Drawn to public service: Architects occupy many public offices in northeast Johnson County

Leawood Councilor Carrie Rezac (L-R), Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt, Unified Government Commissioner Jim Walters, Raytown Mayor David Bower and Prairie Village Mayor Ron Shaffer participated in the panel discussion.
Leawood Councilor Carrie Rezac (L-R), Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt, Unified Government Commissioner Jim Walters, Raytown Mayor David Bower and Prairie Village Mayor Ron Shaffer participated in the panel discussion.

Prairie Village Mayor Ron Shaffer is an architect. Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt is an architect. So is Leawood Councilor Carrie Rezac. And there are more on councils and plan commissions across northeast Johnson County. So what’s the connection between architects and public life?

That was among the questions five architect panelists, including Shaffer, Marquardt and Rezac, fielded from their fellow Kansas City architects Wednesday night during a meeting of the local AIA chapter.

Among the skills an architect brings to the civic arena is listening to all sides, Shaffer said. “As an architect, you look at things from all angles.” For Marquardt, it is seeing the big vision, but being able to break it down into its smaller pieces.

The community was excited about selling off some of its undeveloped sites after Walmart announced its exit from Roeland Park, Marquardt said. But, the discussion did not get into the details like a project demands. That process helped motivate him to run for public office, he added.

Government can work “grindingly slow,” Shaffer said, which is at odds with the training and pace of architecture. You have to get used to it not happening immediately, Rezac added.

The Community Improvement Districts used for renovation at Corinth Square and the Village Shops are good examples of architecture and design use in Prairie Village, according to Shaffer. “Both were languishing.” It took eight months of debate to get an agreement, “but now you can see it in Corinth,” he said.

The panel discussion at the Populous office was moderated by The Kansas City Star’s Kevin Collison.