Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Transparency and Accountability Link Posted Online

The CDA has posted its transparency and accountability page on the CDA website. The link shows records of NSP grant spending, which will total $2,7 million. You can see how much money has been appropriated to the following areas:
  • Administration

  • Demolition

  • YNDC Housing Acquisition and Rehabilitation

  • YMHA Housing Acquisition and Rehabilitation

  • City Acquisition and Rehabilitation
You can also view information about targeted demolition areas along with specific addresses, and you'll be able to see what contractors are responsible for these jobs. NSP funds have already gone to over 20 demolition contracts, and over $500,000 has been spent on demolition.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Confidence Lost?

Tuesday the carriage house at 259 Park Ave. was demolished. Since then, there has been much impassioned dialogue — and rightfully so — about why the demolition happened, despite plans for preservation.

The CDA is committed to carrying out the community’s wishes. The CDA did its part to communicate the mutual commitment that was reached between residents and neighborhood stakeholders at a public forum Nov. 9 at Wick Park.

During the discussion, attendants pledged to develop a task force to determine an interim strategy for the reuse of the remaining historical structures at 259 Park Ave. The property, the recent target of arson, was built in 1875. The stone structure was the first house on Park Ave. in what is now a historic district recognized by The National Register of Historical Places.

While 259 Park Ave. was demolished, the structure was not the only thing that the city lost. The city lost the confidence of the community in its ability to effectively implement agreed upon strategy for neighborhood revitalization.

The CDA has always strived to remain sensitive to the needs and concerns of residents. The recent activities surrounding 259 Park Ave. show that there is still much room for improvement. There must be effective collaboration between city departments if community-based projects are to be successful.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Neighborhood Action Partners: Treez Please

In continuing with our Neighborhood Action Partners series, we’re profiling Deb Weaver and her work with Treez Please, an organization that has been instrumental in Youngstown’s beautification process.

If you notice more trees lining Youngstown’s streets, you have Deb Weaver to thank for the added greenery.

Since Weaver, along with four other initial members, started Treez Please about two years ago, she and others have undertaken various projects aimed at replenishing the city’s trees.

For their first project, Treez Please acquired property on the corner of Broadway and Kensington, turning the area into a pocket park that included trees and a walking path. Initially, Weaver wanted Treez Please to be a reforestation project that would take advantage of the changes created by building removal.

“It was creating a lot of green space,” Weaver said of demolition.

In addition to reforestation, Treez Please members have been focusing much of their time on targeting neighborhoods with streets in need of foliage. Most recently, they have finished working on an area on Midlothian and also did some planting in Wick Park. Weaver also plans to work downtown, in a project that will add two trees to the front of the DeYor Performing Arts Center.

In addition to continuing with the street tree projects, Weaver has her sights set on expansion. Fundraisers and grants approved by the Wean Foundation finance Treez Please, but Weaver wants to go after bigger Neighborhood Success grants.

“There’s more and more demand,” she said.

In addition to Treez Please, Weaver is involved in a number of other organizations:

Founding member of the Grey to Green Festival
Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation
Neighborhood Success Grant Board
Art Youngstown
She also blogs about Youngstown.
Photo courtesy of Deb Weaver

Thursday, November 5, 2009

YNDC Executive Director Chosen

The Youngstown Neighborhood Development corporation has chosen Presley Gillespie as its executive director. You can read more about Gillespie in the Business Journal's article.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Neighborhood Action Partners: Profiling the City's Unsung Heroes

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that change starts at the grassroots level. Youngstown’s ongoing revitalization can be attributed not only to a few well-known faces, but also to the many unsung heroes who are involved in their own communities. These people may not get quoted in the newspaper. They may not appear in local documentaries. But all the same, these individuals are the ones who are affecting change on their streets and blocks. In an effort to recognize some of these people, The CDA has decided to do a blog series called Neighborhood Action Partners. Feel free to suggest people to feature in the series.

Sybil West: President of the Bennington Block Watch on the East Side

Sybil West used to hear gunshots at night. Now she can hear crickets chirp.

“This is a beautiful side of town, a lot of green spaces, a lot of potential,” West says.

West says crime on the East Side was bad in the 70s, 80s, and 90s – the block watch was started by a neighbor who had her car stolen. But now the neighborhood has really changed. West, 63, has been president of the Bennington Block Watch for the last three years. The block watch offers a social outlet for its members, since many are senior citizens. But the group has also been instrumental in helping to make the community a safe and calm one.

West and other members participate in a crime watch, and work to reduce blight and deterioration by utilizing a grass cutting program. The block watch has even joined forces with the MVOC.

West’s positive attitude and leadership have helped keep her community secure. Her group’s work can be a prime example of how city safety begins with neighborhoods.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Grey to Green Festival: A Success!

The turnout Saturday afternoon at the Grey to Green Festival at Wick Park is just added proof of just how much of a city's revitalization starts with community activism and involvement.

There was great food, performances, art, crafts, music, and information. But apart from all this, there was an underlying energy present. This energy manifested itself in the positive response the audience gave when listening to Will Allen, an urban farmer who was awarded with the MacArthur Fellowship for bringing sustainable food practices to urban areas. The energy was also evident in the inquisitive nature of the attendees.

Far from just accepting brochures and moving on to the next booth, some people who stopped by the City of Youngstown table stayed to talk and to ask questions. Many were interested in the deconstruction process. Some wanted to know about marketing the salvaged materials, others questioned how much job creation the deconstruction would result in. Some inquired about the Youngstown 2010 Plan.

Above all, these questions exemplify the interest that people have in the city's sustainable practices, in its redevelopment process. And the best part about it was that people of all ages were doing the questioning.

The diversity was largely apparent in the attendance of the festival itself. Young kids, older senior citizens, families, college students -- all of these people found a reason to come to Wick Park on a Saturday. Maybe most had been to Wick Park before. But maybe this was some people's first time there. And maybe this means they'll be coming back to the park, back downtown. And that means a couple more people become part of Youngstown's ever-growing community of proactive individuals. Namely, they wake up and notice that the city has changed for the better while they were sleeping.

Who Are We!

Youngstown has seen a lot of positive changes occur over the past several years. Even prior to the Youngstown 2010 plan many of those changes were underway. The Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI), economic development in the business parks such as Salt Springs and Performance Place, and the downtown convocation center were all underway pre-Youngstown 2010.

The Youngstown 2010 plan, however, has been the thing that has brought the most attention to us. National and international professional planners, journalists and scholars have been looking to and visiting Youngstown to see how the Youngstown 2010 plan is being implemented. No matter how we see ourselves locally, the outside world sees us and the Youngstown 2010 plan as “The Model of Sustainability.”

Yes, in quotations and bold.

The successes of the YBI, the business parks, downtown, Millcreek Park, or the latest wave, being named a top ten place for entrepreneurs, are all important by themselves. Still, they do not fully represent who we are or how we are seen.

Diversifying our economy with high tech, light manufacturing and distribution and entrepreneurs makes us more sustainable. Having a world class urban park system makes us more sustainable. Being the home of Youngstown State University makes us more sustainable. Being a model of sustainability gives us identity.

Three simple words; say it with me: model of sustainability.

Now share it with everyone you know.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A fresh look through a new lens

Saturday morning the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, a newly formed non-profit CDC, toured the Idora Neighborhood with residents from the neighborhood, community organizers, and myself.

David Boehlke from New Orleans, LA and Joel Owens from Akron, two nationally recognized community development experts, joined the tour. It was interesting to get an outside perspective on the overall condition of the neighborhood. These two agreed that there are more opportunities in this neighborhood than challenges.

The modest and affordable housing offers a unique marketability for reestablishing homeownership. The neighborhood is comprised of approximately 750 housing units, of which 67 percent are owner-occupied.

NSP funds will be targeted in the neighborhood to remove 48 abandoned houses and conduct acquisition and rehabilitation of a minimum of six housing units. CDA has already completed 17 owner-occupied housing projects with $450,000 of HOME, CDBG, and Lead abatement funds. The Idora Neighborhood will be the first of the Youngstown 2010 “model of sustainability” projects.

Transparency & Accountability

We will be posting at a transparency and accountability link that will contain records of NSP grant spending. In looking at the records, you’ll be able to see how much of the $2.7 million of NSP funds are being spent by category for each activity including:

YNDC Housing Acquisition and Rehabilitation
YMHA Housing Acquisition and Rehabilitation
City Acquisition and Rehabilitation

This is in keeping with the Obama Administration’s desire to be accountable to the public for stimulus program spending. Information will be available about specific areas that are targeted for demolition. The public will be able to view contractors as well as addresses for each activity. Providing this level of detail will be an ideal way for the public to track the improvements made at a neighborhood level.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Grey to Green Festival

When you're at the Grey to Green Festival Sept. 12 at Wick Park, be sure to stop by the CDA booth to learn about deconstruction, Youngstown's designation as a tree city, and the energy efficiency block grant the city recently received.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The CDA's first efforts at deconstruction have gone well: The city worked with David Bennink of Reuse Consulting to successfully deconstruct two structures, one at 945 Brentwood and one at 28 Illinois.

Besides gaining some news coverage, we set a precedent for a viable alternative to demolition. The city reuses 60 percent of materials, making deconstruction a greener approach to cleaning up blighted neighborhoods. The projects also help out the local economy, since deconstruction requires more jobs than demolition does.

The pictures above and below are from the Brentwood project.

Bring on the Buzz

The buzz from Entrepreneur Magazine’s article about Youngstown was certainly well-deserved, and it has proved to be long-lasting.

Google “Youngstown” and “Entrepreneur Magazine” and you’ll find the expected local and regional conversation and the expected but often-forgotten appearances we have in the write-ups about the other cities. Reuters even picked up the story and The Wall Street Journal mentioned the accomplishment when they covered the 10 Living Cities Symposium.

Some people were even pleasantly surprised.

Still though, the buzz continued with Sen. Sherrod Brown’s speech and Mayor William’s appearance on C-SPAN.

We’ve worked this hard to keep it going. Now we can make sure we fully utilize this great marketing tool. The city can make the distinction a label, a logo (Kind of like the one above?), a motto, that could appear on everything from city websites to promotional materials to banners downtown. Businesses could be encouraged to display the honor on their own websites. It can be a visual reminder (and a verbal one to prospective businesses) that Youngstown is back in the game. We knew this already, of course. It just took a while for the rest of the nation to figure it out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Regional Property Information System

It's nice to have everything in one place.

That's the theory behind the Regional Property Information System, a database where anyone with Internet access can find a variety of information about city land.

The site, which will be up by the end of the year, will work like an interactive map. You'll be able to print the map, and turn layers on and off to get data. You can search by parcel or census tract, depending on the data you're interested in.

The site will be housed at YSU's Center for Urban and Regional Studies website, but the City will eventually have a link to it, too.

Examples of some of the kinds of information you'll be able to access through the database:

  • Economic data
  • Property improvements
  • Home Mortgage Declassification Act
  • Property tax data
  • Property sales information
  • Tax lien data
  • Census data

Living Cities Symposium

Last year, took a cheap shot at Youngstown and nine other cities.

This year we fought back, during the 10 Living Cities Symposium in Dayton, which recieved national media attention.

During a presentation Aug. 8, The Mayor talked about his request for $5 million in federal stimulus funds for economic development, with which he pledges to create an investment that is three times that amount. He also discussed deconstruction efforts. Phil Kidd talked about the importance of neighborhood groups like the MVOC and community development efforts like the YNDC. The presentation also included the second trailer from the Steel Valley: Meltdown documentary.

Wetland Mitigation Project

Drive out to the East Side of Youngstown, and in some parts the view resembles that of the country, instead of something you'd expect to see inside the city limits.

What does one do with acres of unused, empty land?

The CDA thinks it makes sense to work with what's there: we're allocating $25,000 to the Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies for a project that could create a wetland mitigation bank for land on the East Side of Youngstown.

The bank would be used by developers who need to purchase new wetlands to replace the wetlands that they have destroyed.

The use for the area makes sense, since many parts of the proposed area for the bank, about 2,700 acres (4.2 square miles), are already wetlands. Also, the project goes hand in hand with Youngstown 2010's goal of right-sizing the city.

John Bralich, senior G.I.S. analyst at The Center for Urban and Regional Studies, says that there needs to be at least 100 acres in the bank to make the project worthwhile. The city owns two 20-acre properties that could each serve as potential sites for a wetland mitigation bank. There are many more additional parcels the city could acquire through the foreclosure process.

The city may be onto something fairly new here. Though wetland mitigation banks are common to rural areas, Bralich says the only other urban bank he's aware of is located in Washington State.

Friday, August 14, 2009

An Introduction

This blog is your place to read about achievements within the CDA and city. There's also going to be some topics that can lend themselves to a bit more regularlity. Expect monthly updates on board of zoning appeals, planning commission agendas, and design and review meetings.

It's also a good place to check out what plans the department has for future community development. Posting statistics about demolitions completed and properties land banked is obviously necessary, but these numbers aren't really noteworthy unless they are pieces of the greater whole, laid against the backdrop of a plan. So expect to find here not only a list of what the CDA has done, but also some thoughts on the department's long term goals and aspirations.