Friday, August 1, 2008

Separated at birth

The once-bustling Youngstown, Ohio, in the thirties. (Photo courtesy of Mahoning Valley Historical Society, via

Belinda Lanks has a compelling profile of Youngstown, Ohio, in Metropolis Magazine about the city's attempts to deal with deindustrialization. Flint and Youngstown are eerily similar, but Youngstown seems to have a plan to deal with the realities that afflict shrinking cities. Flint might learn something from its civic doppelganger.

Here's how the article begins:

"When the mills shut down in the 1970s and ’80s, the smokestacks and foundries that symbolized steel belt manufacturing cities gave way to factory shells and rust. First unemployed, workers then began to move away for good. Unlike former steel powerhouses, such as Pittsburgh and Allentown, that have tried to attract new industry and grow their way back to prosperity, Youngstown, Ohio, is hitching its future to a strategy of creative shrinkage.

"Last year Youngstown 2010—a partnership between the city’s planning department and Youngstown State University—unveiled a comprehensive plan to reduce nonessential infrastructure, attract new businesses, and rehab deteriorated and abandoned spaces. In fact Youngstown is the first city in the United States to adopt this disarming approach to the problems of population decline. 'It’s politically and professionally uncomfortable to face the shrinkage of a city or region, even though it may be staring you in the face,' says Frank Popper, an urban-planning professor at Rutgers and Princeton universities. 'I think it’s enormously brave and creative and innovative of Youngstown to be taking on this task.'

" Brave? Maybe. But Youngstown has little choice: once a city of more than 170,000, it counts roughly 80,000 residents today. The town had to recast itself as a smaller place. 'You had all of this excess infrastructure and a declining tax base,' says Oliver Jerschow of Urban Strategies, which developed the basis for Youngstown 2010’s plan. 'But on the positive side, Youngstown had these legacies that a typical city of eighty thousand would never have.' Those legacies include assorted cultural venues, a 140-acre university campus, and the five-mile-long Mill Creek Park."

Sound familiar? Even the comment section of the article has parallels with Flint. Here's what reader Matthew Petrus had to say:
"I grew up in Youngstown and personally know it’s problems."

1. There is no urban master plan.
2. There is no way to stop people sprawling out, and they do to no end. i.e. - There is no limit to how much the suburbs can grow.
3. The inner city schools are horrible.
4. The mentality is to keep sprawling out.
5. There is no economic stimulus package to revitalize the downtown.
6. There is no stimulus plan to attract companies to the area.
7. There is a lack of college educated people in the area to support this so-called “white collar service economy” that we now are.
8. If it truly becomes a bedroom community, people will not want to live there because it will become too homogeneous and will ultimately fail because of that.
9. Any city that has no vital urban core is ultimately doomed to fail and become a mess, which is where it is right now.
10. There are no new ideas being brought into the city because the thought pool keeps getting shallower. No new population=no new ideas!

"What is endemic of Y-town is endemic of other mid-west cities."

1 comment:

  1. St. Louis has apparently experienced a relative population decline even greater than Flint and Detroit, at least up to this point.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at