Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Actually, as Tom Finnerty explains in this week's Lincoln Avenue, the truth about all those statistical reports on Youngstown's economy is not as bad as that famous old Mark Twain line.  It's not that they're lying.  It's that when an organization like the Brookings Institution reports a finding, the details about the statistics get buried.  The Vindicator had a story about this on their front page this week, about how the unemployment rate is down but that the size of the local labor force has shrunk.  To make sense of that, you have to understand how the unemployment rate is calculated.  And as Finnerty points out, you have to pay attention to what is being measures, and where.  does poverty mean the total number of poor people, or the level of concentration of poverty in poor neighborhoods (that was an issue with the Brookings report from this past fall).  Does "Youngstown" mean the city, or the Youngstown metro area?  As citizens and readers, we have to pay attention, or we can be easily misled.

Finnerty is Associate Director of YSU's Center for Urban and Regional Studies, and it's a great resource for information on the local and regional economy.  The CURS website has links to dozens of reports and maps, on everything from crime rates to the needs of the elderly, dating back to the 1980s and up to 2011.  You could learn a lot by digging into their archives -- just remember to pay attention to the basis for the data.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On the Agenda

Given all the battles in the 2011 Ohio legislature, and the way fights like the one over SB 5 spilled over to engage citizens almost all year, it's hard to understand how Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro can be so calm and even upbeat about her job.  But she is.  She speaks with conviction about the value of politics and the possibility of collaboration between Democrats and Republicans, which these days seems rare.

Cafaro should have some interesting opportunities to represent our area's interests this term.  The legislature will almost certainly have to address the oil and gas industry, as she notes in our interview, but earthquakes and ongoing hearings make that complex territory.  Education funding, abortion, and other issues will also surface.  You can keep an eye on what's going on by following the Senate calendar, and you can use the Senate website to stay in touch with your Senator.  As we learned last year, our voices matter. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Imagining Community Downtown

If you're looking for something to do next Saturday night, I have a suggestion: begin the evening at the McDonough Museum of Art on the YSU campus and help preserve, and maybe even help make, some Youngstown history.  On January 21, from 6-8 pm, the McDonough will host a public reception for the Paramount Project.  Anita Lin explains the project in this week's Lincoln Avenue, including the development of the exhibit that opened this week at the museum, featuring photos, artifacts, and interviews reflecting the history of the Paramount theater and ideas about how the renovated facade and open air multi-use space behind it that Lin and her colleagues are imagining will change downtown.

Much of that is about community.  Over the past five years, downtown Youngstown has attracted a number of large festivals and smaller-scale public programs, like the farmer's market and Friday concerts.  Restaurants and bars have become meeting places, too.  Lin argues that a covered open-air, non-commercial space could serve many functions, most importantly expanding the opportunities for people to gather downtown.  It's an intriguing model for how to preserve and repurpose a significant structure, but turning that imagined community space into reality will take time and money.  If you're interested in helping make that happen, next Saturday's reception is a good place to begin.