It Takes A Planner to Reconnect Cleveland’s Lakefront

For decades, Cleveland communities have been cut off from one of their greatest regional assets: Lake Erie. At a moment of broad political alignment across the city and county, planners are seizing the opportunity to work with elected leaders and advance efforts to redevelop Cleveland's lakefront.

This year, Cleveland planners invited nearly 100 elected officials serving across the region to come together and discuss the role of planning in shaping Cleveland's future.


Community Healing Through Planning Action

Like many communities, modern-day Cleveland still holds remnants of a racist history that separated neighborhoods of color from resource-rich areas. Cleveland's own Mayor Justin Bibb shared his personal experience of disconnect growing up in the city:

"I didn't get my first real lakefront experience until I was in high school when my dad would take me to the air show. We didn't know that these places were for us."

But Mayor Bibb also shared his hope that the new North Coast Master Plan will heal the community by breaking down structural barriers to equity, as well as symbolic ones.


Mayor Bibb was joined by County Executive and APA member, Chris Ronayne to reflect on planners' long-term efforts to define and advance the community's vision for the future of their city.

By building on plans of the past, planners have positioned Cleveland leaders like Bibb and Ronayne to make development changes that will have a transformative impact on the lakefront.

Joyce Pan Huang:We as planners hold that future vision. We are the keepers of that future vision, and we keep it alive so that when it's time to execute and implement, we can really draw from our past and really look to the future.

Planners' Seat at the Decision-Making Table

Joining the conversation to speak to the unique insights planners bring to elected leaders were panelists Brian Zimmerman, CEO of Metroparks; Joyce Pan Huang, Cleveland's City Planning director; and Mary Cierebiej, AICP, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission.

The discussion explored how planners are distinct in their ability to see interconnected, broader impacts that even small decisions can have on our communities. As data-driven experts with knowledge of community history and a direct connection to residents, planners in Cleveland and beyond offer elected officials guidance that can advance communities' long-term goals.

However, developing relationships with elected leaders can take time. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County planners worked for years to secure their seat at the table with investment from key stakeholders and continue to maintain those relationships.

Planning Director Mary Cierebiej, AICP, spoke about the value of bringing elected officials into the process so they can better understand the real-world impact of planning work.

The takeaway for planners in other communities? Engagement with elected leaders is critical to moving planning work forward.

Mary Cierebiej: Engage your local, state, all the officials that you can. Make them aware of your project, invite them to the project site, let them see what is being envisioned and what it is. Because with their support, your local elected can help drive that message when they are looking at funding.

Engaging Community in Lakefront Development

The city of Cleveland continues to keep the public up to date on implementation and engagement opportunities through the website for the North Coast Master Plan. The plan itself includes a variety of strategic initiatives aimed at boosting economic development, promoting environmental stewardship, and of course improving access to the lakefront.

These ambitious goals are only achievable through support from the city, county, and regional leaders — and, crucially, from Clevelanders themselves. City planning director Joyce Pan Huang sees the master plan as an opportunity for all residents to have a hand in defining their city.

"I believe that as we step into this phase of planning, it's not just about what we'll do and what we'll build. It's really that we all find ourselves in the story of the lakefront."

Group photo of panelists from Cleveland It Takes A Planner event.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County planners hosted an event bringing together nearly 100 elected officials to discuss the value of planning in redeveloping the Cleveland Lakefront. Photo by David Petkiewicz,


Top Image: David Petkiewicz,

About the Author
Brenna Donegan is Public Affairs Program manager at the American Planning Association

December 12, 2023

By Brenna Donegan