Imagine this: Your house is in North Tacoma. You work in Seattle. And your favorite weekend stop is a little waterfront seafood restaurant in Port Orchard. You cross through three counties and a handful of cities just to live, work and play – and you don’t even think twice about it.
That is the beauty of living in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan region, and it’s one of the driving forces behind the work of UW Tacoma Associate Professor Yonn Dierwechter. A member of the Urban Studies faculty since 2001, Dierwechter is the 2014 recipient of UW Tacoma’s Distinguished Research Award for his studies of geopolitics, urban development and sustainable growth.
“85 percent of Americans live in metropolitan regions,” Dierwechter says. “We all move around this region and share roads and water and air. Making our region function better and more environmentally responsible and economically dynamic is the right thing to do for our home.”
A lifelong interest in geopolitics – the study of the effects of human and physical geography on politics and international relations – drove Dierwechter to seek a bachelor of arts degree in history and geography from the University of Iowa in 1988. After earning a master’s in urban and regional planning from Cornell University in 1993, he began work as a community and urban development planner in Cape Town, South Africa. That’s where he first noticed the trend that has helped shape his career: While rebuilding after apartheid, Cape Town and the surrounding area addressed growth from a regional rather than city perspective. That approach helped the area develop more efficiently and benefitted the entire region.
In 2001, he earned a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, writing his dissertation on urban planning in Cape Town. The same year, he was hired as the first faculty member in UW Tacoma’s brand-new Urban Studies program. In addition to maintaining an impressive research schedule and teaching 15 different UW Tacoma courses, Dierwechter helped build the Urban Studies program from the ground up.
“When I joined the program it was just a web page,” he says. “Now it’s at critical mass, and that’s something I’m very proud of. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s good work.”
After moving to Tacoma, Dierwechter began to study smart growth and city-regionalism in the Seattle-Tacoma area. In addition to dozens of admired scholarly articles, his studies led to a 2008 book, Urban Growth Management and its Discontents: Promises, Practices and Geopolitics in U.S. City-Regions, that was one of the first to link smart regional growth to the geopolitics of city-regional development. Fellow urban studies and geography researchers say the book and Dierwechter’s body of research helped set the agenda for further study in geopolitics, and that his insightful contributions helped launch an exciting new subfield of urban studies. His second book, Struggling for Sustainability: Tracking Geopolitical Agendas; Cape Town, Seattle, Randstad” is in development.
Dierwechter is “a very capacious thinker, who is both quick to appreciate an important issue and dedicated to undertaking the hard work required to see that through to outstanding publications,” one scholar wrote. “His writing on city-regionalism and smart growth draws on the Seattle experience to propose opportunities for more progressive policy making.”
In addition to researching smart growth, Dierwechter lends his expertise to local growth and development commissions, sharing his experiences and observations of growth in other communities around the world.
“I hope that I am actively participating as a citizen who thinks about this professionally,” he says. “I don’t think I’m more qualified to speak on urban issues than everybody else, but I can lend a different perspective.”
The Distinguished Research Award was established in 2004 to recognize faculty members who have achieved a record of notable scholarship or creative activity, generated new knowledge in their discipline and contributed to the intellectual development of UW Tacoma and its communities.
John Burkhardt, Media Relations, email@example.com or 253-692-4536