Monday, September 24, 2007

Youngstown's place at the regional table

Much has been made – in local blogs, regional politics, and in national and international media – about Youngstown’s innovative approach to its shrinking size. The 2010 plan has been widely touted as a breakthrough model for urban planning, promising to remake the city in greener, less wasteful, and more productive ways. This week on Lincoln Avenue, I’m talking with one of the key advisors to 2010, urban development expert Hunter Morrison. The conversation explores where Youngstown is now, what its future might look like, and how we’re being affected by regional economic developments.

Hunter has only been in Youngstown for about five years, after spending many years working in Cleveland. Despite that short tenure, he talks about this place with incredible, infectious passion. He acknowledges the challenges but emphasizes the positive potential of this community. He sees the growth of small businesses, the return of what he calls “the Youngstown Diaspora,” and our growing sense of regionalization as sources of hope. Even when I’m skeptical about some ideas, I come away from a conversation with Hunter feeling optimistic.

For example, Hunter predicts that the Cleveland/Youngstown/Pittsburgh corridor will become one large economic region, and because Youngstown is geographically central, we will play an important role as these cities learn to work together to promote development and do economic planning as a region. While I agree that the region is becoming a sort of megalopolis, and that does bring new money into the Mahoning Valley, I have doubts about whether it’s entirely a good thing. Do we want to be a bedroom community for people working in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Akron? How will that affect local workers and the local economy? If we become the meeting place for leaders from the big cities, will our needs and issues be heard? Hunter is enthusiastic that regionalism can help this area, and while I hope that’s true, I also have some doubts. Regional growth may be inevitable, but I think we need to be strategic about our role and our interests.

You can hear the full interview at

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