Terry Schwarz talks about "Shrinking Cities" at SPACES

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Sun, 04/29/2007 - 01:04.

Friday night I attended a reception and lecture at SPACES Gallery for select Cleveland organizations with interest in urban planning and sustainability. The current exhibition at Spaces, Shrinking Cities, explores strategies for post-industrial urban areas and should be of great interest to anyone interested in urban planning and sustainability. Terry Schwarz, Senior Planner at the Urban Design Center of Northeast Ohio, was to give a tour of the exhibition. My affiliation? I am an energy ambassador at Case. I am also an art historian, and although there are some witty, beautiful and innovative works represented in the exhibition the theme and the messages of the show truly over power the aesthetics. One could easily forget they are in an art exhibition.

I visited the exhibition last Friday, for the opening, and I found some of the ideas so interesting I couldn't wait to go back. Unlike most exhibitions I have seen at SPACES, or anywhere, this one left me feeling compelled to find something I could apply in my own life and in my own neighborhood (Ohio City).  I confess I was really looking forward to Terry Schwarz's tour because I thought it would be an opportunity to learn more about the exhibition without having to read all the gallery labels. However, the reception was so well attended that Ms. Schwarz gave a Powerpoint lecture instead. The galleries could not accommodate the size of the group. Her lecture did not categorically cover the projects in the Spaces exhibition; however, her topic and the images she showed were complimentary to the exhibition. I don't think anyone in the audience was disappointed at not having a tour.

Ms. Schwarz was an exuberant speaker. Her informal, engaging style of speaking conveyed her expertise and passion. Her  background as an English major enhanced her perspective in way that were surprising and brilliant. As an art historian I was quite familiar with Sir Edmund Burke – his writings on the sublime and the beautiful come up frequently in discussions of 19th-century landscape painting. Ms. Schwarz talked about how people of the 21st-century seldom experience the sublime anymore. Instead of living in awe of nature and being frightened of that which we can't control, most people today live their lives feeling that for the most part we do have nature under control. I spent the last 24 hours pondering the sublime in my 21st-century life and I started to think that perhaps people today just don't define things in those binaries anymore – and perhaps they should. One example of the sublime in NEO that would fit Burke's theories are the vacant, crumbling industrial buildings we see everywhere (Jeff Buster posted a great photo of one this past winter).  Ms. Schwarz also referenced Willa Cather, author of many stories of pioneer life. The concept of Manifest Destiny, an important belief at the time Cather was writing still lingers in the way we use space and design. Ms. Schwarz had several slides representing the ways wildlife can intersect unexpectedly with urban life. Many in the audience including myself remembered the  turkey in Cleveland Heights.  She had several slides depicting encounters with bears and she also referenced William Faulkner's use of the bear as a symbol of that which can't be controlled.  

As a gardener, I found Ms. Schwarz's perspective on the use of native plants in landscaping very educational.  She showed some slides of beautiful beds filled with native plants at Cleveland State University, but reminded the audience that thought the plants may be native, this is not the way nature looks. The gardens at Cleveland State, maintained by a company ironically call Precision Mulch, looked very different from the photos of the natural flats by Don Harvey. I guess I always knew that if left untended my garden would not start to look like the amazing landscaping at Cleveland State, but I had never thought about the psychological effect the very calculated use of native plants can have. Constructing a landscape of native plants creates a false sense that nature pretty, polite, and controllable.

Terry Schwarz spoke of how sustainability is becoming a very broad concept. I am new to sustainability, its definitions and theories, so I was not really aware of this. But, as she showed a beautiful slide of the ocean and cliffs at Cape Saint Vincent in Portugal (a place once considered the edge of the flat world) she said she wished to broaden the topic of sustainability a bit more to include the psychologically sustainable. Analyzing our concept of the place we live certainly makes sense in developing a plan for sustainable living. If the people of 15th-century Cape Saint Vincent believed they were living at the end of the earth at the edge of a sea filled with mysterious and dangerous creatures how did it affect their lives? How do our beliefs about our city, our lake and landscape affect our lives?  

I need to go back again to SPACES to the Shrinking Cities exhibition. I am sure Terry Schwarz's lecture will enhance the experience.

Glad to see Terry and CUDC speaking up

It is so valuable that the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative is here in town, filling the community with smart planning minds, sophisticated planning insight, and plans and planners - we do not leverage this nearly enough. I've been working with many of their talented people for several years, on East Cleveland revisioning, and that has had a strong influence on the thinking and leadership in East Cleveland and in the region. CUDC has also hosted a range of extraordinary art/planning events that have brought important global perspectives to our region. In the near future, the Kent State School of Architecture and Environmental Design is expected to base operations in Cleveland as well, and that will grow our regional dialog on plans for the region.

While the topic of the show at Spaces, and also CUDC and AJ Rocco's, is "shrinking cities" - a phenomenon in many places around the world - I actually expect Cleveland to become a growing city, because of smart planners here, like at CUDC and of CUDC, and our opportune geography and natural resources, as seriously compromised by bad planners of the past as they are. So I see these shows as reflections on what could be, if we do not plan better. I wish I had heard Terry's take on some of these issues, when she spoke at Spaces, but you have shared some amazing perspectives... I love appreciating "Constructing a landscape of native plants creates a false sense that nature is pretty, polite, and controllable" and the concept "to broaden the topic of sustainability a bit more to include the psychologically sustainable".  That is the first real expression on sustainability that actually makes sense to me.

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