If you happened to drive down Mahoning Avenue on Saturday, you were probably confused. You weren’t hallucinating. There were people on the streets — lots of them. There were pop-up art galleries, a farmer’s market and street musicians.
It was a Better Block event — a demonstration of what a walkable, mixed-use commercial district would look like on Mahoning Avenue — and it was a lot of fun.
Last week, the latest in a long line of citywide economic development plans was released by the city and Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban Research and Studies.
It outlined a variety of development goals that were familiar and, more or less, common sense: encourage entrepreneurship, promote growth, increase economic development, etc. The valuable goals of training the workforce to fill existing jobs and creating a consortium of firmly established city institutions were focused on.
A unique aspect of the plan was the identification of opportunity sites along the city’s corridors. The mayor said it was a valuable thing to have on paper.
The revitalization of downtown Youngstown is well established. There are still empty storefronts and abandoned buildings, but it’s reached the point where development is likely to continue on its own.
Increasing investment in the neighborhoods and focusing on the corridors is the next logical step.
Downtown can thrive, but for the city to truly prosper, people need to live here. It’s great that YSU, the Youngstown Business Incubator and local hospitals are employing hundreds of people, but as long as they’re commuting in from suburban homes in Austintown and Poland, the neighborhoods surrounding the center city are going to continue to deteriorate.
The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation has done yeoman’s work fighting blight and restoring property values in targeted neighborhoods, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
It’s a classic chicken and egg problem, but for people to be excited about living in the Garden District, Crandall Park or Brownlee Woods, there needs to be commercial development along Mahoning, Belmont and South Avenues.
Millennials continually report a desire to live in cities, but a recent survey by the Urban Land Institute revealed many are living in city neighborhoods or dense mixed-use suburbs.
The opportunities are there in Youngstown; we just need to make it happen.
Holding more events like Better Block is a good start. It’s become commonplace to see people engage with downtown with events like Silly Science Sunday and Federal Frenzy. Seeing people activate neighborhood corridors is novel and transporting, and it needs to happen more frequently.
Another interesting aspect of the citywide economic development plan was a marketing campaign that brands Youngstown as the City of You that celebrates the ease with which people make things happen here. You can start an incubator in Oak Hill or start showing foreign films downtown without much trouble. It’s been done.
If that self-actualization starts happening along corridors where housing and commercial space are currently undervalued, we could see the birth of diverse communities in vibrant neighborhoods.
It just requires some will and effort. Get out there and make Mahoning Avenue the Corridor of You.
The editorial board that writes editorials consists of the editor-in-chief, the managing editor, the copy editor, and the news editor. These opinion pieces are written separately from news articles. They draw on the opinions of the entire writing staff and do not reflect the opinions of any individual staff member. The Jambar’s business manager and non-writing staff do not contribute to editorials, and the adviser does not have final approval.