From the issue feature, "Living by Design in the Pacific Northwest." 
Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

yesler terrace

One possible future for Yesler Terrace. Photo: GGLO

The below is adapted from a talk given at a PechaKucha Night Seattle event, Designing Leadership, which was hosted in collaboration with Design in Public for their Seattle Design Festival. —ARCADE


Beginning with People

When asked what designing leadership meant to me, I kept coming back to the people who have shaped my life, who have informed me, supported me and inspired me. Leadership begins with family—knowing the importance of where you came from and how that shapes who you are and what you believe.

Remembering Why

Those who gravitate toward leadership roles are drawn to the mantle of responsibility therein, but even so, as a leader, you have to keep making a conscious decision to remain engaged. You must constantly remind yourself of your truth, your personal mission and why you feel compelled to lead. 

Widening Your Perspective

You must never assume that you know what you are doing. Through my architecture graduate work at the University of Washington, I had the chance to learn about leadership through travel and hard work as my classmates and I endeavored to build a K–8 school for a squatter community in Tehalpa, two hours outside of Mexico City. Travel put my own experience into a broader context, widening my perspective and deepening my cultural sensitivity.

Becoming Authentically Engaged

Leadership requires genuine investment in work that has a positive impact, an outcome that can only be defined and informed through an earnest engagement with the community being served. After Mexico, I sought to conclude my graduate studies by finding a project in Seattle’s Central District that addressed a true community struggle that needed attention and resolution. The reimagining of Colman School was the answer to my search. What began as a thesis project later evolved and became realized in built form. In partnership with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, a newly formed museum board, the City of Seattle, the Landmarks Board, WSDOT and a dozen community stakeholder groups, we helped create 36 units of workforce housing and the Northwest African American Museum. 

Working on this project was transformative for both my heart and career. As the architect for the project, I grew as a leader by seeking meaning and being authentically engaged. By working on projects in communities of need, I have learned the importance and the power of actually listening. In order to lead, you must pay attention to your surroundings and sincerely hear and absorb what invested stakeholders ask of you. Vision is critical, yet the path forward and the solution come organically.

Fulfilling the Promise

Looking ahead to Seattle’s coming growth, I am hopeful that we can create a truly functional mixed-income community and a zero-carbon city. Right now, with broad redevelopment efforts at Yesler Terrace and the Seattle Waterfront, we have amazing opportunities as a community of designers, advocates and politicians to show the nation the promise that re-envisioning and redesigning urban living holds.

How do we capture the real potential of redevelopment in Seattle and create a multi-modal community that serves people of all income levels and walks of life? Are we doing enough and are we being sincere in our efforts? Through our Seattle 2035 vision and our quest to be carbon neutral by 2050, can we lead and leave our children a better legacy than our parents were able to leave us?

If we are to be transformative, we must be invested, earnest and honest. Only through the heart will we find our way.