Terry Schwarz, Urban Planner


Terry SchwarzTerry Schwarz knows better than most that our city and our region have reached a pivotal moment in their history. The situation in which Cleveland finds itself is not just a blip. The city and surrounding area are facing a long trajectory of change in population and development patterns—a point Schwarz makes clear in her community design projects, her teaching, and her articles.

As senior planner at Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, she deals with the challenges facing Cleveland, its neighborhoods, and its regional neighbors on a daily basis. That’s exactly what motivates her to design novel and productive approaches to helping our troubled region “grow smaller.”

“If we don’t find new ways to respond to what’s happening, then we’re sentencing ourselves to more decline,” she posits. “When you see the challenges, particularly those faced by people in the neighborhoods, really our most vulnerable and entrenched populations, that’s a pretty strong motivator.”

In an effort to understand and address the implications of population decline and large-scale urban vacancy in Northeast Ohio, Schwarz created the CUDC’s Shrinking Cities Institute in 2005. She launched the new initiative with a community workshop in Youngstown to explore the challenges of population loss and vacant buildings and  land parcels within one residential neighborhood.

The workshop led to a one-hour documentary shown on the local PBS affiliate and an article in the May 2006 issue of Metropolis magazine that garnered national attention and placed Schwarz’s and the CUDC’s work at the heart of the emerging international dialogue on vacancy, decline and urban regeneration. Her national leadership position in the field was cemented by her subsequent presentations at the International Future of Shrinking Cities Symposium in Berkeley, California, and at national conferences of the American Planning Association, which led to her being quoted in major publications such as The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

To spur the critical discussions necessary to draw Cleveland and surrounding suburbs into action, Schwarz brought an international exhibition on shrinking cities to Cleveland in 2007. Besides creating an opportunity for public officials, design practitioners and the community to engage in a conversation about Cleveland’s ongoing transformation, the exhibition gave rise to a partnership between Neighborhood Progress, Inc., and the Cleveland City Planning Commission with the mandate to develop a city-wide vacant land strategy. The resulting effort, Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland, has become a national model for cities looking to return vacant and abandoned properties to productive use.

Throughout this process, Schwarz has always taken a positive approach, emphasizing the old adage that problems represent opportunities. “Terry has consistently framed the conversation about Cleveland’s decline in a hopeful way,” says her colleague in sustainable development and effective planning and design Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, Manager of Environmental Programs at the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. “That way, instead of wringing our hands in defeat, we might begin to recognize the vast, untapped opportunities inherent in decline to reinvent Cleveland as a more beautiful, sustainable and humane city.”

In addition to her community design work, Schwarz, who earned her M.A. in City Planning from Cornell University in 1991, has taught at Kent State University’s School of Architecture and Environmental Design as an Adjunct Professor since 2004.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of her work, she says, is the emerging network of design practitioners and public officials who are now implementing many of the ideas that she and her colleagues introduced.

“There’s a lot of momentum now behind a new, more systematic way of thinking about urban design that, long-term, is going to have huge benefits for the city and the region,” says Schwarz.

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