Friday, September 15, 2006

Lectures address struggling region

Friday, September 15, 2006
Mahoning Valley manufacturing jobs have shrunk to 20 percent.


BOARDMAN — For a struggling urban neighborhood to turn itself around and thrive, a series of intertwined and interconnected investments and perceptions need to be made.

That was one of the main themes espoused in a pair of lectures given Thursday at the Holiday Inn on South Avenue that were part of a three-day conference hosted by the Ohio chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

More than 320 architects from across the state are in town to attend sessions for the AIA Ohio 2006 convention, which wraps up Saturday.

In his presentation "Going from Gray to Green," Hunter Morrison provided a brief history of the demise of Youngstown's steel mills up to how the city adopted the Youngstown 2010 plan. Morrison, director of Youngstown State University's Center for Urban and Regional Studies, also pointed out YSU's link to the city's redevelopment and revitalization efforts.

With a smaller population due largely to job losses and more people moving to the suburbs or elsewhere, Youngstown needs to view itself as a shrinking city and adjust land use and other plans to fit that model, Morrison noted.

With that, he continued, deciding where reinvestment is most needed and what can be done with more land, for example, can be achieved more practically.

Regional economy

Other components Morrison mentioned were having the city define itself as part of a regional economy, improving its image and quality of life, and coming up with a plan of action.

Years ago, about 50 percent to 60 percent of jobs in the Mahoning Valley were in the manufacturing sector; today the figure is closer to 20 percent, Morrison noted. Efforts to get more health-care workers and others who work in diverse fields to live and spend money in the city should be ongoing, he said.

Other attempts to bring many neighborhoods back need to continue, Morrison added. Those include creating more neighborhood parks; restoring, cleaning and making more accessible the Mahoning River; attacking racism and other divisions; and figuring out the best uses for the about 12,000 vacant parcels in the city, he noted.

"This is a problem but also an opportunity," Morrison said of handling the vacant properties.

Touts successes

Morrison touted Youngstown's successes of recent years such as the Eleanor Flad Pavilion, the Chevrolet Centre and the Nathaniel R. Jones federal courthouse.

Complex issues

Blighted neighborhoods need more than fixing because they are influenced largely by complex market and other forces, said Stefani Danes of Perkins Eastman Architects of Pittsburgh.

In their presentation "Doing More with Less: Revitalizing Neighborhoods in Weak-Market Cities," Danes and Jack Johnston described a pattern they said often contributes to a neighborhood's deterioration.

Johnston, president of Pittsburgh-based Jaxon Development Co., noted that neighborhoods need to maintain a balance between investment and disinvestment.

Johnston and Danes used as a model a blighted area in Pittsburgh's Middle Hill District, which has more vacant than occupied homes.

Neighborhood decline can begin with something small but insidious, which can create a negative spiral, they pointed out. Over time, negative impressions form, confidence erodes, people start moving out and property values decrease, they said.

First impressions are critical to get people to invest in a neighborhood, Johnston and Danes added.

To reverse such a downward spiral, they continued, it's important to concentrate on a piecemeal approach to improving an area, establish diversity initiatives, build on an area's strengths and assets and have new housing fit in with a neighborhood's character.

William McDonough, a nationally renowned architect, will give the keynote address at 9 a.m. today at Stambaugh Auditorium, Youngstown. A walking tour of downtown also will be provided.

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