Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Liminal Youngstown

Finding some time to get back into the swing of blogging has been a challenge. Also, mulling over my first blog post in the wake of the Rust Belt Bloggers Summit and associated Pittsburgh\Youngstown swings is daunting. I feel some pressure to capture the energy and inspiration still coursing through me. Most representative of my new vision for Cleveburgh are the liminal spaces of Youngstown. The online glossary for Urban Social Geography provides a good definition of liminal space:

An in-between space or territory in which cultures mix and interact to create new hybrid forms. See ambivalence, borderlands, heterotopia, hybridity, paradoxical space, third space.

I would characterize Rust Belt urban liminal space as the landscape beyond the purview of the inert politics crippling the economic development of the mega-region. This is where we Rust Belt Bloggers can have the greatest impact in terms of improving our cities. One of my goals for the trip back to Cleveburgh was to explore the in-between neighborhoods and business districts, what I believe to be a geography of innovation.

On that count, Youngstown delivers and exceeded my own expectations. I want to thank Janko for the tour of his city and the very generous hospitality. 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.

That's my wild dream for Youngstown. I'm under the impression that all of the above could be done. I merely need to move there and get busy. I bet people who haven't spent much time (if any) in Youngstown think I am crazy. Folks from other Rust Belt cities should make a point to visit Youngstown and other places such as Erie. The necessary links are bloggers born in one Rust Belt city currently living in another. These migrants have a greater sense of possibility than the natives who stayed. Youngstown has just such a champion, Phil Kidd. I defy anyone to meet Phil over beers at The Royal Oaks and then report that she or he still doesn't think Youngstown is capable of a renaissance.


Tyler said...

Janko is indeed a great host. So glad you got to see the goods. Those of us who live here and know Youngstown well have similar wild dreams and full confidence that it all can and will be done.

My latest wild dream is to see a riverfront walk established from the Chevy Centre all the way to Glacier Lake in Mill Creek Park, with footbridges across the river where necessitated by existing industrial structures or problematic brownfields. I'm sure it can be done and am going to start talking to some people about it.

Hope we get a chance to meet next time you're in town. Cheers!

Debra Weaver said...

I think the On-line Glossary for Urban Social Geography is fabulous. I'm sorry I missed meeting you while you were here, but you were certainly in good hands with Janko and Phil.

LCathleen said...

I love your wild dream for Youngstown. I grew up in Warren, Ohio in the 70's and have spend my fair share of time in the Youngstown area and know it intimately. I currently live in Pittsburgh, but am frequently in Younstown because my mother-in-law lives in Lowellville and my husband and I still have friends from all over the Youngstown area. Mill Creek Park is an underused gem of Youngstown and not what most people would expect to find in such a city. What I would like to hear is your vision of bringing much needed JOBS to the area. Until that happens, I'm afraid your wild dreams will go unfulfilled.

John Morris said...

Honestly, a large parking lot for commuters near a wonderful park and downtown is hardly an ambitous dream. If it's that great a spot, It would be much better developed as mostly housing and retail.

Just look at the position of Washington DC and Pittsburgh which act as non profit job banks for their suburbs. Both are on the edge of solvency.

The sacrificial offering of prime land as parking space for mostly non residents is typical of the self destructive behavior in Pittsburgh.

Jim Russell said...


My main consideration is the problem of getting students from YSU to go downtown. The YSU campus is located right on the edge of the CBD, up a hill. I was informed that the downtown could use a great deal more student traffic. I would suppose that the currently existing parking lots for students and faculty could be used for buildings while still introducing the university community to the wonders of the CBD and Mill Creek Park.

But there are a host of other considerations, many of which I'm sure I don't know about at this point. However, Mill Creek Park is an urban treasure that could be leveraged for purposed of sorely needed economic development.

John Morris said...

Well, It's hard for me to be too specific since I've never been there. But, in the long run, the most important factor will be gaining residents. Couldn't some of the students and teachers live there?

Remember that residents mean, actual taxpayers. Also, unlike students who would bring life only in daylight hours, residents would bring potential life and business 24 hours.

You stated for example that, the surrounding neighborhood was mostly made up of large single family homes which means there is not likely enough potential density to support too many businesses or any potential mass transit.

This relatively low level of density near a park, also lacks enough people comming and going and eyes on the street to help provide safety which is likely a big factor.

One also has a big need to increase the potental tax base. The University is not likely paying anything and trying burden low density homeowners with high property taxes will just create an incentive to not live in town.

John Morris said...


I'm reposting a comment I made on Outside Erie a while back that might relate.

"Comparing Pittsburgh’s North Side to other areas in the city is highly instrucive. The North Side contains these key city sports, cultural and entertainment facilities.

Heinz Field — home of the Pittsburgh Steelers
PNC Park home of the pirates and concidered on MLB’s finest parks
The Carnegie Science Center– major science museum
The Pittsburgh Children’s Museum
The Andy Warhol Museum– the world’s best collection of his work
The Mattress Factory– an internationally known center for instalation art.

It’s also generally, one of the cities most empty and often depressed areas. If one compares this to Pittsburgh’s South Side which ahs almost no assets of this kind but is one of it’s most vibrant and consitantly stable business and shopping areas, you have to wonder what’s going on."

I can't help thinking about Pittsburgh's North Side which is stacked with gems, great views, great location and a great park-- I think it's called North Park. Anyway, I lived there and it's basically a ghost town with a solid edge of danger.

The one thing the North Side lacks is a critical mass of residents which I think is a direct result of so much land dedicated to one shot attractions like stadiums and to parking lots. This lack of residents is the core reason for a relative lack of safety and the absence of viable retail.

John Morris said...


I guess this raises a deeper issue which is why do all YSU classes and facilities have to be lock up on campus?

If the goal is to get students to be more integrated with the town, then perhaps YSU should have classes and some facilities downtown.

I guess my main experience is with NY city where a lot of the schools, by necessity never had the space to form isolated campuses.NYU for example has a sort of semi campus around Washington Square but it has to share the space with other uses and a lot of it's other buildings are sprinkled through the Village. SVA, Parsons, The New School, FIT and Hunter are also mixed in with the city.I think this has turned into a really positive thing.

Couldn't YSU use a bit of it's current campus for a few dorms, or perhaps office space and then integrate some facilities downtown too?

Pittsburgh is getting a big boost from Point Park University's growth downtown. I think Point Park is the most awesome school here cause its really building synergies with the city while Pitt and CMU either take over and push everything else out or sheild themselves off.

LCathleen said...

My question is what is there to draw YSU students downtown other than a game or other large event at the Chevrolet Center? Those of you who still live there, can you shed some light? Also, I think there might be the perception of safety. I think that the current mayor has done a good job of cleaning up crime in Y-town, but it's still a problem. And it's a perceived problem. For instance, one of my husband's colleagues who lives in New Castle has a daughter who will be starting at YSU in the fall. He didn't want her to go there and tried to talk her out of it because he perceives Youngstown to be dangerous. Since she persisted in going, he has told her that she must stay on campus when she is there. My brother and sister both went to YSU (in the 80's), I did not, but this was also the advice given to them by my parents and aunts and uncles -- Stay on campus. So, whether the downtown area is safe now or not, people still may perceive it as not being safe. You need to advertise its safety and maybe do something to let YSU students (and their parents) know that they're safe downtown or increase police presence on weekends or when you want to attract students downtown. Just some thoughts!

Youngstown Nation said...


First, I'd like to thank you for a great post. We can't wait to welcome you back. So much more to see.

In regards lcathleens comments:

Wow. I really don't know where to begin. Downtown Youngstown has much more to offer than simply shows at the Chevy Centre. I really believe you need to visit downtown soon to see exactly what is going on there.

We've seen over $100 million of investment in downtown over a 10yr period. In addition to the Chevrolet Centre, there are over 15 different bars and restaurants, a world-class performing art center, a world-class institute of American Art, central public library, YMCA, over 30 major events or festivals that draws over nearly 100 thousand folks per year (EXCLUDING events at the Chevy) to include weekly outdoor movies, a farmer's market, music and ethnic festivals, etc. In fact, we are beginning to reach a saturation point in downtown on many fronts.

Downtown Youngstown will soon also offer downtown apartments and, in the near future, student housing (near the $34 million Business College that will be built in 2009). A $100 million dollar, 62 acre New Urbanistic community is being planned in the Smoky Hollow district (think MVR Restaurant).

Downtown Youngstown is also the home of fastest growing software company in the nation and is a product of the Youngstown Business Incubator - one of the most highly respected Business Incubators in the state of Ohio. Within the next 5-10 years, the YBI and the portfolio companies it produces will likely end up producing hundreds if not thousands of high paying jobs over the next 5-10 years.

Additionally, downtown is statistically the safest area in the City of Youngstown and YSU campus is one of the safest in the state of Ohio. The Youngstown Police Department and the Mahoning County Sheriffs department headquarters are located in downtown.

The only thing dangerous about the area is the type of ignorance displayed by the gentleman from New Castle. By no means is he alone. I'm certain this gentleman - despite media saturation over the last several years clearly articulating the resurgence of downtown - probably hasn't been to downtown Youngstown in recent memory, yet he reinforces old stereotypes upon the next generation, continuing the disinvestment in the urban core and, by extension, the region. He will then be the first to complain about why the area has nothing to offer young people and why his daughter has no intention of returning. If she does, it will be to the suburbs where the same cycle will repeat itself. That is the last 30 years in Youngstown and that cycle must and will stop.

Youngstown is and will continue to remain in transition. As a result and in all fairness, it will take time for folks to become reaccustomed to the authentic urban experience again (which they certainly are beginning to do now). However, there is no excuse for slandering areas of overwhelmingly recognized positive development based on sheer ignorance. That must and will end and it’s up to people here now to do so, even on comment boards. Defend Youngstown.

(Pittsburgh native) Phil Kidd

John Morris said...

Certainly sound like some great moves are being made. The business incubator is just the kind of project to integrate into the downtown. Also, having a farmers market and activities like the weekly movies outdoors are very smart.

I also think there is an art studio project downtown. I have few doubts that kicking up the residential population in the downtown with apartments and student housing will kick things to the next level.

LCathleen said...

Thanks for the update, Phil. It's been about 2 years since I've been to downtown Youngstown and I was impressed by all of the changes then. I knew about the business incubator and software companies but wasn't sure how all of that was panning out. I plan to visit downtown Youngstown next Friday with my sister-in-law, also from the area, who will be in from Florida. We want to see all of the changes and how Youngstown is doing. One thing that I did want to point out is that I think that Youngstown still has a perception problem. It may be a perception problem with people from my era My husband is in his 50's and I'm in my 40's. Unfortunately, we grew up in the going down years. This is also true of most of our friends in the area, about half of whom are unemployed but chose to stay in Youngstown -- they still tell us that there is nothing doin' in Y-town. I think that sometimes, especially when you are so involved in working to improve Youngstown, it's easy to take for granted that everyone has a positive perception of Youngstown when old sterotypes are still floating around out there. When neighbors of mine have visited Youngstown for various reasons, they always come back pleasantly surprised by how pretty the area is. As a former native of the area, it's good to know that people such as yourself and Tyler and others are working hard to change the area and the image. The word still needs to get out, though because I would say that those of us, who are of the Y-town diaspora don't know what's happening in their fair city, not like say, former natives of Pittsburgh know what's happening in Pitsburgh. Keep up the good work. I'll let you know my thoughts after I visit downtown next Friday -- I am looking forward to it now, more than ever.

Youngstown Nation said...

Sounds good and I'm so glad you'll be visiting!

Also, I think that a very good way of staying in touch with all the developments happening in Youngstown would be to subscribe to the Defend Youngstown E-Newsletter which I produce aprox once every few weeks. There is also a downtown events e-letter that we distribute each week that gives you a detailed overview of any and all events happening in and around the greater downtown Youngstown area. This might be a nice piece for your friends who are closer to Ytown and may be able to attend such events. Please feel free to spread the word to them and others (over 3,000 on the distribution list at present and only 8 weeks into the development of the e-letter).

You can subscribe to either by sending an email to:

Defend Youngstown E-Letter:

Downtown Events E-Letter:

Thanks again,
Phil Kidd

P.S. You couldn't have chosen a better weekend to return to check out downtown as next Friday will be the weekend of the Greater Youngstown Italian Fest which has returned to downtown Youngstown! In addition, if you'd like to meet for a tour , you can reach me at 330.519.8712