Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

A Visit to Youngstown by Joe Baur

[ Joe Baur is a 20-something resident of downtown Cleveland. He also puts out series of video shorts of political comedy called Mildly Relevant News that you might want to check out. Some of them include musing on various urbanists topics. He recently paid a visit to much-maligned Youngtown, Ohio and was kind enough to file this report for us here – Aaron. ]

Hard up for a depressing, Rust Belt story? Come to Youngstown, Ohio, where the steel mills packed up and left years ago, taking much of their population and quality of life with them. At least, that’s the theme national media has clutched onto ever since Bruce Springsteen acknowledged its sad reality with his morose ballad, “Youngstown.” But rumors of redevelopment and pockets of young professionals determined to rebuild this once great steel empire reached me up in Cleveland. As a Rust Belt junkie myself, I had to check it out.

“A dangerous shithole,” is how David Jason, a former Youngstown area resident, described the city. “Wish I could say something nicer.” To be fair, he had been car jacked there. Twice. The freakin’ Dalai Lama himself would struggle to look back fondly on a city after a couple of brushes with death. And it’s not just David. Crime and poverty are tremendous problems in Youngstown. The steel industry was the city’s golden goose. Without it, the city has struggled to find itself and adapt to the new economy. But before I continue this 20/20, gloom and doom exposé, there was a time when Youngstown was booming. And there’s no better place for a glimpse at its once prosperous hour than The Museum of Labor and Industry located downtown in the Youngstown Historical Center.

My Aunt Barb, a fellow Northeast Ohioan who will travel to just about anywhere with me, drove us straight to the museum after a quick breakfast in Cleveland. We were both legitimately excited to take a walk through steel history. But first we were greeted with the harsh realities of the steel mills of today, an appropriate mix with the day’s cold temperatures and gray skies. Shortly after passing the “Welcome to Youngstown” sign on I-680, we were surrounded by ruins of the city’s former economic powerhouses. There were a plethora of dilapidated buildings that make the Coliseum look in business.

Shortly after our haunting ride around the mills of yore, we made it to the museum. Sadly, locked doors met us and a taped sign that read, “CLOSED.” I had the hours right, but apparently missed the bit about being closed the week between Christmas and New Years. Crap.

Barb went to warm up in the car while I wandered around for a bit, snapping a few photos of what looked to be downtown Youngstown down the hill. I also stumbled upon an Ohio Historical Marker statue recognizing the Little Steel Strike. It was through their efforts that gave their union recognition and the right to collectively bargain with steel companies.

While I was busy impersonating Ansel Adams, a white van pulled up in front of the museum. Campus security for nearby Youngstown State University, perhaps? Getting cold, I hopped back into the car and we slowly pulled away, stopping briefly to wave down the woman in the van and explain why we were the lone vehicle in the parking lot.

We gave a brief sob story about how we came out from Cleveland to see this museum and were sad to see it closed. Well good thing we stopped, because turns out this lovely lady was waiting for security to let her in and finish a painting project she had been working on as a volunteer. “I’d be happy to let you in,” she said. Score! Labor and industry was a go.

Shortly thereafter, security arrived and let us all in. I quickly began making my way around the museum. Wow, to put it lightly. Granted I’m a nerd for history and particularly Rust Belt lore, but even the most jaded field trip traveler would have to admit the museum was put together beautifully. Relics of the steel industry were positioned perfectly, with actual equipment left in tact to give you a vague sense of what it was like to work in those Hellish conditions.

The displays described life as a worker in the steel mills before and after unionization. They shared stories of racism experienced by black folks who moved up from the South for work and the prejudices immigrants had to deal with on a daily basis from so-called “natives.” Evidently natives weren’t too keen about folks moving in to work thankless jobs for less money. Sound familiar?

It’s odd how a museum can take something so unromantic and romanticize the lifestyle and time period to the point where you wish you could live the life for just one day. When in reality, there’s not a chance in Hell I’d last a day in those mills. And neither would you. Hell, I’d love to send Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump to their reality TV show death down there. Suffice it to say, The Museum of Labor and Industry is must stop for any history and/or Rust Belt buffs.

As we approached the final room, we stopped to chat with Doreen Moore, the incredibly kind painter who made our museum visit possible. We were lucky enough to hear her version of a mid-life crisis – a story worthy of its own documentary or feature article. Surprisingly enough, Doreen hails from Northern California near the Oregon border. She described her corner of the Golden State as a foggy area that never gets colder than 40 or warmer than 70-degrees. Like most Americans, Doreen was stuck in a job that simply wasn’t for her in a state she didn’t feel she belonged in. “I never felt like a Californian,” she told us.

Years before her eventual move from California, Doreen found a program at a small Voc-Tech in St. Clairsville (Belmont Technical College) that offered degrees in Building Preservation/Restoration. After years of being looked down on because she didn’t have a college degree, she decided enough was enough and put her house on the market. It sold it for over $250K in just four hours. Not a bad profit, considering what she paid for it. Within two years, she was ready to move onward and upward and enrolled at Youngstown State University in a city she had never so much as driven by. With cash in hand, she bought her Victorian dream house, spending about as much as you’d spend on a good used car.

Now Doreen finds herself happier than ever, chasing after her masters and “madly, hopelessly” in love with a man who found Youngstown under similar circumstances from Seattle. With the crap Hollywood continues to churn out, her story is one that at least deserves some consideration from the studio bigwigs.

Our next stop was the Lemon Grove Café, a spot I had heard of from Youngstown transplants as the heart of their rebuilding downtown on West Federal Street. They advertise themselves as a “café, art gallery and organization devoted to the economic and cultural Renaissance of Youngstown, OH.” Admirable aspirations, but I honestly expected a tiny café with some basic drink selections and a few pastries to choose from. I was wrong. So wrong, it’s laughable.

This was not just some café that would be lost in a sea of yuppie joints in New York City. This was an establishment like nothing I had seen before in any city I’ve lived in or throughout all of my travels. And anyone was welcomed! Young and old mixed with different ethnicities, giving the place an incredibly welcoming feel. Surrounded by what I imagine was local art, Lemon Grove is the mecca for any creative type or simply anyone who enjoys the fruits of creativity. And the place is open until 2am, seven days a week! They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the day and are always hosting live musical acts for their late night patrons. Did I mention they also sell booze? Yes. Yes they do. It’s a place you never have to leave. Have breakfast, work on your computer throughout the day, have lunch and dinner, then stay for drinks with friends and rocking out with local tunes. I dare call this place… Heaven. And that’s no hyperbole, my friend.

After leaving the Lemon Grove, I paused to look around Federal Street. No, it’s not currently a street that would rival a thriving big city or a successful small town, like Traverse City. But the pieces are there. Studying the surroundings, I had what I’m going to call A Beautiful Mind moment. It wasn’t difficult to see what this place can become in the foreseeable future, thanks in large part to the success of the Lemon Grove. And they weren’t just voices in my head. Local business owners and investors are working hand-in-hand to make the dream a reality. In fact, the latest addition to downtown will be the partial demolition and restoration of the Liberty-Paramount Theater. Closed in 1976, the building quickly fell into disrepair, but was saved when the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The restored building will be a music venue with a restaurant and cabaret bar in the basement and two movie theaters in the balcony. Clearly the city is making an effort to save the unique architecture featured in their buildings and restore them for the 21st Century. It’s hard to find a city whose suffered tremendous population losses willing to reinvent their past. My beloved Cleveland has fallen into the trap of demolishing history in favor of something new and shiny (Columbia Building, anyone?). Hats off to the leaders making it happen in Youngstown.

Less than a mile from downtown and over the Mahoning River is Rust Belt Brewing Company. Usually when I travel (okay, not usually), the first thing I do is look for local breweries. This is Youngstown’s.

Rust Belt is a small operation catering to nearby Rust Belt towns, most notably Pittsburgh, although I’ve seen and enjoyed their brew in Cleveland, too. The crew was busy bottling when we popped in and were nice enough to give me generous samples of all their brews before making a final decision on a purchase. While tasting, they explained they’re a young brewery, but continue to see 40% growth on a yearly basis with grand aspirations for the future. But in Youngstown, success comes with frustration.

You see, Youngstown, like most cities in Ohio, has been pulverized by suburban sprawl. With that suburban sprawl comes a more often than not irrational fear of the city. So much so, Rust Belt’s brew crew laments the cold reception nearby suburbs have given their humble operation. They simply refuse to come out and work with them, hiding behind their preconceptions of the city from the comfort of their big-box home. There’s no doubt Youngstown has its problems with crime and poverty. I don’t think I met anyone who has tried to hide that. But refusing to work with the urban core that made the suburbs successful in the first place is pretty damn criminal if you ask me. It’s heartless at the very least and a problem all Rust Belt cities are faced with. I can’t tell you how many times I personally have been told, “Hope you don’t get shot” for living in downtown Cleveland, an arguably safer area statistically than many suburbs. Hell, someone told me they hope I don’t get shot when I said I was going to Youngstown. The sooner Youngstown’s suburbs wise up and work with the city, the better for all parties involved.

After a nice conversation and tasty samples that left me with a bit of a buzz, I ordered a growler of the Rusted River Irish Red Ale. But I honestly couldn’t have gone wrong with any of the beers. Great stuff all around. I then went outside to take in the view of the Mahoning River, accidently scaring the crap out of a flock of ducks in the process. It’s a sight I’m sure Rust Belt’s brewers wish they could show suburban leaders as they talk distributing their beer. I guarantee it’s a view they wouldn’t expect to see in the heart of the city. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the Alps or anything, but it’s a peaceful sight in its own right.

We then hopped back into the car, onto Mahoning Ave. and on our way out of town. On the way out, we swung through Idora neighborhood along Mill Creek Park – a sprawling beauty many say rivals some of the nation’s national parks. But driving through Idora, it was clear how much the neighborhoods were struggling. Abandoned, dilapidated homes were as prevalent as foreclosure signs. A few gems stuck out, though, along the park which is how Barb remembered the area from when she went to Idora Park as a kid for family get-togethers.

Our last neighborhood was on the north side, where it was clear old homes were demolished with new properties rising in their ashes. Every little bit helps, but it’s the work being done downtown and with Rust Belt Brewing that proves most inspiring, giving hope to the locals both young and old who have stuck their flag in the ground, dedicating their lives to the economic and cultural Renaissance of Youngstown.

The optimist in me can see a day where Youngstown becomes a cheap, small-city alternative to Cleveland and Pittsburgh much like how Akron has rebuilt its downtown and some nearby neighborhoods as destinations for young professionals. Slowly but surely, the pieces are coming together. Who knows; perhaps one day the Boss will write a follow up song noting the cultural Renaissance of Youngstown, where the people have left the fiery furnaces of Hell and are doing Heaven’s work well.

58 Comments
Topics: Urban Culture
Cities: Youngstown

58 Responses to “A Visit to Youngstown by Joe Baur”

  1. John Morris says:

    Yup, the perception of danger is a big reason I don’t know Youngstown better. Too bad you didn’t get to The Butler Art museum which is a pretty good place to see a wide range of American Art.

    Youngstown, is the gold standard as far as a city starting to do a lot with very few financial resources. As you can see, the buildings and basic town design is pretty sweet.

    I guess you know about Youngstown’s Tech incubators, which employ I think around 300 people. Add to this, one pretty great homegrown success story in Turning Technologies, which also employs about 300 people. An outsourcing and research firm based in San Francisco will be adding 70 in the next few months and hopes to bring on a few hundred-all downtown.

    Your remark about the sprawl around the city is likely very important. If it’s like Pittsburgh or the other steel towns around here, people started fleeing the poluted city long before most of the mills closed.

  2. John Morris says:

    Sad side story, the elegant carousel in the flashy glass pavilion just put under the Brooklyn Bridge in DUMBO is the last large surviving remanant of Youngstown’s Idora Amusement Park.

  3. Joe Baur says:

    Thanks for reading, John.

    I can tell you I felt perfectly safe downtown and up the hill around the Steel Museum. But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that anything can happen anywhere, at any time. Always have to be smart.

    I knew a little about the incubators and their recent success in the technology industry. I expect more good things to come for Youngstown.

    Sprawl did hurt Youngstown like Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but especially so since they never had a huge population. Things will turn around even faster once the suburbs start supporting the city.

  4. John Morris says:

    Yes I have been around downtown and felt fine. I just haven’t felt comfortable roaming around the rest of the city.

    Youngstown has an awesome location, and also seems to be the only area seriously interested in linking to both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. One gets the impression, the city today is run by adults who are ready to make good choices.

  5. Michael says:

    The Paramount Theatre is not going to be saved. They are going to do demolish it and save the facade and apparently make it an amphitheater/farmers market location in downtown. I am still not a big fan of saving anything of it, as it is the biggest eyesore in our ever-changing downtown.

    I love this community and love seeing the development going on with downtown Youngstown. The growth of Youngstown State towards the downtown has helped the cities cause.

  6. Douglas says:

    Thanks for the interesting story. Pleased to get some more details about the town.

    My family and I stopped in Youngstown last fall while on a road trip out east. The green of Mill Creek Park caught our eyes on the highway map and we decided to stop there to stretch our legs. When we inquired about a place to get some lunch we were explicitly told ‘don’t go that way, it is too dangerous’ and were directed to some place in the ‘burbs. Instead we wound our way to the downtown and found that glory that is the Lemon Grove Cafe! We loved it and were so pleased and shocked to see a place like that in what is otherwise a very dead downtown.

    Wish we’d known about the brewery and museum. We will definitely visit Youngstown again if we are in the area.

  7. MetroCard says:

    Youngstown’s in good company (or bad, but I guess it depends on your perspective). There are literally tons of declining industrial cities around the Midwest like Flint, Gary, etc–often with perfectly stable suburban areas nearby.

    Small cities in the Midwest sit in a tough spot these days, not only because they have all of the big city problems like crime and blight, but because they lack at least some of the amenities that a larger city would typically have (like symphony orchestras, museums, etc). This makes it difficult to attract newcomers who might pump money into the local economy, resulting in an infusion of investment.

    One silver lining seems to be that the local character seems to be alive and well in many of these places, with numerous successful independent establishments.

  8. Joe Baur says:

    Thanks for all the thoughts!

    I can’t speak to every single Midwestern town, but I would disagree that cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh lack in the art/music department. Cleveland is known for its art/culture scene in University Circle, I saw people from all over the country/world visitings the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and I’ve heard great thing about Cincy’s art museum. Oh, and Buffalo’s orchestra was phenomenal when I saw them perform for a Chaplin film.

    But if you’re talking about cities the same size as Youngstown, then you’re probably spot on. That said, pretty much everyone (whether they love the city or not) comments on the city’s beautiful preserved architecture. So at least Youngstown has that going for them, which is nice.

  9. John Morris says:

    ” they lack at least some of the amenities that a larger city would typically have (like symphony orchestras, museums, etc). This makes it difficult to attract newcomers who might pump money into the local economy, resulting in an infusion of investment.”

    It very much depends on which small city you are talking about. Youngstown has the Butler, a pretty important museum of American Art and is within pretty short driving distance of all of Pittsburgh’s museums and the nationally known Akron Art Museum. Only a little further and you have Cleveland’s great entertainment assets.

    Youngstown’s incubator complex is filled with a lot new comers to the city, many of whom moved from places like Austin and the Bay Area.

    They also built a somewhat cheap arena that holds about 6000 and has hosted acts like Elton John, Tool, John Mellencamp, Clay Aiken, Guns and Roses, The Beastie Boys and others.

    Given the cities central location, acts playing there can tap into metro Cleveburgh-market.

  10. Chris Barnett says:

    Surprised that no one has mentioned that Youngstown has had a bit of steel/heavy supply rebirth due to the explosion of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale of E Ohio/W PA:

    http://businessfacilities.com/news/marcellus-shale-drilling-boom-brings-jobs-to-youngstown-oh/

    http://marcellusdrilling.com/2011/12/more-marcellus-utica-shale-jobs-coming-to-youngstown-oh/

    The city and its ED organizations are advertising their strategic location to serve the Marcellus.

    http://regionalchamber.com/EconomicDevelopment/ShalePlayCenter.aspx

    http://www.regionalchamber.com/young2011

    Apparently, when you have steelworks, it pays to make steel in them instead of turning them into festival marketplaces.

  11. marko says:

    The museum is named “Labor” and Industry and the town erects a statue to commemorate a strike, and they wonder why the Industry left town?

  12. John Morris says:

    Yes, and this will be a big steel tube plant.

    Lordstown, not too far a away is home to a big GM car plant. However, to place this in some perspective, most mills these days even if they do exist, don’t employ a whole lot of folks. US ET mill in the “ghost town”, in Braddock accounts for about 25% of US Steel’s production but the mayor estimates it now employs only 550-600 workers, down from 5000-6000. The mayor doen’t think more than a tiny number of those people live in Braddock.

    To be very honest, if trends hold, very few of these folks will choose to live in Youngstown itself.

    Not dissing these jobs at all, but one has to create a much more livable city and diverse economy that grows a lot more light industry, technology and R&D.

  13. John Morris says:

    I meant, US Steel’s ET Works in Braddock.

  14. John Morris says:

    Yes, up stream there is another US Steel plant that finishes some of the raw steel made in Braddock, but I don’t think that employs a whole lot of folks either. Almost all the jobs that made working in a steel mill such a hellish nightmare have or are being automated.

    BTW, Youngstown is in very easy commuting distance of Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs like Cranberry which is now home to Westinghouse’s HQ and a lot of it’s nuclear power R&D.

  15. Marc says:

    John Morris said, “Your remark about the sprawl around the city is likely very important. If it’s like Pittsburgh or the other steel towns around here, people started fleeing the poluted city long before most of the mills closed.”

    The suburban sprawl was actually slow to develop in Youngstown, compared to Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Whereas the outgrowth in those two larger areas took off post-WWII (like much of America), the growth in Youngstown suburbs didn’t occur until the 70s and 80s when steel was on its way out. I don’t have the link offhand, but I’ve read journal articles on the city that argue the steel industry was hurt by this: the captains of industry could move out to say, Shaker Heights east of the Clev, but in Youngstown they simply moved away (they would move to Poland or Canfield now, but those communities remained rural until the last 20-30 years).

  16. Cheryl says:

    I miss Ytown. Grew up on the North Side, where the neighborhood high school, which graduated scientists, physicians, actors, teachers, artists, athletes, and hard workers of all stripes, no longer stands. Have lived now in CLE and in the beautiful mid-Hudson Valley, but I’m also a sucker for Rust Belt towns. Would return in a second if the right job surfaced.

  17. MetroCard says:

    While not huge, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are not small cities. Youngstown’s too far removed from those cities for their cultural assets to be of real benefit.

    I’m talking specifically about small, freestanding cities, typically with a population under 100,000. There are a handful of these scattered around the Midwest, places like Saginaw, MI; Lima, OH; Marion, IN; Danville, IL. These are the real victims of the Rust Belt.

    Industrial suburbs like Hammond and East St. Louis are at least within an arm’s reach of their respective cities, even if they’ve also seen better days.

  18. John Morris says:

    Youngstown is not scattered around the midwest–it’s really close to a string of cities-Youngstown, Warren, Canton, Akron etc that need to get their act together.

    I do not agree at all that Pittsburgh and Cleveland are not relevant. They treat Youngstown that way-IMHO ,partly because they are in some way afraid of it. Youngstown is actually located at almost the center of the greater Cleveland/Pittsburgh metro region.

    This is a key thing. Both Cleveland and Pittsburgh see themselves as the suns around everything should revolve. They even deny that there is a Clevburgh region, because it would undermine their power. a lot of this is related to deep belief that the regional economy can’t grow and they are in a zero sum fight for a shrinking pie.

  19. Thanks for a great article about my town.

    I actually live about a mile up 5th Ave from the downtown area (by the Y.S.U. Football Stadium) and work downtown. Like many others here, I am a transplant who came looking for an opportunity to make a difference in my own life as well as the area’s. As you said – I am “one of the locals both young and old who have stuck their flag in the ground”. I figured I could stay in Phoenix and remain a drop in the ocean, or go somewhere that would be a rewarding challenge. I picked Youngstown.

    While the piece you did was great, you missed a metric ton of things going on even within spitting distance of where you were.

    The De-Yor Performing Arts center (across the street from Turning Technologies) is the “original” Warner Brothers theater (yes – that Warner Brothers – they were from here). It is a beautifully preserved, Vaudeville era movie theater! I’ve seen everything there from the Youngstown Symphony to Grand Funk Railroad to comedian Ron White.

    About 100 yards east of the Lemon Grove is a new Italian restaurant called V2 (or V-Squared as the locals call it) as well as a brand new place across the street called Roberto’s which also server up authentic Italian and a newly re-designed dance club called 9. My favorite pub in town is a very Steel town sort of place called the “Draught House”. No fern-bar pretentiousness here – shot and a beer kind of place (although they have a great selection of micro-brews on tap).

    I could go on-and-on, but when you say that most of the rest of downtown is “dead”, that’s not the case. In fact the part that’s still dead is getting smaller and smaller by the day (finally!).

  20. Joe Baur says:

    Howard,

    Glad you enjoyed the article. I’m sure there was plenty I did miss in my very short time there. Although parts did seem rather dead to me, I do plan on returning and exploring a bit further sooner rather than later. If nothing else, there are a few bars calling to me.

  21. John Morris says:

    Right, I thought some more restaurants had opened in the last year or so downtown. I need to get back and would love very much a guided tour.

    BTW, I would also very much love some occasional posts and input on my blog from someone whole lives in Youngstown dealing with the creative, cultural, architectural, scene there.

    Contact info.

    http://diggingpitt.blogspot.com/p/about.html

  22. Ben says:

    You found some of the energy that is powering Youngstown’s renewal. But downtown isn’t the only area of town where citizens are making a difference.

    The next time you’re in town, meet up with block captains and town watch organizers from some of the old neighborhoods. They’re also part of the city’s effort to improve. And they’ve increased in number and clout in recent years.

    In the end, Youngstown will survive if it can promise a decent urban environment to a majority of citizens, not just young professionals. You really need a second visit.

  23. Tee says:

    Good article, I really enjoyed it. I always like reading about positive things about Youngstown. We NE Ohioans get crapped on so much, it nice to read something positive.

    One thing I noticed about the article is how the author talked about the role of young professionals in reviving the city. That seems to be a recurring theme on many similar articles at many similar websites.

  24. John Morris says:

    I think Youngstown was running one of the sharpest little ads in The Wall Street Journal.

    http://diggingpitt.blogspot.com/2010/04/youngstown-ad-hypes-cleveland.html

    “Youngstown Ohio: Center City of the emerging
    Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh Techbelt

    Anchored by 4 state universities and 2 prestigious private universities

    Home to 2 International airports and 3 regional airports

    Set to thrive in the healthcare industry with the presence of The Cleveland clinic and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

    The epicenter to the supply chain for advanced energy manufacturing and gatway to Marcellus Shale field development

    The only place where you can see both Lebron James and Sidney Crosby in action.”

    Ok, it fibs a bit by calling Pittsburgh and Cleveland’s airports really international. It’s also pretty out of date with Lebron gone and Sid’s career in doubt. still it’s a pretty good description of the locational advantage the city has.

  25. John Morris says:

    Logically, the greater Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown, Pittsburgh region could support one real honest international airport.

    Best location? Somewhere around Youngstown.

  26. Joe Baur says:

    Very interesting thought, John. I’d certainly get behind it if it were best for the region as a whole. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be.

  27. Michael says:

    We have an airport that is on the upswing in Vienna in the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. Traffic at YNG was at its highest since 1998 this past year! Traffic is expected to top 2011 once again and as the Vindy and other outlets have announced, the airport is close to getting daily connecting service to CLE on United Airlines this spring/summer.

    The shale boom is helping to make this happen! Can’t wait to see Youngstown turnaround once the drilling commences!

  28. John Morris says:

    Right now with record low natural gas prices, many drillers are cutting back. Most with very active programs are just trying to hold onto their leases.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/12027/1206355-503.stm

    Most likely this will change but Youngstown should be careful about pegging itself to the old time boom/bust commodity cycle. It’s better than that. Not saying it can’t benefit, but it must be careful about trashing it’s quality of life.

  29. Ellen says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I’ve never been to Youngstown – in fact, I’ve visited Ohio only a handful of times in my life – but I’m interested in checking it out sometime based on what you wrote. Thanks.

  30. John Morris says:

    @JoeBaur

    Anyway, don’t expect that to happen if it hasn’t already.

    I mean, I can’t be the first person to think that the logical plan in a greater metro area like, Pittsburgh/Cleveland is to locate the main airport in the center of the combined region in the place where travel times would shorter for the largest number of people.

    Clearly this hasn’t happened more because of issues, related to ego and power politics rather than economics. Rather than one airport more than finacialy capable of attracting international flights we have two cities and states subsidising a very small number of marginal connections.

    We can’t even have adult conversations, because–both Pittsburgh and Cleveland deny they are in a mega region. How often do we ever see Cleveland based artists in Pittsburgh-or the other way around? Can some one working for UPMC or The Cleveland Clinic mention the other exists and keep their job?

    We are finally starting to see significant overlap in the private sector with PNC, Giant Eagle and moving into the Ohio market. I think some of the local Pittsburgh based angel investor networks are becoming more open to making Cleveland, Akron and Columbus area investments.

  31. John Morris says:

    Anyway, that’s a big role Youngstown can play since it really isn’t mentally tied to either city. I mean, Cleveland + tells one all you need to know about the mental map of Cleveland.

    Pittsburgh has it’s own very bizarre “Power of 32 map” which bends over backwards to construct a region in which all roads lead to Pittsburgh.

  32. Michael says:

    John, Youngstown AND Pittsburgh pegged themselves on the steel industry. The difference is Pittsburgh was smart and brought in new business and industry to overcome all the job losses. People a around Youngstown held onto the hope that the manufacturing industry was going to make a return, when it really never did.

    Youngstown finally has an opportunity with the fracking for natural gas, coupled with the growth of technology companies at the Youngstown Business Incubator, to move into the 21st century and start creating jobs once again.

    This idea that the quality of life is going to be ruined by fracking is ridiculous and is an idea from the far left movement, which is led by the local leader himself Bob Hagan.

    If you want to talk about quality of life, go look at Williston, ND. The place is BOOMING right now due to the shale boom hitting that community. Hotels and homes going up like crazy, and even they can’t keep up with demand. Local stores and shops are paying much more than similar stores and shops across the country just because job demands are so high.

    In fact, there are 2-3,000 job openings in Williston, ND right now as a result effect of the shale boom.

    Do I think that will happen to that extent in Youngstown? NO. However, the redevelopment of the Mahoning Valley will benefit EVERYONE in this community and will make the quality of life in this wonderful town that much BETTER!

  33. Joe Baur says:

    John – I tried bringing up the Cleveburgh idea to Pittsburghers in the Pittsburgh City-Data forum. Long story short, the consensus was that it was a bad idea, because it would mostly benefit Ohio in that we have more cities involved in the hypothetical region (Cleveland, Canton, Akron, Youngstown). Some people can’t see beyond our silly man-made borders.

    I for one don’t care who gets the credit for “saving the region,” just so long as it’s saved. To be fair, I believe the process of saving our respective areas is already well underway thanks to people like you in Pittsburgh, people I know in Cleveland and Doreen in Youngstown.

  34. John Morris says:

    Get real, how long have they been Rockin the Bakken?

    I was actually referring also to the steel mill itself. Not that I oppose it, but one has to understand the hit and miss, volatile nature of the business. Also, as is the case in Braddock, few if any of the limited workforce lives in town.

    Youngstown doesn’t need to be a disposable place that just lasts until the boom is over. The tech economy in Youngstown is very much based on it becoming a decent place to live and work.

    BTW, you did see the link about gas companies cutting back drilling because of very low natural gas prices?

  35. Joe Baur says:

    Ellen – Your comment is pretty much why I live. Anyone I can convince to visit and (dare I say) move here is a pretty damn big victory for me.

    Please don’t hesitate to contact me anytime you’re interested in coming out here.

  36. John Morris says:

    @Michael

    “The difference is Pittsburgh was smart and brought in new business and industry to overcome all the job losses.”

    All I’m saying is that Youngstown should try to do the same.

  37. John Morris says:

    @Michael

    BTW, The Bakken Shale in North Dakota seems to have large recoverable researves of not just natural gas but oil. I think that makes the economics very different.

    Oil, is a global commodity that’s fairly easy to ship and is in great demand. Natural Gas, is very difficult to ship or export without a very expensive pipeline system, meaning that there is no global market but really a series of fragmented markets vulnerable to local demand.

    There are lot’s of reasons to be bullish on locally produced gas, in particular because in this region it will be replacing demand for coal and also because of use in downstream plastics manufacturing.

  38. John Morris says:

    Here’s a story about a big Canadian drilling company that describes current conditions in the Marcellus as “dismal”, at least in regards to so called “dry gas”.

    http://www.canadianbusiness.com/article/70188–precision-turns-fourth-quarter-profit-says-natural-gas-drilling-dismal

  39. Michael says:

    John, the boom in Youngstown is not for Marcellus, it is for Utica Shale. We have discussed this thoroughly in my classes at Youngstown State. The Utica is so much more popular because it includes NATURAL GAS and CRUDE OIL.

    And yes, drilling may be cutting back in certain parts of the country, but according to WFMJ, the drilling in this portion of the state is expected to launch at full strength in the years ahead. Here is a great read on the Utica Shale: http://energy.aol.com/2011/10/07/utica-shale-may-be-its-own-energy-game-changer/

    The Utica Shale in Youngstown is so popular because there is a very short distance to it in the Mahoning Valley, as opposed to other parts of the country: http://www.theinfomine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/utica-thickness-map.jpg

    I’ve had a few speakers come talk at various meetings I have attended and the word game-changer continues to come up.

    It is VERY exciting for Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley! And we may see some early fruits of it next week. Will keep you updated.

  40. John Morris says:

    @Michael,

    Thanks, I actually didn’t know this. The term, wet line gets tossed around but I thought for the most part they were talking about gas liquids like ethane.

    I must admit that the whole thing is a bit of a mystery to me and I think many others. Seems like not much more than 12-15 years ago, the U.S. had a gas “bubble” and projected 100 year reserves based on old technology. By 2002, the talk was of a big shortage-and how reserves may have been overstated —and then in comes fracking and we are hearing again about vast supplies.

    Yes, it does seem exiting. All I’m saying is to watch your back. I see a lot of potential in the region with or without this windfall.

  41. John Morris says:

    Ok, my dates may be a little off.

  42. JoeP says:

    I don’t see anything coming from some contrived coalition between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and don’t think that one is necessary.

    Pittsburgh has been on a steady transformation for 3 decades now and Pitt and CMU are significant research institutions that are anchors for talent and growth. NE Ohio has its own assets. What exactly do people expect to happen? Each state has enough on its place due to fragmented gov’t, no need to spin wheels on some large organization that won’t do anything.

    Things happen because it makes sense to. Yes vision is necessary, also is the organic nature of things. Pgh has more of a relationship with DC than probably anywhere else – I would think even more than Philly.

    NE OH has enough people and resources to find its place too.

  43. Allen says:

    “The museum is named “Labor” and Industry and the town erects a statue to commemorate a strike, and they wonder why the Industry left town?” ~Marco

    Too funny and, sadly, spot on.

  44. John Morris says:

    I actually never advocated any larger governement organization here. If anything, I am trying to make people more aware of how existing governement borders have warped our thinking.

    Mostly–more people, businesses and private orgnizations just need to understand the assets and resources across borders. We once called this civil society.

    BTW, this is mostly about logistics. The historic relationship between Pittsburgh and Ohio is hardly some new idea. Try to look for a lot of flat land for a large series of plants around here, near major highway links and pretty soon you end up in or near Ohio.

    Wonder why The North Hills are the fastest growing suburban area? It’s basic logistics and geography.

    I will try to come back with more thoughts.

  45. John Morris says:

    We are in a very sad state in our society, when people immediately leap from a call for a little more openness and awareness and assume some massive new government program is needed or even advocated.

  46. John Morris says:

    @JoeP said,

    “Yes vision is necessary, also is the organic nature of things.”

    Aaron had an interesting post about some of these organic relationships-like NFL fan bases; Cell phone and text messaging traffic and migration data.

    What they show is that there is actually a very strong social divide between Eastern and Western PA, and lots of overlapping ties with both West Virginia and Ohio.

    http://www.urbanophile.com/2011/07/11/are-states-an-anachronism/

    This is pretty much what one also sees with business relationships.

    If anything, what it shows is that the level of division that currently exists is unnatural.

  47. Pete from Baltimore says:

    I just wanted to thank Mr Baur for the interesting article.And to say that i hope that Mr Renn is able to post articles by him in the future.

    This is the reaon that i like this blog so much. Too much of the media’s discussions and debates about urban issues assume that all cities are like DC or NYC.

  48. John Morris says:

    But we have to remember that NYC and DC were very different not to long ago.

    Clearly there’s something about what happens to a city that goes beyond the if we only had jobs thinking.

  49. Joe Baur says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Pete. I, too, appreciate this website for looking beyond NYC and DC, since I’m someone who prefers my Clevelands, Pittsburghs and Buffalos to so-called “better” cities.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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