Tag Archives: Youngstown

On the Waterfront: The Possible Future of Youngstown's Riverfront

For many legacy cities in the former Industrial Heartland of America, waterfronts were never much more than alien spaces. Cargo shipping, steel mills, chemical companies, and other industrial concerns ruled rivers and lakefronts. Manufacturing enterprises even rendered waterways into toxic dumping grounds in the decades before the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act. This is especially true of the former steel city of Youngstown, Ohio.

For most of the twentieth century, miles of massive steel mills covered both banks of the Mahoning River, which snakes through the city of Youngstown. The city’s highly developed downtown was surrounded by the maw of local industry for nearly 80 years. By the 1980s, most of the mills had been silenced and the area around the Market Street Bridge—the main gateway to the downtown—was well on its way to becoming deindustrialized. Wean United, one of the last standing large industrial facilities near the bridge, closed in 1982. The Wean complex continued to operate as an industrial space for a variety of companies until its complete abandonment in 2011.

The former Wean facility is now a 300,000 square foot brownfield site sitting next to what is presumably prime real estate on the Mahoning River. The city had been attempting to find new tenants for the building; however recent negotiations with two companies fell through. If the city does not find a tenant for the site, the building itself will come down—opening up the waterfront to a newly revitalized downtown. Youngstown recently received $1,775,418 of Clean Ohio funds for environmental remediation of the site. It’s estimated the clean up will take at least six months, and the funds themselves must be used by December of 2014.

Youngstown officials have indicated the site is to initially become a parking lot. The entire idea of a parking lot represents a shameful lack of imagination. Another prime site, the vacant hole on West Federal Street that once housed the State Theater, is also slated to become a parking lot. This begs the question: What are some REAL uses for the newly opened riverfront?

Water bodies are prime physical assets for cities. In a report entitled Restoring Prosperity to Ohio’s Cities, the Brookings Institute called for creating statewide “Walkable Waterfronts” initiatives in Ohio. The report mentions Youngstown specifically. Of course various waterfront development efforts are either in the planning stages, or are already underway, in a wide variety of legacy cities from Trenton to Toledo. If at all feasible, creative uses for recreation and economic development should be considered for the downtown riverfront. In fact the nearby city of Warren has already set an example for what could be done in Youngtown.

Warren’s Riverwalk project set out to remake the waterfront adjacent to the downtown. The project has already opened up the river area and connected it to the courthouse, which is a high traffic center in the downtown. At the corner of West Market and Mahoning Avenue are a veteran’s memorial and a log cabin, built where the first schoolhouse in Warren once stood. The city installed the Perkins Park amphitheater right below the monument, which now hosts seasonal concert events under the name “River Rock at the Amp.” A pedestrian-bicycle path was installed in the late 1990s. The Riverwalk skirts the Mahoning as it leads through Perkins Park and eventually leads to Packard Park. The entire area has become a showcase for the city of Warren

There has been some riverfront development in Youngstown. On the lower west side at the edge of downtown on the water is the B&O Station Boxcar Lounge and the Rust Belt Brewery. The B&O hosts a number of events throughout the season, including Artists of the Rust Belt, which features local work, and the B&O Night Market—that serves as a place for vendors to sell produce, baked goods, and other edibles.

To the east of the Wean site is the Covelli Center (formerly the Chevrolet Center.) Built on the site of a demolished steel mill in 2005, the center attracts a number of high profile events per year. Additional parking could indeed accommodate any overflow from Covelli, but there are a number of better ideas for the Wean site.

This year, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation brought in a group of design students from the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany to propose possible new uses for a number of vacant sites in the city, Wean being one of them. The proposals included an indoor sports facility (probably cost prohibitive) and an outdoor skate park/BMX area. Skateboarding in particular is very popular in Youngstown, and there are no skate parks within the city limits.

Another student proposal is to build an industrial heritage park. When the city finally began to address the future of the Wean site, the term “eye sore” became common whenever referring to the complex. Local industrial historian Rick Rowlands questioned the term and appropriately referenced the site’s “unique place in industrial history.” At the very least an historical marker and some information about the history of the William Tod Company (the first company at the site) and Wean United would be in order.

Youngstown’s waterfront could be designed as a hike/bike trail, as the city mentions in Youngstown 2010 Plan: “Mill Creek MetroParks operates a trail west of Youngstown that runs from Green Township in southern Mahoning County to the Trumbull County line, where it continues in various states of development along an abandoned rail line to Ashtabula. The Stavich bike trail begins southeast of Youngstown and runs from Struthers to New Castle links to trail connections to Washington. The missing link between these trails is through Youngstown.” The 2010 plan alluded to connecting Mill Creek Park to Spring Commons (AKA Mr. Peanut Bridge.) This could be further linked to the Wean site by a hike/bike trail, making the downtown much more amenable to recreation, as well as significantly greening a currently blighted area.

However, activities close to, but not too near the water, seem to be the most sensible option, for one very good reason.

The steel industry’s ugly legacy of environmental destruction is still present in the Mahoning River. While the mills operated the river never froze, even during the coldest winters. A wide variety of heavy metals are still present in the contaminated riverbed. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, right up until the late 1970s hundreds of thousands of pounds of oils, grease, and even zinc were routinely dumped EVERY day into the Mahoning. Sediment in the river is contaminated with carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also carcinogenic and have been linked to physiological abnormalities in animals and humans.

The Army Corps recommends the dredging of 750,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the riverbed and from the shoreline. To put those numbers in perspective, that’s a mound of sediment one yard wide by one yard high that would stretch roughly from Youngstown to New York City. The estimated cost of such a project approaches at least $150 million, if not substantially more. The Ohio Department of Health issued contact bans in the late 1980s, advising people not to come into contact with the water, nor to eat any fish from the river. Any activities involving direct contact with the water or with shoreline sediment should not be part of any future development plans.

Last but not least, both sides of the Mahoning riverfront are sites of homeless camps large and small. Immediate consideration needs to be given to relocating these individuals to safe housing. Across the river from Wean, the bottling house for the old Renner Brewery is still standing. It needs to be demolished and the persons living in it humanely relocated as well.

Brownfield waterfront development is a complicated endeavor under any circumstance. Downtown Youngstown’s plan should encompass some form of riverfront development besides just surface parking. Community input, environmental considerations, and safe recreational designs should be part of any plan for the riverfront that survives the planning stages; this is a crucial piece for the future of downtown development. Unless the community lobbies for creative uses of the site, it’s assured that the city will install a parking lot, and despite what officials might say, it will likely be permanent. Let’s not allow a botched plan for the riverfront to impede the future prosperity of the downtown.

–Sean Posey

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Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, Real Estate, the environment

Return of Youngstown’s Idora Neighborhood

For decades, Youngstown’s Fosterville Neighborhood, located on the city’s south side, was a vibrant residential area. It played host to the booming Glenwood Avenue commercial corridor and the legendary Idora Amusement Park, whose Wildcat roller coaster was consistently ranked among the top roller coasters in the country.

Photo: Sean Posey

The collapse of the local steel industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the closure of Idora Park in 1984, signaled the area’s long decline.

In recent years, the area now known as Idora has begun a turnaround. The creation of the Idora Block Watch and then the Idora Neighborhood Association sparked increased community involvement. A decline in crime and the increasing removal of blight continues to give residents hope. That hope was celebrated this past weekend with the first annual Idora Fest.

Enjoy these photos from the event:








Thanks for sharing, Sean Posey. We are going to continue following Youngstown’s efforts to save its neighborhoods!


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Filed under Featured, Good Ideas, The Big Urban Photography Project

As Go Cities, So Goes the State

Ohio’s cities are dying. That is the simple truth. In fact there is practically no other state in the union whose major cities have experienced the same amount of population loss. This hard truth was driven home when the results of the 2010 Census came out. The six biggest cities in Ohio, save Columbus, all experienced population loss. Cleveland, which has lost over half of its population, saw a 17 percent decline. Dayton lost nearly 15 percent. Youngstown, once home to 170,000 people, is now smaller than the city of Parma. Cincinnati, Akron, and Toledo also registered losses.

Youngstown's pain is Ohio's pain.

One of the main drivers behind this, well known to many of you, is sprawl or decentralization. This is a problem with a very long history. At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, Ohio already had over 784 different municipalities, with 31 just in Hamilton County. This plethora of municipalities grew with little or no guidance from long term and sustainable planning.

More recently, the population density of the Dayton urban area decreased from 3,263 per square mile in 1970 to 2,209 in 2000; however, the amount of developed or urbanized land increased from 185 square miles to 327 square miles during the same time period. The Youngstown/Warren Metropolitan Area’s footprint increased by 30 percent from the years 1970 to 1990, while simultaneously decreasing almost ten percent in terms of population. Cleveland’s experience with sprawl is similar and has been well covered here.

Even the lone “success” story of Columbus is problematic. Annexation has buttressed the city’s population; yet, sprawl has contributed to a low population density, inner city decay and food deserts—the neighborhood of King Lincoln is a good example of the latter two phenomena. When comparing individual counties, in 2006 Franklin County actually had a higher rate of poverty than did Cuyahoga or Hamilton County.

Collapsing cities are a drag on regions, not surprisingly, and the state in general. Low-density cities are also a hindrance to innovation. Productivity also decreases with spatial density in the labor market. Nor are low-density cities attractive for young professionals, a demographic Ohio politicians claim to covet. And young people are precisely what Ohio is losing. Ohio recently registered the third largest drop of any state in its under 18 population. It’s possible, perhaps probable, that the state will experience a net population loss in the next census. Probably a large portion of this loss is related to jobs; only Michigan fared worse than Ohio in terms of job loss from 2000 to 2008. This is due to a number of factors, but sprawl, decaying cities, corruption, disastrous tax abatement policies and state income tax cuts for the wealthy have either exacerbated the issue or caused further losses in state revenue.

A main problem that any urban activist in Ohio must face is the fact that the state’s power base is in the suburbs. While John Kasich is a classic example of the suburban governing mentality—one that has no interest in or understanding of urban issues—his predecessor Governor Strickland also proved unable to tackle key urban problems, though Yvette McGee Brown was a promising pick for lieutenant governor.

In short, there seems to be little chance that the state or federal government will take any steps to alleviate the problems of Ohio cities; quite to the contrary, “austerity measures” are likely to make them worse. Thus, Ohioans will be increasingly forced to rely on grass roots organizing and regionalization campaigns. For short of a political miracle, this is what is left to do.

I will close by issuing a warning to Ohio’s leaders, be they in government or in the business community. I would issue the same warning to Washington:  When social scientists, journalists, sociologists and others visit Ohio to report on its state as an urban laboratory for dysfunction, it should tell you something.  It is not that there is organized smear campaign against Ohio or its cities; it is simply that the state is dying. The state is dying because East Cleveland is dying; it is dying because of the south side of Youngstown is dying; it is dying because inner city Canton is dying. The sooner you realize this, the sooner Ohio can be saved.

-Sean Posey

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Filed under Featured, sprawl, Urban Poverty

Come to the opening of The Big Urban Photography Project’s first show

Rust Wire is proud to present The Big Urban Photography Project art show, featuring photographic interpretations of Rust Belt cities as seen through the eyes of their young residents. The show is the result of a multi-year collaborative media project that called on the region’s best documentary and fine arts photographers.

Over two years, we asked for open submissions of photography highlighting the unique blend of despair and hope in a number of cities. Dozens of amateur and professional photographers submitted images of Detroit, Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Cincinnati, Buffalo and others. The art show will allow us to share hold up the best work as a tribute to the region.

The Brew House, 2100 Mary Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side, will host the exhibit.

The show will open with a reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday, April 15. We would love to see you -our readers and contributors- there.

Let us know if you are coming here. We would love to meet as many of you as possible.

We also plan to bring the show to Cleveland and Youngstown soon!

A special thanks to Theo Keller at The Brew House, Tirzah DeCaria and Kara Skylling for helping plan and co-ordinate this show!

-Kate & Angie

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Filed under architecture, Art, Featured, regionalism, Rust Belt Blogs, The Big Urban Photography Project, The Media

Race and Inequality in Youngstown, Part 2

This post was contributed by Youngstown resident Sean Posey. Part one of the series was published last week.

The disappearance of jobs, the decline of schools, social isolation, and the rise of the drug trade took a frightful toll on inner city areas. Youngstown fared among the worst. Youngstown’s murder rate—which remained unexceptional for decades—skyrocketed during the 1990s. In 1991, the homicide rate for Youngstown was 60 per 100,000, whereas the country as a whole averaged only 10 per 100,000. In 1995, Youngstown had more homicides than the city of Pittsburgh. Though the crime has widely fluctuated, the city remains known for its high crime and murder rate.

Sociologist William Julius Wilson’s work has outlined the importance of historical data when examining inner city violence: “Unlike the present period, inner city communities prior to 1960 exhibited features of social organization—including a sense of community, positive neighborhood identification, and explicit norms and sanctions against aberrant behavior.” What we are witnessing now in urban centers like Youngstown is a recent phenomena and it sources are complex and multifaceted: Job loss, social isolation, family breakdown, concentrated poverty, and institutional discrimination. However, there is cause for hope.

Since the civil rights era a vibrant and productive black middle class has emerged in this country. Many of the gaps in achievement between the races narrowed significantly by the 1990s. Also, inner city crime and violence has declined. Urban centers like New York—a city once known for crime—have made immense turnarounds. Yet regions of the country vary widely in measures of success.

Inner city problems now tend to be the very worst in the Rust Belt. Industrial cities in the north exhibit among the highest levels of segregation and the worst of quality of life indicators for non-white populations. Youngstown is indicative of that with some of the biggest disparities in racial health indexes, highest levels of infant mortality for African Americans, and the worst school district in the state of Ohio. It’s deeply remiss to not point out the striking gaps in this area that separate us from most of the country.

Photo by Sean Posey

Photo by Sean Posey

What can be done? We can start by pointing out the tremendous success that has been achieved by members of our African American community, often despite substantial hurdles. We can reengage with communities of color and build venues for increased interaction between the races. We can start recognizing that despite such grim conditions in our central city it is but a small minority of citizens of color who are committing these heinous crimes. We can also do everything in our power to break down walls between the city and the suburbs and end the balkanization that plagues this region. We are not fully at the mercy of economic changes and the mistakes of history. We hold the power in our own hands, the power to both unite this community across color and economic lines and begin to realize that these are everyone’s problems—or we can remain on the path we are on—a path that will surely reduce our area to ruin.

This quote from Youngstown resident Nathaniel Jones, which originally addressed the problems engulfing Youngstown in the 1960s, probably sums up the situation we find ourselves in better than any I’ve heard. For these words could easily speak for Cleveland, Detroit, Flint, or nearly any other Rust Belt city just as well.

“The city is not large enough, our suburbs not distant enough, no person among us wealthy enough, nor anyone’s skin white enough to gain a sanctuary from the effects of discrimination, deprivation, and denial.”


Filed under Headline, Race Relations, Real Estate, sprawl, Urban Poverty

Race and Inequality in Youngstown, Part 1

Rust Wire contributor Sean Posey has written a response to the piece we posted earlier in the week on the city of Youngstown’s continuing struggle with crime. Here is the first of two parts:

The recent high profile shooting of an elderly couple leaving church on Youngstown’s south side—the second such murder of a parishioner at Saint Dominic’s this year—has rocked the city. The usual calls for greater police crackdowns and the typical mystified responses from the public and the media make it clear that few people understand why exactly a cycle of crime is playing out in our inner cities. The only explanations usually given involve the same stories of the loss of manufacturing jobs and the closures of the mills in the 1970s. Almost none address the fact that Youngstown’s—and indeed almost every ghetto in the Rust Belt—has largely been created by economic structural changes that have disproportionately affected African Americans and by deliberately exclusionary policies designed to reinforce segregation.

In the 1950s urban renewal projects changed the face of entire sections of the city of Youngstown. African Americans found themselves time and again in front of the wrecking ball as highways and industrial parks bisected or obliterated their neighborhoods. Those displaced persons often found themselves shunted into public projects or into older neighborhoods where they could not get home loans—or if they could find an older home to buy, they could not get home improvement loans. Forcefully centralizing low income populations increased blight and started the process of economic and racial segregation. The term for this is concentrated poverty and it  is a key issue in inner city areas. It is almost always connected to racial segregation and its definition is a given census tract where forty percent of the population is below the poverty line.

During the 1960s, 27,000 people, nearly all of them white, left the city of Youngstown. At the same time the use of “redlining” and other tactics in the mortgage industry and among neighborhood groups made sure African Americans were kept out of the suburbs and other white neighborhoods. By the year 2000 the city of Youngstown was almost half African American while the African Americans in neighboring Boardman Township made up only about two percent of the population.

Will someone take some more pictures of Youngstown? We're running out of photos to run.

Will someone take some more pictures of Youngstown? We're running out of photos to run.

When light-manufacturing jobs began to replace heavy manufacturing, it was outer ring and suburban areas where industrial parks and machine shops often located—beyond the reach of inner city African Americans and outside of the informal job system where word of mouth and connections can get you a job. Additionally, in the ever-important trade and apprenticeship programs discrimination proved rampant. As heavy manufacturing employment nosedived—8,000 steel jobs alone disappeared in the 50s and 60s—low skilled African Americans were hit the hardest. Between 1970 and 1990 the black male labor participation rate dropped from seventy one percent to thirty two percent.

Schools too quickly segregated by race. As early as the 1960s schools on the city’s south side—especially the troubled Oak Hill neighborhood—were predominately African American and predominantly low income. By 1990, minority enrollment represented sixty five percent of Youngstown city schools student body, while in the suburbs of Austintown, Boardman, and Canfield, minority enrollment accounted for less than five percent of the overall student body.

In part two I will discuss what effects decades of disinvestment, segregation, and economic collapse have had on Youngstown’s inner city neighborhoods and how that relates to street crime.


Filed under Crime, Headline, Public Education, Race Relations, Real Estate

Youngstown, Battling for Turnaround, Continues to be Plagued by Crime

Hot off being named the national leader in manufacturing job growth, two senseless crimes are causing the city of Youngstown to temper its exuberance.

Tales From the Rust Belt offers this analysis:

The recent murders of Realtor Vivian Martin on the East Side and elderly residents Thomas Repchic and Angela Figmonari on the South Side near St. Dominic’s church are especially hard on a city that seemed to be focusing on the positives. Earlier this year we were able to celebrate the long list of jobs coming to the area including a third shift at GM Lordstown and the V&M Steel expansion. This month a Brookings Institute report has Youngstown leading the nation in manufacturing job growth. This good news is overshadowed by the senseless violence of 18 murders committed this year.

Real estate agent Vivian Martin was killed last week in a robbery in Youngstown.

Real estate agent Vivian Martin was killed last week in a robbery in Youngstown.

It’s bad enough the city is subjected to a high homicide rate due to drug related crimes. Now residents are forced to endure the murders of elderly church members and successful business owners. Vivian Martin should have been an inspiration. From the follow up article in the Vindicator it is clear she was a driven, educated black woman who owned a successful business in a city that needs such role models. That she would be targeted because her profession leaves her vulnerable when showing properties shows the cowardly nature of the men who attacked her. The assaults on Angela Figmonari and Thomas Repchic and his wife were equally cowardly, occurring after services at St. Dom’s.

The criminals in the Martin and Figmonari cases are young, uneducated and apparently faced a life without prospects of success beyond crime. Even as the Mahoning Valley sees a good turn in a grim economy we see the same lazy-gonna-blame-everyone-else-for-my-failure elements we always have making it harder for those who are struggling to become educated or those who are trying to work honestly.

Youngstown can succeed but it has to want it. People need to make sure their kids are learning in school in order to set up a good foundation for moving on to YSU or one of the trade schools in the area. We can no longer accept crime and criminals as the status quo. Otherwise businesses will look at the city and locate near it but not in it. Daylight murders of good people kill more than the victims

Before Youngstown advocates come after me, I like this post because it demonstrates the kind of two steps forward, one step back, dynamic that is taking place in Youngstown and other Rust Belt cities.

It’s an uphill battle. And Youngstown’s increase in manufacturing jobs will improve things, but it will take while before new jobs produce the type of community benefits they promise. In the meantime, there’s a certain portion of the population that hasn’t yet benefited from the remarkable progress that has been made and their suffering is going to continuing to haunt the region for the foreseeable future. That’s not to excuse these heinous crimes. I think that’s just the reality in some of the nation’s poorest cities during an historic recession.

Anyway, those who are working for progress shouldn’t be discouraged even though their task is so daunting. Situations like this one highlight the serious consequences of past inaction.



Filed under Crime, Economic Development, Headline, Real Estate, U.S. Auto Industry