Schwarz founded the Shrinking Cities Institute in 2005 in an effort to understand and address the impacts of ongoing population loss on large-scale urban vacancy in Cleveland. After introducing the concept at a workshop in Youngstown, a one-hour PBS documentary and subsequent article about the project in Metropolis magazine served as Schwarzâ€™s debut on to both the national and international stage.
Now that the course was charted for Schwarz and the CUDC, where she was a senior planner at the time, the 20-year Cleveland resident became a recognized authority on vacancy, decline and urban regeneration. She continues to be on the short list of sought-after experts at international symposia and a ready resource for journalists from publications such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Schwarz also was instrumental in establishing a professional journal at the CUDC, Urban Infill. The publication has received support from the Gund Foundation, Cleveland Foundation and the Graham Foundation for Advance Studies in the Fine Arts.
Recently Schwarz prepared the Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland plan in collaboration with Neighborhood Progress Inc. and Clevelandâ€™s City Planning Commission. The report was an outgrowth of an international dialogue Schwarz enabled in 2007 when she organized an exhibition on shrinking cities. That report is recognized as a national model for cities that seek to thoughtfully address the issues of vacancy and return of abandoned spaces to productive use.
Schwarz was instrumental in creating the Pop Up City initiative in Cleveland, where one-day temporary uses of land or indoor spaces reclaim space for public uses. Events have included a pop-up dog park and reclamation of a bridge deck for a one-day public event. These events put into action the concept that shrinking cities could shift the discourse from scarcity and depletion to regeneration, Schwarz says.
She is currently working with Cleveland officials and other stakeholders on a strategy for land reclamation in Cuyahoga County. She was also the recipient of a 2009 Cleveland Arts Prize for Design.
â€œIf we donâ€™t find new ways to respond to whatâ€™s happening, then weâ€™re sentencing ourselves to more decline,â€ she said upon receiving the award. â€œSo, when you see the challenges, particularly those faced by people in neighborhoods, really our most vulnerable and entrenched populations, thatâ€™s a pretty strong motivator.â€
Her work has been used to guide policy efforts locally, at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies. Other related research interests include sustainable infrastructure, temporary use strategies for vacant and underutilized properties, and the impacts of urban development patterns on public health. She also engages in neighborhood and campus planning, storm water management planning and green infrastructure strategies.
The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative is a community service organization that is dedicated to improving the quality of urban places through technical design assistance, research education and advocacy. Part of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, the center supports urban revitalization through the work of a professional staff. It accomplishes its mission through technical design assistance, programs of graduate study, public programs and cooperative partnerships with non-profit organizations, governments and other universities.
The center is located at 1309 Euclid Avenue, at the leading edge of Clevelandâ€™s Playhouse Square.