From CoolCleveland.com’s email list today, a video report from Hunter Morrison about Youngstown, the history of its loss of an economic way of life, the progression of its decline, and the strategies for imagining a future with a new identity that the thirty-something and lower crowd here have begun to bring to life in recent years.
I think Hunter gives a good overview of the situation, past, present, and the direction of the future for Youngstown and rustbelt cities like it that suffered deathblows to their economic tax bases in the late 70s and 80s. I do, however, disagree with his understanding of the psychology of the younger generation, in which he sees a group of young people who did not grow up seeing the ghosts of the city that had lived before them, and so we see this place as a place of potentiality. I do agree with him that it is a place of potential, because potential comes from human imagination and the drive and energy and will to create, and so that can happen nearly anywhere if the people want it. I do think, though, that my generation and the ones that came after me, born at the time when the mills were closing down, did grow up affected by all of this. We don’t have the same attachment to the city that existed before the loss of the steel industry, true, but we grew up in a world that basically had a “Closing” sign on it, where everything was in a process of closing down. Stores, amusement parks, schools, small businesses, various industries (car manufacturers as well as steel mills), parks, roads, homes, homes and more homes. This closing down mentality has served to provide little hope for a future for many of the younger generation, who have grown up thinking this is how the world works: it closes down around you. So while Hunter is correct that there are new leaders and larger amounts of them coming out of the thirty-something and under generations that are here, I think he’s underestimating the effects of growing up in a region of America where everyone wonders what will close next, who will move next. I think there are many young people who feel there is no hope here. I think that slowly but surely more young people are realizing that the future of this place is in their hands, really, but there’s a lot of work left to do, and a lot of minds and attitudes that still must change en masse for that work to get done.
I also don’t think making more parks like Millcreek is the answer to revitalization. I think it’s a quick fix for areas that need to be cleaned up, but not a long term solution for a town that needs economic expansion, and more than just in the tech industry, which is the new hope here lately. I think a “tech belt” is great, but we need more than that. Otherwise we end up building a very similar model to the one that failed thirty or forty years ago–a community with an economy that is reliant on one platform. In the past it was steel. In the future, without diversification of our economic platforms here, it could be technology. But what you get when you focus all of your energies into growing one industry is that same worrisome community that only knows how to do one thing. And when that industry leaves for cheaper labor in poorer countries, or finds some other way to make its own production more efficient, you are back to square one once again. I’m happy the tech industry is growing here, but we need more than that to build a safer economy for our future here. Diversify, diversify, diversify.
The blurb that came with the mailing of the video:
Hunter Morrison has served as planning director of the City of Cleveland, and his wife Jane Campbell served as Mayor of Cleveland. More recently, he’s been dealing with the aftermath of Black Monday exactly 30 years ago, when Youngstown Sheet & Tube suddenly closed, washing out not only the tax base in the Mahoning Valley, but also a way of life. But a new, younger generation of leaders weren’t even born when the steel mills closed, and they approach the future with a new sense of opportunity and possibility. Hunter helped sync a collaborative planning effort to update both the Youngstown State University and the city with the Youngstown 2010 Plan. He’s become known for the Shrinking Cities concept that relates to many cities in our region: 1) accept that you will be mid- or small-sized city 2) view opportunities in a regional context 3) address issues of quality life and place 4) take action, including recognizing the value of green space. Cool Cleveland’s Thomas Mulready reached him on the streets of Youngstown and they discussed the past, a smaller future, and how Thinkers & Drinkers in Y-town are creating a dialogue