Can the South Side of Youngstown Be Saved?

Recently the U.S. Census Bureau announced the ten cities (with populations over 50,000) that lost the largest share of their populations between 2010 and 2012. Nine of the ten spots belong to cities in Ohio (three) and Michigan (six.) Of course, none of this should come as a surprise. Nor is it a surprise that Youngstown, Ohio was the only city to lose over two percent of its population during these two years. In 1930, Youngstown recorded 170,000 residents. Only about 65,400 people remain within the city limits today. While much of Youngstown has suffered during the long decline of the city, I argue it is the collapse of the south side, traditionally home to the largest population in the city, which today threatens Youngstown’s very future.

Sean Posey

The south side encompasses a large portion of land and contains at least ten neighborhoods. Its borders are Mill Creek Park (the second largest metropolitan park in the country) on the west, the Mahoning River on two sides, and the City of Struthers and the Township of Boardman on the south. The south side is home to some of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. The lower south side became a place of densely clustered working class neighborhoods as steel mills sprouted up on the Mahoning River during the early part of the twentieth century. However, both working class and more privileged neighborhoods made up the south side. Steel workers and management called this section of the city home as industry attracted tens of thousands to Youngstown during the twenties and thirties.

The creation of a trolley line going through the south side of the city near the end of the nineteenth century greatly aided the growth of a key neighborhood known as Fosterville, which had formerly been a center for mining. With the completion of the trolley line and the opening of Terminal Park, later known as Idora Park, at the terminus of the line, the south side began canadian family pharmacy reviews to grow in earnest. The same year as Idora Park opened, construction finished on the Market Street Bridge, connecting the south side to the downtown. This development opened up other south side neighborhoods for development like Lansingville, which became a largely Slovak dominated area that later produced boxing champions Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Kelly Pavlik.

By the 1930s, the uptown area on Market Street was fast becoming a commercial corridor second only to downtown. Neighborhood business thrived too. Oak Hill Avenue and Hillman Street were home to a variety of businesses and grocers. Movie theaters like the Uptown, Foster’s, and the Newport provided entertainment within walking distance. The south side truly represented the industrial working class dream.

The post-war era ultimately brought the long-term decline of the south side, though few saw it coming during the heady years following V-J Day. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Youngstown demolished whole neighborhoods as part of a citywide “urban renewal” campaign. The total destruction of the north side neighborhood of Caldwell—known as the “Monkey’s Nest”—drove large numbers of displaced African Americans into the lower south side. This problem was exacerbated during the 1960s when the arterial expressway bisected the south side, destroying even more neighborhoods.

Racial turnover proceeded rapidly in the Oak Hill/Hillman area during the early and mid-1960s. White flight and white owned businesses with a growing black customer base caused enormous tensions. Racial problems exploded in riots on Hillman Street in both 1968 and 1969. Blight spread. Poverty began to concentrate. Oak Hill and High Edwards (a neighborhood wrecked by the construction of the arterial system) also scored high on a variety of socio-economic measures the city called “social disorganization characteristics.” In response, a variety of community groups stepped in to lead programs designed to halt the erosion of the lower south side.

The Youngstown Community Action Council (CAC), formed during this time in coordination with the Office of Economic Opportunity, administered anti-poverty programs in the area. The Youngstown Urban league opened an office and a food stamp center viagra generic in the Hillman area and brought together a “Black Motivation Committee,” which sought to address inadequate social services in the area. Community organizations like the Marcus Garvey School and the Uhuru Cultural Center opened on Hillman. A community non-profit called Freedom Inc. directed investment into opening black owned businesses. This economic formula was a unique mixture of private and cooperative ventures with public ownership. The group opened a bookstore, Native Son, and a clothier. Later came the Freedom Foods Market, which provided fresh produce and healthy food for the black community. A local cultural renaissance even flourished with the yearly African Cultural Weekend that attracted thousands to Chicago Field and brought speakers like future poet laureate Amiri Baraka and ambassadors from Tanzania and other African countries. Despite all this, the relentless economic decline of the 1970s eventually laid the area low, especially after the closing of the first of the local steel mills in 1977.

The concentrated poverty that became endemic to Hillman and Oak Hill in the 1960s and 1970s exploded out into the rest of the south side in the 1970s and 1980s. The once thriving uptown business district collapsed and store after store closed up and down Market Street. In 1991, the murder rate in the city suddenly skyrocketed. By 1995, Youngstown’s homicide rate had eclipsed that of the much larger City of Pittsburgh. Once thriving south side neighborhoods, like Fosterville canadian online pharmacy and Warren, collapsed. Amazingly, the first decade of the twenty first century proved even more disastrous.

Between 1960 and 2000, the south side lost an average of almost 18 percent of its population every decade. According to studies done by urban planner Tom Hetrick, in 1970, 27,000 people lived along the once thriving Glenwood Corridor, which snakes through the lower south side. Since that time the corridor has lost almost 70% of its population. As part of the Youngstown 2010 Citywide Plan the heavily blighted neighborhood of Fosterville was split into two, with the new neighborhood of Idora coming into existence. Currently, The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation is working to stabilize the Idora neighborhood so that it might avoid the fate of Fosterville. The YNDC repurposes vacant land, rehabilitates housing, and has even opened an urban farm. However, parts of the south side once seemingly buffered from the blight and decay of Oak Hill and Hillman have been overwhelmed. Most of the

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venerable neighborhoods of the south side are now on the down swing. Almost all of the area’s local landmark businesses and institutions are gone, one of the last, Cardinal Mooney High School, is eyeing relocation to the suburbs. The neighborhoods around Hilton Avenue, relatively stable as late as the end of the 1990s, are in a census tract that now contains over 500 hundred vacant buildings. The collapse of the entire south side is accelerating.

The downfall of Youngstown’s South Side is one of the greatest tragedies in American urban history. It’s hard to imagine how the city as whole can survive in any meaningful way without a stabilized south side. Recently, the downtown has experienced a revival after several decades of decline: vacant buildings are being renovated; new businesses are opening; demand for housing downtown is expanding. Yet, just across the Market Street Bridge the south side is melting down.

In a very well received 2010 essay entitled A Renaissance for Whom? Youngstown and its Neighborhoods, James Rhodes and John Russo, author of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown, describe some of the vital steps that need to be taken to stabilize city neighborhoods: “We’ve all heard local residents reminisce about when downtown Youngstown was thriving, but we forget that during the city’s heyday, small businesses also thrived on Hillman and Market Street, Glenwood and South Avenue, among others…One step toward creating more vibrant neighborhoods would be developing strong small businesses, especially minority owned companies.” The latter statement is especially relevant for the majority-minority south side.

As this crisis builds toward a dénouement, this much is clear: either the south side lives, or Youngstown dies. Their destinies are bounded together. The sooner we realize this, the better. And the sooner the city, local community activists, and the business community come together, the better the chance this deterioration can be arrested.

–Sean Posey

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