rustbelt road trip 2009



Itinerary in Brief

Youngstown Planning Department- Bill D’Avignon

Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, Phil Kidd and Ian Beniston

Tour of Idora and Wick Park

Butler Institute of American Art

Organization Descriptions

Youngstown Planning Department

Big Projects: Youngstown 2010 Plan

Youngstown 2010 is a citywide plan for the City of Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown 2010 began as a process to engage and educate the community about the importance of planning and the planning process, as well as create a vision and plan to help revitalize Youngstown well into the future. The City of Youngstown and Youngstown StateUniversity coordinated this planning process with help from nearly 200 volunteers, neighborhood organizations and businesses.

The City of Youngstown is operating under a comprehensive plan that was formulated over a four year period in the early 1950s. The plan was reviewed and updated with two additional volumes in 1974. These plans were for a different era that anticipated a population of between 200,000 and 250,000. The Youngstown 2010 Plan is based on a new vision for the new reality that accepts we are a smaller city that will stabilize at 80,000 people.

Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative

The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Youngstown/Warren Region through the creation and support of healthy neighborhoods.

Phil Kidd: Defend Youngstown, Community Organizer

Ian Beniston: Director of Policy

Campaigns: Vacant Properties, Health Care, Neighborhoods, Voter Engagement

MVOC is starting a CDC

Just released a report done with the National Vacant Properties Campaign

Butler Institute of American Art

The Butler Institute is the first museum of American art. The original structure, dedicated in 1919, is a McKim, Mead and White architectural masterpiece listed on the National Register of Historic places. The museum’s mission is to preserve and collect works of art in all media created by citizens of our country. The Institute’s holdings now exceed 20,000 individual works, and the Butler is known worldwide as “America’s Museum.”


There is so much to think about our trip to Youngstown today. In the morning we visited with Bill D’Avignon from Youngstown’s planning department about their world-renowned “Youngstown 2010” plan. If you haven’t heard about this plan yet, it’s very forward thinking and realistic, coming to grips with the sometimes harsh realities of a depopulating city while also highlighting the very real assets of the area. After that we were able to dine at the Golden Dawn, a Youngstown Italian-cuisine institution. Our afternoon was spent with Phil Kidd and Ian Beniston of the Mahoning Valley Organizing (MVOC) collaborative who took us on neighborhood tours and talked to us about what it’s like to work in the city. What a day. This is just a sliver of what is churning in my head right now. Continue to check the road trip’s own blog for additional thoughts, pictures, and the like. Flickr site here.

The Politics of Implementing Community Vision
The movement from comprehensive plans (beautiful documents, products of millions of dollars, blood, sweat and tears, and wonderful at staying on the shelves of planning department) to comprehensive implementation is always difficult. Doing one without the other doesn’t make sense, but is extremely rare; implementation is where the rubber meets the road and where the politics meets the vision. Youngstown, it seems, has been no exception.


Implementation that has clear community support doesn’t guarantee that it will have support from the politicians and city ward council members will support the steps that need to be taken. This is especially the case with plan that calls to acknowledge the city is shrinking; implementation may call for a corresponding shrink size of the city council, or when the plan calls for regional collaboration and the implementation may involve resource and revenue sharing with nearby municipalities (something that has been met with serious resistance).

“If you’re looking for traditional job opportunities, Youngstown might not be it. But if you’re young, you have an idea, and you want to make job opportunities, this is the place to be—no one can stop you here.”

For the difficulties of the implementation, there are still clear successes from the vision: things like Youngstown Business Incubator, the Rust Belt Brewing Company start-up, and a changing image are enormous progress for the city. As MVOC and Defend Youngstown’s Phill Kidd puts it, “If you’re looking for traditional job opportunities, Youngstown might not be it. But if you’re young, you have an idea, and you want to make job opportunities, this is the place to be—no one can stop you here.”

Is there a way for the community to continue to hold the city accountable for implementing this plan (in addition to the vote?) What sort of regional policies are necessary to really implement this? How can we begin to change the dialogue about regional collaboration and remove the intense fear factor associated with it?

Building Capacity to Keep up with Community Needs
Youngstown does not have the non-profit, community development capacity required for the scope of the task at hand, but it is growing. While many cities (see our Pittsburgh post) were building those systems and corresponding capacity since the late 70s, according to our guides, efforts in Youngstown have been fragmented and lacked long term investment and impact. The result is that the challenges of the city—with divestment, vacant properties, crime—are far ahead of the capacity of the non-profit community in Youngstown.

That isn’t to say that community development isn’t occurring in Youngstown, quite the contrary. But it does mean that these groups have their work cut out for them. Bill D’Avignon said it well, “We’re all multi-taskers. We all have to be.”

The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative—while a “young” organization—is on the forefront of community work in Youngstown. Both Ian and Phil are so passionate about Youngstown you can feel it dripping from them. They live and breathe the place and want other people to do the same. Their dedication to the community is clear from everyone knowing their names, to them knowing a story about every inch of the city. There wasn’t a single place we drove through where they didn’t have an insight, historical tidbit, or memory.

The work of MVOC is multi-faceted and includes work on vacant properties, health-care, voter-engagement, and neighborhood. Currently, the big push is working on vacant properties.

On our tour, we saw that the severity of the vacancy issue varied; some neighborhoods had blocks and blocks and blocks of vacant land or abandoned lots, other areas had them peppered throughout, but in each neighborhood, it was clearly a challenge. Cumulatively, this is a big problem for the city—over 22,000 parcels are vacant, 19 percent of all addresses in the city are considered “chronically undeliverable.” In 2008, MVOC partnered with National Vacant Properties Campaign to develop a strategy around vacant properties that is being followed by additional collaboration. MVOC is partnering with ESOP (Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People), neighborhood leaders, churches, and city officials to target particular neighborhoods around this issue. This is something that demands multiple levels of efforts: not only do neighbors, churches, businesses and city officials need to be involved in vacant property strategy, but county and state level policies need to be in place that facilitate—instead of hinder—comprehensive vacancy strategies. In addition, old systems of city and county-level agencies and officials, must begin to embrace and see as assets the strong community groups that are both making change and pushing for change. This is a lot of work.

In the coming months, the Youngstown Neighborhood Community Development Corporation will begin meeting the challenge to land-bank, develop, or strategically discontinue use of the vacant land throughout the city. This will contribute to the collective capacity of other fledgling Youngstown organizations like TreesPlease, Resettle Youngstown, and Grow Youngstown that is beginning to form a system of projects that hopefully—as we saw in Pittsburgh the day before—has positive reinforcement and a cumulative effect on the city and on the region.

What can the region do to support the efforts in individual cities? How do places that do not have the built-in, city-focused support network of foundations, grant intermediaries, and technical assistance (like Pittsburgh) attract state, regional, and national dollars to continue advancing community work? How do we connect places like Youngstown and people who have entrepreneurial ideas? Also, how can we support each other to prevent burnout of community organizers in these neighborhoods?



City of Youngstown Planning Department

Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative

Defend Youngstown Blog

I Will Shout Youngstown



  1. Sounds like a great trip, folks. Drive safe and keep the faith. It’s interesting to see visioning not tied to exploding growth but still aiming for a vital city. …looking forward to hearing about your travels.

    Comment by Ryan Holmes — 05/21/2009 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

  2. […] Youngstown […]

    Pingback by Rustbelt Road Trip! « rustbelt road trip 2009 — 09/08/2009 @ 9:08 am | Reply

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