Youngstown usually doesn’t fare very well when it gets mentioned in articles.
Some of the articles are legitimate criticisms of our region, like the “Top 10 Fastest Shrinking American Cities” article by 24/7 Wall Street.com last year. They weren’t passing judgment, just stating fact.
Then there are the articles — like Buzzfeed’s 2013 article which listed Youngstown among the bleakest cities in the world, comparing us with places like the feces covered beach slum of West Point, Monrovia and the literal radioactive wasteland of Pripyat, Ukraine — which do little beyond taking cheap, uneducated shots at a battered city trying to rebound.
Tuesday, the trend took a turn.
Rather than a list article comparing us to slums in India suffering from a massive chemical spill, the New York Times — a little more clout there than Buzzfeed — has given a supportive nod to the efforts that the city and its entrepreneurs have taken to turn things around in Youngstown.
The article — published on the New York Time’s Real Estate column “Square Feet” — doesn’t say anything that should be particularly surprising if you’re marginally aware of the players behind downtown’s recent revival. NYO Property Group’s Dominic Marchionda was featured in the article and a basic timeline detailing the re-emergence of downtown living and entertainment options was presented.
While telling the story of how downtown got its groove back, the author mentioned Youngstown State University’s role in helping the revitalization several times. While it was made clear that YSU wasn’t the only factor, the college was credited as being a large contributor to Youngstown’s new breath of life.
The reasoning makes sense. YSU helps funnel young people from all around the region to Youngstown’s downtown corridor. The college works with job providers downtown — America Makes, the Youngstown Business Incubator, et cetera — to train workers and provide interns, who in turn end up living in or at least close to their work downtown. A residential downtown means more opportunities for tangential business growth, such as the Doubletree Hotel moving into the Stambaugh Building and the need for a grocery store for downtown dwellers.
YSU’s impact on downtown isn’t a coincidental one. Michael McGiffin, the city of Youngstown’s downtown events coordinator, is a YSU alumnus and was instrumental in the Federal Frenzy event that took place on Federal Street in April. Youngstown Design Works, a YSU-based graphic and web design group comprised of current students. has hosted pop-up design workshops both in Warren and at the Oak Hill Collaborative to help connect business owners with quality design work. Both of the TEDx Youngstown events were held at YSU and featured current YSU professors on the speaker lists.
While there are myriad examples of the symbiotic relationship between downtown and YSU, the important takeaway here is that the storms YSU is currently trying to weather — such as vitriolic contract negotiations, financial woes and a startling exodus of faculty leaders — if handled improperly can have a crippling effect on the regrowth of the region as a whole.
Scott Scarborough, University of Akron president, questioned whether or not many of the higher education institutions of Northeast Ohio would still be in existence in fifty years. His concerns centered on the increase in competition among colleges and the decrease in state funding that helps keep the doors open. YSU was among the list of the state universities he believed may not exist in the future if we do not become “great”.
Alma mater pride aside, that is a troubling statement. Not only because losing YSU would be a loss of an historic Youngstown institution, but because the loss of YSU could mean the loss of a real city revival.
Our region needs downtown to thrive, and downtown needs YSU to attract young people to the city. YSU needs students to be concerned about how their money is being spent and how the school is being run. If we care at all about the future of the region, we all need to be a little more involved in making sure we leave this place better than we found it.