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.