Imagine your competition for an honor includes Thomas Jefferson, Rosa Parks, William Penn, Frank Lloyd Wright, and dozens of other eclectic achievers who have influenced urbanism. That’s where Kennedy Smith ’79 found herself. The recognition for which she and nearly 200 others were nominated was Most Influential Urbanist, conceived by Planetizen, a website devoted to urban planning, architecture, and related fields. The goal was “to produce a list of nominees that broadens the discussion about what it means to influence the future of cities and communities.”
The winner was the late author and community planning activist Jane Jacobs. Smith did finish, however, ahead of President Donald Trump and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, among others.
“I don’t know how I got on the list,” Smith says. Actually, it would have been surprising were she not on it. Smith is a co-founder and principal of the Community Land Use and Economics (CLUE) Group, an Arlington, Virginia, consulting firm that helps civic leaders revitalize downtowns and commercial centers, including through the reuse of older and historic buildings.
In 2009, Planetizen included her on its list of 100 Top Urban Thinkers. Prior to the CLUE Group, Smith was director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Center for 14 years. Its economic redevelopment programs helped create thousands of new businesses and jobs and billions of dollars in investment throughout the country with her at the helm. She also is an adjunct professor at Goucher College.
“We’re always very busy,” Smith says.
Smith says her work focuses on the intersection of historic places and economics, so it has been gratifying to see the resurgence of moribund downtowns, which were crippled by the growth of shopping malls when she began her career. One of her more unusual projects lately has been working with villages in the Transylvania region of Romania to preserve their ethnically distinct Saxon churches that are up to 1,000 years old. “They’re like little fortified castles,” Smith says. “They’re looking for economic solutions to make them viable again.”
Smith doesn’t get back to Bryn Mawr often, but next spring she will return to speak to the Growth and Structure of Cities department.