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Michigan’s Budding Romance With Modern Passenger Rail

If you have ever ridden an intercity passenger train or a local streetcar, a commuter train, light rail system, or even a subway, you may have noticed the intoxicating feeling generated from riding the rails – the simple pleasure of watching the world pass by as you roll across or under the landscape. Perhaps this feeling is strongest when traveling on an intercity passenger train, but it is there nevertheless. Recently, my wife and I rode the rails across Canada, from Windsor to Toronto to Winnipeg to Edmonton to Vancouver. The glory days of railroading may not be as they once were, but it is clear that all forms of rail travel are a vital cog in any successful multi-modal transportation network. It also had an unexpected effect, in that rail travel invites human interaction unlike any other form of transportation.

During this trip, each of our intercity trains was filled to capacity. In addition, we saw a handsome new railway station in Windsor, and witnessed multitudes of Canadians riding GO Transit commuter trains and historic streetcars in metropolitan Toronto. We observed and rode the rapidly growing SkyTrain network in metropolitan Vancouver. On our return trip, we saw heavy use of Sound Transit’s commuter rail lines in Seattle and rode it’s CityLink Light Rail system between downtown and Sea-Tac International Airport. Sadly, the only place of any size where we didn’t see passenger rail being used to its fullest potential was upon our return to Michigan.

That does not mean passenger rail transportation is not playing a role here. All three AMTRAK routes in our state (Bluewater, Pere Marquette, and Wolverine) have strong and supportive ridership; we are thankfully participating in high-speed improvements to the Chicago-Detroit corridor; the M-1 Light Rail project is under construction along Woodward Avenue in Detroit; and the People Mover system continues to ply its elevated route around downtown Detroit. Other passenger rail routes being discussed include intercity services linking Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids; extending service to Traverse City, commuter service between Ann Arbor, Detroit Metro Airport, and downtown Detroit; and commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell. But, to really make a difference, Michigan needs to stop talking and start acting, by applying additional planning efforts and funding sources towards all modes of passenger rail transportation. In Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver, their professional sports stadiums were constructed abutting the commuter and intercity rail network. In addition, all three have rail links to their airports. Such foresighted transportation planning helps reduce traffic congestion on area road networks, reduces air pollution, and reduces overall dependency on automobiles, while it also increases the lifespan of the road system and interconnectivity between transport modes. Here in Michigan, we are so reliant on the automobile, that it is often our only option. Given Detroit’s moniker as “the Motor City,” that may seem like a logical conclusion, but

why can’t “motors” include those for locomotives too?

Beyond the transportation benefits of a multi-modal system that incorporates various forms of passenger rail, there is another advantage that became very clear during this trip – opportunity for human interaction. This certainly cannot happen when we drive solo, cocooned in our cars, and is a limited option for a small group of people in carpool and vanpool situations. However, when riding the rails, particularly for middle to longer distances, one has the chance to interact with their fellow passengers on a regular basis. With each and every trip there is the potential of meeting new people. Even as an avid bike commuter, I will admit that opportunities for conversations beyond brief greetings are limited, though it does happen more often than with cars. Meanwhile, during our Canadian cross-country trip, at every meal we were seated with different pairs of passengers. This gave us a perfect opportunity to meet our fellow travelers from all over the world, including other parts of the United States, Canada, India, Australia, England, Sudan, etc. Furthermore, in all forms of passenger rail, one has the opportunity to get up and move around from place to place which generates the potential to meet and connect with new people. In other words, passenger rail can be a social gathering place.

Will Michigan’s current romance with intercity passenger rail be a lasting relationship or will we revert to our old lonesome ways the next time gas prices drop or fuel efficiency improves? That’s the big question. But, one has hopeful optimism when they observe what’s taking place north of the border and in other cities around our country. For it’s not just Seattle where the romance with the rails has fully blossomed, but in many other American cities where you would have never imagined it 10-20-30 years ago. Burgeoning cities in the south and west like Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Dallas, Sacramento, San Jose, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Honolulu, and others have hopped on the train phenomenon. For Michigan to be/remain truly competitive, it must allow our budding romance with modern passenger rail transportation to fully flower. Otherwise, our state risks becoming sidetracked onto an abandoned spur as the world rolls past.

So, come on Michigan, in the immortal words of the O’Jays, let’s climb aboard the “Love Train” and thunder our way towards a more promising future.

– Rick Brown


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King James Returns to a Battered Kingdom

Inside of a short but salutary week, Northeast Ohio received a seemingly huge boost. Cleveland was chosen to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, and Lebron James announced he would be returning “home” to once again play with the Cavaliers.

The James’ announcement very quickly lit up newswires across the country, and Lebron’s gleaming visage graced the covers of sports pages everywhere. The vitriol and vindictiveness of four years ago melted away. Rabid fans arrived at James’ Bath Township home, shirtless and roaring the name of the “King.” The White House even weighed in, with President Obama referring to Lebron as a “fine young man.”

James does seem to be much more thoughtful than most athletes of his age, but one wonders what he makes of this outpouring. America has of course long been beholden to the superstar athlete of the moment and to the world of professional sports in general. My generation was weaned on the omnipresent face of “Air Jordan,” and countless children aspired to be “like Mike.” We give lip service to the fireman, the teacher and the small business owner, but athletes are our gods come down from on high.

Northeast Ohio, however, is very vulnerable to clinging to whatever good news comes its way, especially when it comes in the shape of an athlete.

For well over half of a century, this region has been pummeled by the vagaries of capital and by the uncaring God of Globalism. Entire ways of life and entire communities vanished as the stature of Cleveland, Youngstown, Akron and Canton collapsed. Ever since, citizens, jobs and capital have fled the rotting city cores— headed for first for the suburbs and then for somewhere, anywhere, far from this corner of Ohio.

While columnists are tallying up the victories of this past week, our cities, neighborhoods and futures remain imperiled. The truth is simple: Northeast Ohio is on the ropes.

If one glances at a map of the region from 1970, and then one from the 21st century, a startling picture emerges. The once rural areas between Cleveland and Akron, and Akron and Canton, are mostly gone. An ugly, sprawling virus of suburban sprawl now completely disfigures once coherent urban cores.

In “Measuring Sprawl 2014,” a recent report issued by Smart Growth America, our region fared particularly poorly. Out of 221 metros, Cleveland, Youngstown and Akron ranked 153rd, 175th, and 111th, respectively.

At the same time, Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark and Mahoning County all lost population between 2000 and 2010. In the past forty years, Northeast Ohio as a whole has lost almost ten percent of its population.

Once bucolic suburbs that lured upwardly mobile residents are now being deserted for even more sparsely populated exurbs further out. And more and more communities are aging and shrinking, while still having to maintain increasingly decrepit infrastructure.

The good news is downtown Cleveland is filling up—and that even the once bustling central business districts in Canton, Akron and Youngstown are coming alive again. However, the twin horsemen of sprawl and abandonment rampaging throughout the region have more than canceled that out.

In Cleveland, housing prices have collapsed in an unimaginably staggering way. Home sale prices dropped over 60 percent between the years 2006 to 2013 in Cleveland and over 80 percent in East Cleveland during the same time period.

Abandoned housing is now a problem everywhere. The Plain Dealer has called the spread of vacant properties a “persistent drag on Greater Cleveland’s economy”. But worse than that, the explosion in abandoned properties is now imperiling the entire region.

The Northeast Sustainable Communities Consortium estimates 18 houses PER DAY will go abandoned in the region for at least the next quarter century. This trend will more than likely put Northeast Ohio out of business as an economically competitive area. King James is returning to a shrinking kingdom, no longer sure of itself or its place in a rapidly changing era. The constant movement of people out of the center cities and the inner-ring suburbs to the periphery—or out of the region entirely—is placing us at a prime disadvantage. It’s also becoming clear that the Millennials are once again choosing to urbanize. Northeastern Ohio’s cities—trapped in areas that have rapidly decentralized—will be ill equipped to compete for that demographic.

Recently, my father returned here to Northeast Ohio to visit. A visit from my dad is always a wonderful occasion, but it’s also an occasion to hear about what was. Many of his haunts and the places he once knew are gone—with only vacant lots or a decaying building serving as solemn reminders of their passing. Will I someday be leading my own son on a sentimental journey through a landscape of loss?

At this moment, we don’t need to be reminded of the greatness of Lebron James. We need to be reminded that this was once a great region—built by men and women who accepted that they had a social responsibility to preserve their cities and communities. While we’ve indeed been victims of ill-conceived economic and urban policies originating outside of the area, it’s clear that we are also the authors of much of our own misery. When we bemoan the state of our professional sports teams—while ignoring the state of our communities—we invite disaster. Northeast Ohio must prove again that is a serious region filled with capable people. If we do not, nothing will be save us—not even King James.

–By Sean Posey


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Canton: The Once and Future City

Photo: Jon Dawson

To me, Canton, Ohio, is a place that drips memories. I can see and feel them come at me in great waves as I drive down Cleveland Avenue to the still-beating heart of a once great city. Canton: a place I knew as an outsider from the suburbs; a place where I first saw both the solemn ugliness of the world and the gentle beauty of street life. This is a city of wonder and a city of ugliness. Even at its nadir in the 1990s, you knew Canton was a place that many once cared about deeply. I searched endlessly for the origins of those feelings in the dusty downtown and its many architectural wonders. Few my age did the same. The young of my generation held Canton in low regard—a place to, if anything, enjoy with a sense of irony. When I finally left, I didn’t look back. But in my absence Canton began a transformation. No one can say for sure where that transformation is heading, but the city is reorganizing itself despite long odds.

In many ways, the “Hall of Fame City” is the archetypal shrinking city. The beautiful but bruised downtown is surrounded by an inner ring of worn neighborhoods scarred by vacancy. The struggling manufacturing economy in the city’s core is overshadowed by a neglectful and unconcerned suburbia. Canton is struggling to overcome what Catherine Tumber calls “the growing invisibility” of smaller post-industrial cities.

Canton first became notable for producing agricultural machinery. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become one of the world’s primary manufacturers of paving-bricks. The city later emerged as a big player in the iron and specialty steel industries. Like so many other industrial cities, the population grew in tandem with the plentiful jobs offered in local manufacturing concerns.

By 1950, 116,000 people called Canton home, and the city’s charming downtown had reached its peak. However, unbeknownst to the city fathers, the long descent was already underway. In the next few decades, tracts of farmland in the surfeit of suburbs started to transform into growing communities. The decentralization of retail soon followed. In 1965, the Mellett Mall (later Canton Centre) arrived as the first challenger to the hegemony of the downtown commercial district. But only five years later the suburban Belden Village Mall opened in Jackson Township. This started the process of drawing retail out of the city into the growing hinterlands.

The Canton I came to know in the 1990s had shrunk to about 84,000 people. With a coterie of friends—some from the city and some from the suburbs—I explored the maze of the city’s streets, apartments, and vacant buildings. We were a generation raised on the idea that the city was a foreign place—a place to be rejected. Instead, I found a city beaten and somewhat unrecognizable, but still vibrant. Local institutions like Taggart’s, a pre-war ice cream parlor/restaurant, introduced us to mixed-use development and businesses that weren’t cut from the sterile cloth of fast food franchisedom. Bars like George’s Lounge gave us a place to crash that didn’t bear the imprint of a sterile chain tavern. As manufacturing began to fade, Canton rebranded itself. Known as the city that birthed professional football, Canton hosts the Pro Football Hall of Fame annual induction ceremony and parade. And every July before the festivities the “clean-up” began—an effort to temporarily hide prostitutes and the homeless who haunted the streets from Cherry to Shorb.

At night, that side of Canton came to life. We might often forget, but the city belongs to everyone, from the banker to the bordello worker. And during those years the city belonged maximum dose cialis per day as much to the working class and the “under-class” as it did to anyone. The McKinley Monument—the burial place of President McKinley—and surrounding Monument Park saw the mingling of ravers, viagra generic hustlers, and the disturbed in the humid summer months. Some unseemliness certainly existed, but nothing like what would come with gradual rise of gang culture. Today, a kind of border fence separates the graveyard from the monument, and the park is heavily policed after dark. Homicides and home invasions occur much more regularly. This devolution, sadly, is symbolic of what’s happened to far too many of the city’s core neighborhoods.

Despite Canton’s declining population, the best of the area’s built environment is still in the city: the beautifully restored Victorian Professional Building; the classical the female viagra brick streets of the inner core; and the stately elegance of the historic Ridgewood neighborhood, whose mix of revival-style houses represent American architecture at its height. And the principal cultural institutions in the county are located in the city—the symphony, the ballet, The Player’s Guild, etc.

I often wandered the half-abandoned downtown of the late-90s. The silent splendor of the neo-classical Key Bank Building and the Neo-Renaissance Onesto Hotel served as guideposts for my travels through the dusky streets. Back then, the downtown offered little. An adult bookstore/video arcade even dominated the main entrance into the old commercial district. Only the grandeur of the nearby Palace Theater, a 20’s era movie house, gave any indication of what a joint the downtown must have once been.

The moribund and derelict downtown of the 90s is rapidly giving way to pockets of re-growth. In 2003, the city issued the first downtown development plan. Within a few years an arts district was established. Coffee shops, some retail, and a broad range of new eateries followed—including Muggswigz Coffee, which made USA Today’s “10 best coffeehouses in America” list.

The downtown of the late 90s lacked almost any active edges. Few of the streets seemed lively at all. Today, that’s changing. Despite the fact it is too large –with many gaps that prove unfriendly to pedestrians looking for connections between parts of the downtown—some wonderful blocks have emerged. The art galleries on Sixth are a fine example of what revitalized streets should look like. Even the Subway fast-food joint on Market properly conforms to the street, fitting in perfectly with the other gorgeous storefronts. Still, downtown is only fully activated for a small portion of the year. Blight issues in the corridor and competition from the massive suburban shopping center around Belden Village are holding back the next stage of development.

Canton’s best buildings come from the pre-war era and still show the obvious marks of craftsmanship that separate the city from its surrounding communities—like the aptly named Plain Township. The best of these—the Carnegie Library (done by a Youngstown, Ohio native) and the Stark County Court House, among others—are in the Beaux-Arts style. These civic maste
rpieces convey a sense of history and of destiny—that Cantonians were, and are, a capable people made in the mold of the ancients. These buildings remind us of a once great and future city.

I recently drove down 5th Street for the first time in well over a decade. Even then, the area was distressed and considered “unsafe.” I remember driving passed Martin’s Carryout on the weekends, an improvised bodega that was once obviously a residential unit. Every year it looked a little worse. Today it’s boarded up, and the area around it is becoming an urban prairie dotted with tax credit housing. This is one possible future for Canton. The other is the reactivation—already underway—of the city center. Its likely young Millennials will be the ones who will have to complete this job.

Like much in urban life, walking through the center city is an occasion for both a melancholic and memorable experience. The dreariness of recent decades is still obvious, but so is the weight of a more distant past. The long forgotten memories of the stone masons, steel workers, and craftsmen who built the city are so thick and alive that one can’t help but feel them all around. What would they whisper to this generation? What would they expect from those who have inherited this battered city? The answers are swirling in every alley, storefront, and house along the arteries of Canton. They only wait for us to come and find them.

By Sean Posey



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Baltimore's Waterfront to Get Yet More Parking

Fancy office towers, hotels, museums, and tourist attractions line the contours of Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay harborfront. So too, do massive parking garages and interstate-sized roadways that feed them. What does the future hold? According to a new plan, still more parking.

waterfront parking garage

One of several waterfront parking garages at Baltimore's harbor. All photos by author

Like much of America, Baltimore waterfront development since the age of cars has been designed for the age of cars. That looks likely to continue as the waterfront grows.

The Greater Baltimore Committee and Waterfront Partnership hired architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross to prepare Inner Harbor 2.0, an overarching new plan for reinvigorating Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront.

The Director of Landscape Architecture for Ayers Saint Gross, Jonathon Ceci, said about a parcel of harborfront currently covered by beach volleyball courts, “The site is basically an island cut off from the rest of the Inner Harbor. Besides Key Highway [on one side], you’ve got the water [on the other side] and a lack of parking garages. The question was, how do you make it a magnet for urban activity?”

How does Ceci plan to create “a magnet for urban activity”? Apparently, with parking garages. The Inner Harbor 2.0 plan recommends a $20 million garage on this waterfront site at a public cost of $12-14 million.

Baltimoreans should question the line of thinking that big garages are the best magnets for urban activity. Big garages and wide roads go hand in hand. They create the “island effect” that Mr. Ceci wants to eliminate.

Baltimore’s near waterfront has more high-rise parking spaces than high-rise residential units with waterfront views. There are at least 6 waterfront parking garages, and at least 14 large parking garages within one block of the waterfront. At least 9 parking garages rise to between 7 and 12 stories tall. The waterfront has around 4,500 parking spaces already planned or under construction: 4,000 at the Horseshoe casino and about 500 at Rash field.

Meanwhile, the one-way street pairs adjacent to the harbor have 10 lanes of through traffic, while at many times, cars cannot make it through a light in one cycle. Baltimore has used these streets for 180-mile per hour races.

What Baltimore’s waterfront has gained by attracting tens of thousands of cars it might have lost by being unfriendly to pedestrians, bicyclists, urban livability, and more local populations. Walkers can enjoy a promenade ringing the water, but to venture inland, they have to cross many lanes of unfriendly traffic. These physical road barriers separate the water from Baltimore’s traditional downtown and may limit economic development from more easily sweeping inland.

A family racing to safety at Baltimore's Harbor

Ironically, all the car infrastructure may not make car driving easy. Supersized roads and garages contribute to congestion that can offset cars’ theoretical time-saving advantages. Driving across town and up and down garages sometimes is slower than walking and bicycling. The business case for more parking erodes if corresponding congestion leads to traffic jams and stress.

Lombard Street

Rush hour traffic near Baltimore's Inner Harbor

By adding four high frequency Charm City Circulator bus routes, Baltimore has made progress. It can do much more to shift the balance.

Here are some additional ideas to consider near the waterfront:

  • Create an app that directs cars to affordable satellite parking spaces.
  • Create a tax on new parking garages and dedicate the revenue to non-automotive transportation.
  • Let developers choose to pay into an alternative transportation fund instead of building parking as required by zoning.
  • Encourage parking at outlying transit stations that serve downtown.
  • Re-introduce and enforce bus-only lanes downtown.
  • Create peripheral park & ride lots with frequently departing shuttles servicing downtown, similar to the way airport shuttles work.
  • Create iconic Inner Harbor bus shelters.
  • Operate Camden Line trains on weekends for special events and Orioles games.
  • Ask the Orioles to reward fans for not bringing a car.
  • Create a discounted MTA family pass.
  • Ask downtown employers to create financial incentives for employees to not bring a car.
  • Build Pratt Street and Key Highway cycletracks to support bicyclists and bikeshare.
  • Add Charm City Circulator routes to South Baltimore, Canton, the Casino parking garage, and new park & ride locations.
  • Make sure the east-west Red Line moves forward.

Baltimore’s waterfront must be accessible to people who own cars. However, with more affordable, safe, and convenient alternatives, some drivers would be happy to visit the city’s downtown waterfront, while leaving the car outside of the city center.

Jeff La Noue

Similar version of article cross-posted on Comeback City


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Ohio and the Fate of the "Big Eight"

The 2010 Census produced mixed results for America’s “legacy cities,” that is deindustrialized cities located primarily, but not exclusively, in the Midwest and in the Mid-Atlantic states. While east coast cities like Newark and Philadelphia actually posted population gains, Midwestern Rust Belt cities generally continued their long slide down in terms of population growth. This proved especially true in the state of Ohio, formerly a key manufacturing hub and once arguably the heartland of Industrial North America. For not only have Ohio’s major cities continued to shrink, their population loss actually ACCELERATED from 2000 to 2010. The same largely holds true for the shrinking counties that are home to Ohio’s seven withering major cities.

All of this leads to a central question: How long will it be before Ohio itself loses population? Much is at stake. Not just tax bases, representation in the house, and federal funding, but national relevance. With the decline of the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region, Ohio’s internal decay is even more of a pressing issue.

The state has been traditionally known for its “Big Eight” cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron, Dayton, Canton, and Youngstown. All of these cities, save the capital city of Columbus, owe their existence to the explosion in manufacturing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Cleveland was an early leader in automotive production before diversifying into other manufacturing sectors as the twentieth century wore on. Youngstown was a steel center, known as “America’s Ruhr Valley.” Dayton’s manufacturing muscle grew on, among other things, automobiles, foundries, and printing plants. Toledo was also known for auto manufacturing and the glass industry.

Suburbanization in the post-war era and deindustrialization hit Ohio’s cities as hard as any in the nation. From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, Ohio’s manufacturing employment dropped by nearly 20 percent. Simultaneously, Ohio’s metropolitan areas decentralized. Seven of the Big Eight began to crumble, albeit at various speeds. The deterioration in the economic and social fortunes of Ohio’s cities through the 1980s has been well covered in a variety of venues. What has been less mentioned is that, unlike east coast legacy cities, the decline of Ohio’s major cities accelerated from 2000 to 2010. And according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the decline continues.

Figure one is a comparison of the change in population for seven of Ohio’s Big Eight from the 2000 to 2010 census.

Figure 1

Every one of these cities experienced a larger decline in 2010 than they did in 2000. Cleveland’s collapse is particularly shocking, as are Dayton and Youngstown’s double-digit losses. Even Akron, somewhat of a success story, experienced a surprising drop in 2010. After seeing a substantial improvement in its population numbers in 2000, the city registered its largest population decline since 1980 in the year 2010. The 2012 census estimates look equally dismal: Only one out of 15 Ohio cities with a population of over 50,000 managed not to lose residents. Two of Ohio’s cities (Cleveland and Youngstown) were among the seven fastest shrinking cities in the entire nation during that period. Youngstown was the country’s fastest shrinking city.

Counties containing a major shrinking city are on a similar path of continued contraction. With the exception of Stark and Summit in 2000, accelerated population loss has become the norm, as figure two below shows.

Figure 2

(Chart shows negative population loss. Negative numbers are positive)

Lucas County, Mahoning, and Cuyahoga experienced large decreases in the period from 2000 to 2010. Cuyahoga, home to the second largest city in the state, is the fastest shrinking county in the state. Mahoning County in particular faces a troubled future. Between the middle of 2008 and the middle of 2009, Mahoning had more deaths than births. This is termed “negative natural increase.” Once a county experiences a cycle of negative natural increase, it is likely to re-enter the cycle again at some point.

The population decrease of the state’s major cities and counties is almost certainly a prelude to state population loss; a major sign is the disappearance of young people, a problem especially centered in counties housing the state’s largest cities. Cuyahoga County’s under-18 population dipped 16 percent between 2000 and 2010. In fact, Ohio’s drop in people under 18 was the third worst in the nation.

Ohio’s manufacturing employment wasn’t just hard hit during the seventies and eighties. At the beginning of the century Ohio had nearly a million manufacturing jobs. A little over a decade later just under 350,000 of those jobs remained. Manufacturing is the crucial piece of the economic puzzle in Ohio. And as the “recovery” begins to pick up steam, especially for automobile production and pipe production for energy exploration, manufacturing will continue to be a centerpiece of the state domestic product. However, it’s unlikely job growth will ever return to the numbers seen in the nineties, much less the seventies. Also present is a significant skills gap, particularly in distressed urban communities, between what modern manufacturing employers are demanding and what job seekers possess. Lost manufacturing jobs are particularly troubling considering that average compensation in manufacturing for the year 2009 was nearly $68,000, while non-farm, non-manufacturing sectors averaged only about $42,000.

As important as the decline in manufacturing jobs is for the state, there are other negative long-term indicators. According to the Brookings Institute, “Ohio underperformed the national average on employment in every industry from 2000 to 2008. Ohio’s shrinking industries are declining faster than its growing industries are gaining ground.” There have been bright spots, like the creation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown or the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland-a green worker co-op that’s part of a highly innovative “Cleveland Model.” The model partners community co-ops and anchor institutions (like universities and hospitals) with a large local footprint that could utilize services in their surrounding communities. Still, it’s unclear how long these initiatives will take to have a measurable impact. And time is not on the side of the “Big Seven.”

The term Big Seven denotes the absence of the capital city of Columbus. Unlike the others, Columbus has seemingly prospered while urban flight and deindustrialization ate away at her brethren. Columbus’ diversified economy traditionally buffered it from the extremely cyclical nature of Ohio’s manufacturing cities. And while sprawl devastated other cities in the state, Columbus annexed outlying areas, withholding the extension of water lines to areas that might resist incorporation into the city. Annexation disguises the low-density nature of the city. The urban core of Columbus has been hit hard by foreclosure and disinvestment. The near east side and south side are also experiencing disinvestment, yet, Columbus is drawing people from all over Ohio. It is the only one of the Big Eight with a growing population.

Franklin County, however, which Columbus dominates, has a child poverty rate of almost 27 percent.[vii] For several years child poverty in Ohio has eclipsed the national average; approximately one in four children live in poverty. Black child poverty in Ohio is three times higher than all other child poverty. The percentage of black children living in poverty in Ohio’s Big Eight is much higher than the state average. In 2003, over 40 percent of black children in Youngstown, Toledo, Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Canton lived below the poverty line. In 2011, that number was over 50 percent in Toledo and around 56 percent in Youngstown.

Ohio is now very likely to join Michigan as the only other state in the union to have lost population. While recent census estimates show a very slight uptick in growth, long-term trends are more than enough to reverse this. Overall population growth is trending in the wrong direction. Ohio’s metropolitan areas are no closer to resolving long-standing conflicts between city and suburb; instead, shrinking counties are home to a polyglot of municipalities fighting over ever-decreasing economic pies. The federal government has long been an absentee voice in the realm of urban issues, so what is being done at the state level? States have toolboxes that can hinder or help cities. Ohio’s poor record on fostering municipal cooperation, encouraging sprawl and green field development, as well as failing to invest in twenty first century transportation infrastructure, is more than discouraging-it’s akin to promoting spatial suicide. Since Ohio’s 2005 tax cut-that largely benefited top-earners-job growth in every sector has trailed the national average. From 2005 to 2009, Ohio eliminated its corporate income tax, instead establishing a “commercial activity tax” in 2010. Unfortunately corporations are multi-state enterprises and are likely to invest such tax breaks in places other than Ohio, which is apparently what happened. Since 2005, only three other states have worse job growth rates.

Ohio’s budget for 2014 and 2015 also features income tax cuts (mostly benefiting the wealthy, again) and an increase in the regressive sales tax. Tax cuts up to $250,000 for small business owners won’t add up to much of a stimulus when most small business owners make under $30,000 a year. Estate taxes, the majority of which fund local government, are now gone. Distressed cities in Ohio will likely have to enact further reductions in services, which in turn will make them even less desirable places to live.

Ohio is in crisis mode, whether the state government realizes it or not. Seven out of Ohio’s eight major cities are in various states of decline or even collapse. The economy is moribund on many levels. The decline of manufacturing employment is hurting working class families at a time when few opportunities for college graduates are driving more young people to the Sun Belt and elsewhere. As the Greater Ohio Policy Center points out, “Ohio’s seven largest metro areas are home to 71 percent of its population, 76 percent of its jobs, and 80 percent of the states’ gross domestic product.” With accelerating blight and population loss, metropolitan fragmentation, and a disconnected state government more interested in restricting access to abortion than in increasing access to education and jobs for low-income households, Ohio faces a race to the bottom of states in terms of opportunity and quality of life.

–Sean Posey

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Lansing Area Logistics to "Go Green"

Source: gogreentrikesllc

Scheduled to launch in Greater Lansing on Earth Day, 2014 (Tuesday, April 22nd), Go Green Trikes, LLC (Facebook webpage link) is the brainchild of local green business entrepreneur, Yvonne LeFave. Utilizing heavy-duty electric-assisted cargo trikes capable of carrying loads of up to 600 pounds, Go Green Trikes will provide prompt and sustainable delivery services throughout the urban heart of Greater Lansing – essentially an area bounded by I-96 on the south and west, I-69 on the north and Van Atta Road to the east. Here’s a maplink of the service area.

These are not your childhood tricycles folks, but industrial-grade cargo trikes designed to efficiently serve businesses while avoiding the tangles associated with trucks and street traffic. They also allow for door-to-door delivery of goods without the hassle of blocking lanes and/or customers in the process.

According to Yvonne, Greater Lansing will be at the very forefront of this cutting-edge form of “last mile” delivery/logistics service. Within North America, cargo trike delivery services such as Go Green Trikes only operate currently in Portland, Oregon (B-line); Vancouver, British Columbia (Shift Urban Cargo Delivery); Boston (Metro Pedal Power); and New York City (Revolution Rickshaws). Needless to say, Greater Lansing will be in good company, while also being the smallest urban center to support such an exciting and sustainable business venture.

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are a guide, it appears Go Green Trikes, LLC will be pedaling off to a successful start, as they already have three clients lined up to date. So, starting April 22nd, keep an eye out for Yvonne LeFave as she plies her way about area streets and bike trails. Kudos to her for setting a sustainble standard for all of us to strive for!

– Rick Brown

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Life After 'Youngstown 2010'

This column originally appeared on Youngstown State University’s The News Outlet.

Nearly a decade ago, the city of Youngstown was in the midst of finalizing a comprehensive plan that sought to create a bold new vision for the struggling Rust Belt community.

The plan, Youngstown 2010, called for a radical rethinking of the way in which the city needed to embrace its future.

Unlike most city plans which promote growth, 2010 suggested a managed ‘right-sizing’ which embraced the notion that a new approach was needed to deal with the numerous challenges associated with decades of economic and population decline.

The 2010 planning process began in earnest in 2002 and was led by then-Community Development Agency director Jay Williams in partnership with Youngstown State University and Urban Strategies Inc. of Toronto, Canada. The plan (and its process) was aggressively marketed throughout the local area.

The Vindicator ran a four-part series prior to the first citywide public meeting at Stambaugh Auditorium in 2002 (and another series in 2008); a news conference was held to announce the community meeting schedule; two public service announcements ran for a nine month period in 2004; and local PBS affiliate WNEO produced a live program series, ‘2010 Moving Ahead: A Forum For Reporting Progress’.

Billboard advertisements donned city corridors encouraging residents to get involved. A website for the plan was developed as was memorabilia such as t-shirts, tote bags, writing materials and even electronic logos for computer wallpaper.

An art project – ‘Faces Of 2010’ – asked residents to contribute renditions of themselves in a mosaic layout which, coincidently, generated exactly 2,010 individual faces.

After three years of community engagement in which an estimated 5,000 people participated, the final plan was unveiled to over 1,300 people at Stambaugh Auditorium in January 2005.

Once a final draft was inked, the Youngstown 2010 Comprehensive Citywide Plan was adopted by City Council and soon began to generate local, national and even international media and academic recognition.

For example, in 2006, the plan received the ‘National Planning Excellence Award For Community Outreach’ by the American Planning Association and was also named to the New York Times’ annual ‘Best Ideas Of The Year’ list.

In 2005, Jay Williams – a political novice – decided to run for mayor as an Independent candidate using the Youngstown 2010 Plan as his platform. He would go on to defeat Democratic Party candidate and then-State Senator Bob Hagan by a 12 point margin.

The win was historic as Williams became the city’s first African-American mayor and – at 34 years of age – its youngest as well.

This new vision and new leadership created high hopes in the community. For the duration of his time as Mayor, Williams was asked to speak about the plan at numerous engagements throughout the nation which raised both he and Youngstown’s profile.

However, as time passed, concern in the community grew that commitment to the plan was waning. In 2008, a historic recession exasperated an already overwhelming economic situation in the city. Eventually, Williams, himself, would begin to describe 2010 as a ‘journey and not a destination.”

Then, in 2009, the city’s chief planner and Youngstown 2010 project director, Anthony Kobak, abruptly resigned and was not replaced. Two years later in August 2011, Jay Williams, himself, resigned to accept a position with the Obama administration. His replacement – Chuck Sammarone – would dismiss the plan outright.

So, ten years later, what was accomplished under Youngstown 2010 and what is the condition of the city today?

The plan contained a final chapter which outlined implementation strategies both citywide and for each side of town. Those strategies ranged from very general to somewhat specific and were organized under three themes: ‘Clean’, ‘Green’ and ‘Better Planned & Organized’.

This column will take a look at some of the key goals from that chapter while also examining some key finding from the recent neighborhood conditions report issued by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation.


Perhaps one of the most curious goals of Youngstown 2010 was a hope that the city could stabilize its population at 80,000 residents.

This remained a goal in the final 2005 draft despite the fact that the city’s population in the year 2000 – two years prior to the start of the Youngstown 2010 planning process – had already declined to 82,000.

Additionally, the city had been losing an average of nearly 16 percent population each decade for the past forty years due to a nationwide trend of suburban sprawl dating as far back as the 1930s and later exasperated by the collapse of the local steel industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

When the 2010 U.S. Census report was released, it revealed that the city had lost an additional 18.4 percent of its population. The news was met with shock by some city officials who anticipated more population loss but not to such a degree.

Two years later in 2012, an updated Census report showed that Youngstown led the nation in population loss between 2010-2012 among cities with a population of 50,000 or greater. Meanwhile, Mahoning County led Ohio in population loss from 2011-2012.

In fact, between 1990 and 2010, the only area of the city where the number of residents grew was the East Side due to the construction of two prisons.

Youngstown’s current population now stands at approximately 65,000, a 61 percent decrease since its peak.

Crime, Education & Income

While the Youngstown 2010 Plan – largely a land use plan – did not directly address issues of crime, education and poverty, it’s important to review these items as they do speak to the holistic health of the city and impact planning objectives.

Regarding crime, calls for police service for violent and property crime in the city decreased by nearly a third between 2003 and 2012. Annual homicide rates decreased sharply as well in comparison to a peak in the mid-1990s. However, it should be noted that the city’s population decline also plays a factor in these figures as well.

Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of residents without a high school diploma dropped by 14 percent and those with a college degree rose by nearly a third. However, 20 percent of adults in the city still do not have a high school diploma while only 16 percent have a four-year college degree or higher. This leaves Youngstown with a higher percentage of residents without a high school diploma and a lower percentage of residents with a post-secondary degree than almost any other city of comparable size and composition in the nation.

Employment and income statistics are not much better. As of 2011, the unemployment rate in the city stood at 19.5 percent (some place it even higher).  The median household income is now $24,880, which is significantly lower than Mahoning County ($40,123) and nearly half that of Ohio ($47,358).

Unfortunately, more than a third of city residents live in poverty (36 percent). In fact, Youngstown led the nation in 2011. Additionally, the suburban poverty rate in Mahoning County also rose by nearly 40% since 2000.

Housing, Code Enforcement & Demolition

One of the most significant challenges facing Youngstown’s neighborhoods is vacant and abandoned property, whose rate has doubled since 1990 and now sits at 19 percent.

The Youngstown 2010 Plan identified several goals in dealing with this issue: targeting of highly visible demolitions; converting surplus school buildings into green space; reorganizing the city’s code enforcement department; creating a housing court; improving the city’s land bank program; and seeking state funds for demolition and redevelopment of larger commercial structures.

When he entered office in 2006, Williams’ administration made demolition a priority by increasing the budget for it several fold.

Williams also sought from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a waiver aimed at helping accelerate the demolition process. However, his request was ultimately denied. In fact, additional regulations would eventually be enacted which nearly doubled the cost of the average demolition in the city.

Two years into the Williams administration came the ‘Great Recession’ and a new wave of foreclosures which compounded an already overwhelming problem.

Eventually, residents began to organize. In 2008 and again in 2010, the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative conducted a citywide vacant property survey. The 2010 results reported a vacancy rate of 44.8 structures per 1,000 residents, a figure nearly 20 times the national average

These reports led to a campaign around the issue. Between 2008 and 2010, neighborhood groups in the city more than doubled (20 in 2005 to 49 in December 2013). A collective effort between organized residents of Youngstown and Warren along with local officials and policy organizations led to the passage of a state law which allowed for the creation of county land banks in both Mahoning and Trumbull counties in 2011.

However, it was obvious that additional help was needed with neighborhood development and planning as well. In 2009, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation was formed in response to this need.

While some notable development has taken place over the past ten years (mostly in the downtown and near-North Side), the most comprehensive neighborhood development took place in the Idora neighborhood, one of only a handful of neighborhoods to receive a comprehensive plan under Youngstown 2010.

Spearheaded by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, efforts have included aggressive demolition and board-up programs; vacant lot beautification; mural projects; multiple community gardens and an urban farm; and home rehabilitation and purchasing programs.

The success of the work in Idora has led to recognition both nationally and internationally. But, it’s also created greater demand for similar programming citywide – a constant challenge with almost any program or service in the city. Currently, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation focuses its programming in six target neighborhoods throughout the city.

In addition to development, residents also advocated for better and more strategic use of other city services such as demolition (a recommendation that would later be supported by a federal report in 2013) and code enforcement (which the Youngstown 2010 Plan identified as well).

Those reforms largely came under the administration of Mayor Chuck Sammarone in 2011. Inspectors were organized under a single coordinator; a housing appeals board was established (as was a housing court in 2004); a city prosecutor was assigned to cases; code enforcement and demolition tracking websites were created; rental and vacant properties were required to be registered (note: over 15 percent of all property in the city is currently owned by out-of-state residents or companies); a $10,000 bond ordinance on bank foreclosures was passed; and Street Department personnel were used to help with demolition (which still, largely, lacks a strategic approach).

The success of these reforms can be demonstrated in a single year where, beginning in August 2011, 59 residential and commercial demolitions were carried out by private property owners due to pressure from the city. This saved taxpayers approximately $900,000.

Also, $870,000 had been generated from the bank foreclosure bond in its first year (money that is used to maintain or, perhaps, eventually demolish foreclosed properties).

Registration programs and code enforcement cases resulted in over 300 individual citations with nearly 200 coming under compliance.

There have been other contributions as well. Many of the city’s older school buildings were demolished under a $180 million school rebuilding program. Several still remain while those not sold to charter schools have been converted to green space or walking parks as the Youngstown 2010 suggested.

However, several newly constructed schools are still vacant as the school district continues to struggle with chronic fiscal challenges due to state cuts and a loss of students caused by open enrollment, and voucher and charter school alternatives. School district officials are even considering selling the school administration building downtown.

The city’s main corridors remain a challenge in terms of redevelopment but significant progress has been made on a few. The most notable efforts have been on Market Street where Community Corrections Association has spent approximately $800,000 on the demolition of 48 buildings and the maintenance of 16 landscaped lots for a two-plus-mile stretch. A handful of other buildings have been acquired by the organization for office space. However, much vacancy remains.

Glenwood Ave has also seen improvement due largely to the efforts of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation which partnered with the city and other organizations to demolish several vacant structures, organize mural projects and create additional green space such as Glenwood Community Park.

Other smaller efforts have included citizen group cleanups and beautification projects on US-422, McGuffey Road, South and Mahoning avenues.

The state’s Clean Ohio Fund also played an important role in helping fund several larger demolition projects such as the YBM property in Crab Creek, commercial buildings for student housing on the city’s North Side, and several larger structures in the downtown area, to name a notable few. According to city officials, over $7.6 million of funding has been received for 12 different projects since 2005.

And at of the time of this writing, the county land bank announced that it had secured another $4.2 million from the state for demolition of residential properties in ‘tipping point’ neighborhoods in Youngstown and adjoining townships.

All told, there were 3,062 demolitions from 2007 to 2013 and the annual number of foreclosure filings fell by 56 percent.

But despite these efforts (much of which has been recent), the average price for a single family home in the city fell by nearly a third during the same period of time.

In 2013, the average price of a single family home in the city was $21, 327.

As a result, YNDC’s 2014 Neighborhood Conditions Report lists only two Census tracks in the city as ‘Stable’, both them located on the southwest side. An additional six are rated as ‘Functional’. The remainder of this city is considered ‘Constrained’, ‘Weak’ or ‘Extremely Weak’.

Parks & Recreation

Youngstown 2010 set general goals of ‘creating and maintaining high quality city parks’ while also ‘converting select city parks to new land uses’ and ‘supporting Mahoning River restoration projects.’ – vague yet ambitious goals, to be sure.

With the exception of Mill Creek MetroParks, the city has over 40 parks which it has maintained over the years. However, the park system, like much of the rest of the city, has been faced with the same reality of having to downsize.

To that end, in March 2013, the City of Youngstown Park & Recreation board commissioned Youngstown State’s Urban & Regional Studies department to conduct an assessment of the park system. The report recommended transferring 12 properties to private entities and closing another six. Perhaps the most notable park activity had to do with the board, itself, which residents voted to abolish in November 2013.

Regardless, efforts were made to improve some remaining parks. Youngstown CityScape raised over $150,000 for North Side’s Wick Park. Improvements included landscaping, signage, gates, and roadway and sidewalk improvements. Those efforts earned a Northeast Ohio Community Impact Award.

Arlington’s Hope 6 Project included new playground equipment and a community center.

Fosterville Park on Glenwood Ave was removed to make way for the Bottom Dollar grocery store but was replaced by Glenwood Community Park in 2013.

The former Jackson Elementary school in the Buckeye Plat neighborhood was demolished and converted to a walking park. Also, a small basketball court and community garden area were installed in the Lincoln Knolls neighborhood on the East Side.

Despite the downsizing, most residents still live within a half-mile of a park or playground with the exception of several larger, rural areas of the East Side and the Pleasant Grove and Cottage Grove neighborhoods on the lower South Side.

However, perhaps the most underutilized recreational asset in the city of Youngstown remains the Mahoning River.

During the city’s steel era, the river was used as a cooling and dumping mechanism for much of the industry’s raw product. This led to severe contamination which is still an issue today.

Within the past decade, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to conduct a $3.5 million study on how to clean up the river, an effort estimated to cost $150 million.

The study was delayed in ‘Phase II’ and was never completed due to a variety of factors such disagreement about approach, lack of political will and, perhaps most importantly, lack of funding.

With the exception of some bike trail planning by Eastgate Regional Council Of Governments, not much activity had taken place for the better part of the last decade.

However, in 2013, officials at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approved funding to remove the first of several locks along the river in Lowellville.

Funding was also secured to begin demolition of the Wean United Building next to the Market Street Bridge, a long-time downtown eyesore.

Plans have also been discussed to build an outdoor amphitheatre adjacent to the Covelli Centre, downtown’s convention center. However, recently elected Mayor John McNally said these plans need to include a larger riverfront development strategy, an encouraging sign for river recreation advocates.

Business & Development

The business & development front featured both positive and not so positive headlines.

The first was the city’s failed 2008 attempt to reach an agreement with surrounding townships to establish a Joint Economic Development District, a fairly common practice in other metropolitan areas throughout Ohio.

Youngstown’s proposal included a deal in which water would be provided to township businesses in exchange for income tax paid by employees of those businesses to the city, with a portion of that income tax split with township governments. The deal would have also reduced or eliminated the city’s water surcharge rate for all township residents while reducing the city’s existing income tax rate by a half percent.

Trustees viewed the deal as a money grab by the city and rejected the proposal. Despite a State Supreme Court ruling which would have allowed the city to pursue annexation, the Williams administration chose not to pursue that option nor continue to pursue a Joint Economic Development Agreement. A similar attempt was made in 2013 by Mayor Chuck Sammarone with a racino project in Austintown. However, this, too, was rejected.

A successful regional agreement was reached with the city of Girard in relation to the Vallourec Star expansion project. The nearly billion dollar steel pipe plant – considered the largest construction project in the nation at the time – required a shared land agreement with a revenue sharing plan included between the two communities. After rather contentious negotiations, a successful deal was reached and the project was completed 2012.

Perhaps the most significant development in the city involved the beginning of the rebirth of downtown Youngstown.

In 2004, Federal Street was reopened and several new government buildings and courthouses replaced dilapidated structures. In 2005, a $42 million convention center was opened and a state-recognized entertainment district was established.

Coupled with an economic development program for small businesses (‘The Youngstown Initiative’), a number of new bars and restaurants soon began to open. Significant circulation was beginning to flow once again in downtown Youngstown.

In 2008, the ribbon was cut on the Realty Tower, an $8.4 million market-rate apartment building in Central Square. This was followed by similar projects such as the Davis Building, Federal Building and Erie Terminal Place.

Other notable projects have included the Oh Wow! Children’s Science Center; DeYor Performing Arts Center; and the Tyler History Center.

Future projects such as the Wells, Wick and Gallagher Buildings (apartments, restaurants and office space) are scheduled for 2014. A 110-room hotel is slated for the Stambaugh Building in 2015, a true bellwether for the success of downtown’s continued renaissance.

Youngstown State University completed a centennial plan which included the construction of a $42 million business college on Wood Street, a sorely needed connecting piece between campus and downtown.

Eastern Gateway Community College – a network of regional community colleges – opened their Valley Center on E. Federal Street in 2012.

However, arguably the most significant part of the storyline of downtown development has been the Youngstown Business Incubator, a non-profit organization which provides office space and services for business-to-business technology startups.

The incubator has grown from a single office building to a four building campus in over a decade and a half. It houses more than a dozen small businesses as well as ‘graduate’ Turning Technologies (an industry leader in response technology) as well as the National Additive Manufacturing Institute, a research & development center spearheaded by the Obama administration.

Another noteworthy development taking place in the city is the rise of urban agriculture.

In addition to traditional community gardens, larger-scale projects have also begun to take root such as the Iron Roots Urban Farm, Commonwealth Kitchen Incubator, community supported agriculture programs and several weekly farmers markets.

In response this activity, the city school district’s Choffin Career Center created an aquaponics training facility in 2012.

Last but not least, the city completed a new zoning code – a goal of Youngstown 2010. The new code is designed to better match the reality of the smaller city that Youngstown is today. It’s also considered to be one of the more progressive codes in the nation.

New Planning Process

While the Youngstown 2010 Plan’s goals were rather general and commitment to seeing it through either the lacked capacity or political will (or both), perhaps its greatest contribution was the energy and capacity it created, indirectly.

The process brought thousands of residents together to discuss a new vision for the city. That new vision raised the profile and changed the perception of the community on a national and even international level. It also led to a historic election which demonstrated that politics-as-usual isn’t always a foregone conclusion in Youngstown.

Residents began to organize in their neighborhoods. Downtown began to make its comeback. City Hall was challenged to step up its game and made changes that have been helpful. Philanthropic support shifted and initiatives where supported (and in some cases, created) to help lay the groundwork for much of the community activity that we see today.

Without question, the city still faces enormous challenges. Much work still needs done on almost every front. The need will continue for quite some time.

However, it appears Youngstown has a better footing to do something about some of these issues now more so than in years past.

This year, the city has begun a new planning process which is being led by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation. Given Youngstown’s arguably weak history of follow through with such initiatives, many residents are skeptical about any new plan.

However, planning is important because it builds consensus and creates a game plan around common issues. It can also serve as an important tool for holding people, organizations and City Hall accountable if it’s done well and used correctly.

To that end, given Youngstown’s recent momentum, the hope of many residents is that lessons learned from the past decade should be used to create more reasonable strategies.

The strategies may be smaller. But if they are specific, realistic, and achievable, they will create ‘wins’ for the city. And much-need momentum that will lead to greater success over time.

If that’s what comes from this process, then it will be a success and worth the effort. But follow through will always lie in the hands of the city as well as organizations and individuals willing to make things happen and hold others accountable.

At the end of the day, a city is just a place and it’s what people who care about it choose to make of it. Despite its many challenges, that’s true of Youngstown as it is anywhere else.

There is no single business, organization, plan or individual that can ‘save’ Youngstown. There is only the community. And it will continue to take a lot more work and dedication by many to create the change Youngstown needs.

Phil Kidd is the founder of Defend Youngstown and Youngstown Nation. He is also a columnist for Youngstown State University’s The News Outlet.


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