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Decay in Youngstown

15 April 2009 4 Comments

Let me start off by saying, Youngstown is one of my favorite cities. It is a weird place, with a set of rules all its own. Some of my best friends in the world live there. Also, they make some killer Italian food in this city. Killer. It’s cheap too. Very cheap.

Anyway, photographer Mark Stahl, an acquaintance of mine from my days at The Vindicator newspaper, has generously donated the use of some of his photos. This series is about decay taking place in the city.

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Where to start? I could write a book about Youngstown. I’ve actually considered that. But, to summarize, vacant, derelict homes have been a big problem there. The city has garnered quite a bit of attention for its Youngstown 2010 comprehensive plan, which was kind of revolutionary for acknowledging that the city has shrunk and will not grow, and that infrastructure, housing stock and public services need to be right-sized.

Youngstown’s Mayor, Jay Williams (He’s a post unto himself. I promise a Jay Williams post!), was one of the creators of the Youngstown 2010 and since he’s been in office, the city has taken on an aggressive demolition program. They demolish about 500 homes per year.

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But you know what? Times are tough and Youngstown is certainly no exception. Youngstown-expat blogger Shout Youngstown broke the news recently that the city’s only planner, the man in charge of carrying out their world-renown city plan, had resigned and due to budget constraints, the city was considering not replacing him. So that’s bad news. I think there is a grassroots effort going on right now to ensure the position is filled.

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I’m not sure I have the energy to ever write or read this again, but for you rust neophytes, Youngstown was a steel boom town that has lost more than 50 percent of its population since 1977, a day known as “Black Monday,” when Youngstown Sheet and Tube suddenly announced its closure, eliminating 5,000 jobs. Several other major steel plants followed shortly after. Wheew. Ok.

But I should point out that there’s kind of a culmination of energy in the city right now centered around reviving the downtown. Tremendous progress has been made. (I’m inviting Youngstowners who are irritated by the downer nature of this post to deliver me some sunnier pictures and maybe a post.)

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I remember this place well. Did you know that used tires are an “inferior good,” in economics terms? That means as incomes go down, demand for used tires increases.

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Let’s see. Here is a really recognizable landmark:

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This building looks out over Youngstown’s gorgeous Mill Creek Park. I was told that the owner of the building was a big sailing enthusiast and that the top of the tower is is built to look like the helm of a ship. It used to have a steering wheel and everything.

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Well, consider that the first installment in an ongoing series about Youngstown. This city is kind of ground-zero in this whole struggle, if you ask me. I think it’s fascinating. They have a very active group of young activists and they all keep blogs, if you want to learn more. You can find a complete listing here.

By the way, I have just been informed by my mom (via text!) that tonight’s marketplace on NPR will be a story about people being loyal to Youngstown. It’s supposed to run at 6:30 p.m. I haven’t been able to confirm that, however.

-AS

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