 elected officials from across the region signed on as leaders of this organization, and with my election I’m excited to be the first from Lenexa. I have been working for CAKC in a volunteer capacity since its inception, and am excited to use my elected position to educate and empower our community and to help implement solutions at the city level.
BL: See previous answer.
How did serving your professional community as IIDA Chapter President prepare you for the campaign, and how will that experience help you to serve your community as a City Council member?
JS: Serving as a chapter president teaches the skill of long-term leadership when it comes to visioning, goal setting, financial planning, and succession. Like an IIDA chapter, many of the initiatives and financial plans for my city have been decided prior to my election, and it is my job to ensure the successful implementation of that vision.
BL: Serving the IIDA Mid-America Chapter was my first true board experience, which led me to other non-profit and board roles, and now to a city council role. All of these organizations have had the same foundational structure of serving a mission on a budget, with care for those served. Listening skills, volunteer management, delegation, follow-through, and accountability are some of the leadership qualities I learned and refined the more I served. As an IIDA chapter president, I began the practices of listening, researching, and learning about all of the aspects of our local organization to prioritize and execute the most needed changes. To me, listening is the first and most important action to practice in leadership and will remain so in my service on the city council.
What aspects of working in the interior design field will be most transferable to the decision making and policymaking that you will be doing for your community going forward?
BL: Being able to see the forest and the trees while understanding how they each work to serve one another is important both in designing spaces for clients and governing a municipality. Being a good listener and practicing problem-solving skills are necessary to help teams formulate solutions and have buy-in from the very beginning. Change is hard, and working in the design field has taught me that there is always room for improvement from within and that proactive communication and involvement from the very beginning always makes for smooth and successful change management.
JS: From my perspective, there is no one better suited for public service than a designer. It is central to our core as professionals to listen to our clients, help them understand their own goals, build consensus among often complex groups, communicate effectively, and responsibly manage a budget. Designers are also acutely aware that implementing a concept can often be a very long and complicated arc, and that periodic re-evaluation is necessary for ensuring success. I hope to be an engaged and transparent representative to whom my residents feel comfortable providing meaningful feedback, just as clients do during the design process.
You have extensive volunteer and community-service experiences, what would you say to IIDA members and other creatives that ask why being involved in your community as a volunteer is important to both personal and professional growth?
JS: It often isn’t clear until later what skills and connections are afforded to you each time you volunteer. Every time you say yes to an opportunity, you are generating new threads that over time weave a tapestry that makes you a uniquely valuable voice within your professional organization and your community.
BL: I can’t say enough about how important volunteering is in your community for so many reasons, but relative to personal and professional growth: it will make you a better designer.
Learning about, meeting, and knowing people and organizations in your city that you wouldn’t necessarily interact with normally gives you an extended breadth of knowledge about:
- How facilities really function when the designers leave the building, or
- Types of organizations that don’t have the luxury of hiring designers
- How debilitating bad design can be for organizations that need to run as efficiently and cheaply as possible
- How you can give back with your time and talents even when you don’t have money to give
- How to prioritize what’s really the most important expenditure for an organization
- How hard it is to raise money for capital improvements
- Hands-on experience working with the community being served by the organization
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
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