Thursday, June 07, 2012

Kickstart Rust Belt Chic Youngstown

Way back in 2008, I met Hunter Morrison, Phil Kidd, and John Slanina in Erie, PA for a Rust Belt Bloggers Summit. The three made the journey from Youngstown and enticed me to come back with them and see the city. My initial reaction to the visit:

My imagination ran wild as I took stock of the Youngstown's numerous assets. Mill Creek is a park located within walking distance of downtown. Beautiful large houses and even mansions surround the park. I envisioned biking through the park from my home to downtown, where I worked for a start-up located in one of the grand buildings currently being renovated. The park should be extended to the doorstep of downtown to encourage such a commute and entice the students to come down from Youngstown State University (YSU) to recreate in Mill Creek. YSU is mostly a commuter campus and I would put all the parking at the downtown entrance of the park.

The parking lot suggestion didn't go over too well with the urbanist crowd. Thus ended my brief career as a city planner. Youngstown State University is within easy walking distance of downtown Youngstown. But it might as well be 1,000 miles. That chasm must be bridged. Much has been done already on that score. The city needs more ideas and action. Almost 4-years later after I met him, Mr. Bacon is Johnny on the spot:

Six graphic design students at YSU have created a mural they want to put up on the windows of the Youngstown Business Incubator in downtown Youngstown as part of the city's revitalization.

The project is costly and the students are asking for the public's help to raise the necessary funds.

John Slanina of the Youngstown Business Incubator said the students came up with the idea to improve the streetscape of downtown. He said when the students approached YBI with the pictures, they were "stunned" at what the students were proposing.

The mural is 70 vinyl panels measuring more than 300 feet long and will cover three storefronts. Slanina said 40 companies use the space in the three YBI buildings, and 13 have physical offices there, so the project will impact 350 employees.

The project's theme is the "metamorphosis of downtown Youngstown" and the mural features bright, vivid colors depicting butterflies, flowers and the jungle.

The students are trying to raise $7,350 for the project by June 29 and as of Wednesday evening, they had $2,887 in pledges. Money has been collected from all over the world, Slanina said.

My own take is that this Kickstarter project is an inexpensive way to increase the connectivity between downtown Youngstown and the university campus. The students (and their professor) are civic entrepreneurs. The Rust Belt urban core is their classroom. You can revitalize your community without spending millions of dollars (see my above vision for Youngstown). That said, the idea does cost some money. The video for the Kickstarter proposal (click on this link to fund it):


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