I recognize that the Youngstown value proposition is still a vague concept. Perhaps the story of Vandergrift, PA can provide some clarity:
Imagine: It's 1895. A steel baron hires New York's Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted to build a town in western Pennsylvania where mill workers can live, work and play. By the turn of the century, Vandergrift's rounded buildings and roads flow along the contours of the Kiskiminetas River.Reality: Pretty much all that's left of that town is in the imagination.So 114 years later, Vandergrift residents — from baby boomers who grew up during the town's heyday to students as young as their grandchildren — are reviving Olmsted's vision and making the community environmentally sustainable for the 21st century and beyond.Their goal is to attract people to live or shop in the boutiques of the quaint town of just 5,000 people — which lost residents, jobs and allure along with steel.From bringing back green spaces paved-over for parking to seeking how to harness electrical energy for the town from the fast-flowing river, Vandergrift is investing millions toward environmentally sustainable revitalization — a concept gaining popularity in Rust Belt towns that have few viable options for renewal."This community is such a wonderful template for demonstrating (sustainability) not just for themselves, but, I think, way outside of Vandergrift," said University of Pittsburgh professor Lisa Mauck Weiland, looking over the skeletal wooden remains of what was once a JCPenney. The building is now the object of a "green" renovation with the input of students from Pitt and a local high school.
Vandergrift isn't a totally blank canvas (neither is Youngstown, by the way). There is an impressive foundation, great bones on which to build another wonderful city. The Rust Belt is full of such opportunities, but the local political climate isn't always conducive to embracing the radical makeover. Buffalo might be a good example of this drag on civic innovation. Then again, it might offer another example of the trend.
Ironically, what differentiates one Rust Belt opportunity from another is the thoroughness of economic devastation. The key part of the passage about Vandergrift is the sense of desperation. What else can the community do?
"This community is such a wonderful template for demonstrating (sustainability) not just for themselves, but, I think, way outside of Vandergrift," said University of Pittsburgh professor Lisa Mauck Weiland, looking over the skeletal wooden remains of what was once a JCPenney. The building is now the object of a "green" renovation with the input of students from Pitt and a local high school.While many communities are embracing sustainable revitalization, Vandergrift's strategy is all-encompassing: to create an energy independent, ecologically low-impact, economically viable town from the ashes of its postindustrial wasteland. It aims to renovate buildings with sustainable materials, from carpet textiles to solar roof panels. A farmers market has been expanded. Trees are being planted and green spaces recovered.Perhaps the most ambitious is the river energy project. With Weiland's guidance and a grant from the National Science Foundation, University of Pittsburgh students are seeking to exploit the hydrokinetic forces of the Kiski River to offset energy costs downtown, without building dams or coal-burning electrical facilities.
There is still something missing. What's the strategy for attracting newcomers? I think I've discovered a new policy muse.