Youngstown’s revitalization efforts have been picked up by CNN today. A good article that encapsulates a general overview of where we’ve been, where we are here, and where we’re trying to go. Here I’ve excerpted various parts of the article, but you can read the whole thing by clicking here.
Youngstown, Ohio, has seen its population shrink by more than half over the past 40 years, leaving behind huge swaths of empty homes, streets and neighborhoods.
Now, in a radical move, the city – which has suffered since the steel industry left town and jobs dried up – is bulldozing abandoned buildings, tearing up blighted streets and converting entire blocks into open green spaces. More than 1,000 structures have been demolished so far.
Already, delegations from smaller, post-industrial cities like Flint, Mich.; Wheeling, W.Va.; and Dayton, Ohio, have come to Youngstown to study the plan.
It’s an odd way to pioneer. “The American narrative always includes growth,” said Hunter Morrison, Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University, which works closely with the city on plan 2010’s implementation. “No one wants to talk about shrinkage. That’s too threatening to politicians, civic boosters and Chambers of Commerce.”
Even wealthy neighborhoods, like the North Side historic district, where mill owners and upper management once congregated, have eyesores.
On one corner, there sits a beautifully maintained seven-bedroom Tudor, yet down a side street, a wood-framed colonial is boarded up. Next door, an empty Victorian sits moldering, the wood of its window frames scorched. Lines of old hedges mark lot boundaries where once-proud homes stood.
Youngstown used to be the nation’s third-largest steel producer; its mill workers earned among the highest factory wages in America. Demand for their services was strong.
That changed on Sept. 19, 1977 – Black Monday – when Youngstown Sheet and Tube abruptly closed its doors.
“The city lost its heart and soul,” said Mayor Williams.
Today, a new spirit seems to have taken hold. Phil Kidd started the Web site Defend Youngstown, and said he hears from tons of former residents who would like to return.
“They call and email from all over the United States with suggestions on how to help,” he said.
Ideally, all this energy surrounding 2010 will help turn the city around. It does have a lot going for it, including Youngstown State University, which attracts creative-class types like artists and writers and other intellectuals, as well as museums and an excellent public library.
The cheap residential and commercial real estate can be a draw. Start-up companies thrive on low overhead, and employees can easily find housing just minutes from work.
At the very least, the 2010 plan has changed residents’ perspective, said Hunter Morrison. “It’s getting us to think about where we’re going into the future, rather than where we’ve been in the past.”