Thursday, November 12, 2009

Undermining the Youngstown Advantage

I'm going to break with the globalization and international migration theme to address a situation of grave concern. First, you should be made aware of the emerging economic redevelopment paradigm of urban frontier. To say that this understanding of shrinking city opportunity resonates with a lot of people is an understatement:

From the I'm-going-to-find-a-rainbow-in-this-dark-cloud-if-it-kills-me school of journalism comes this celebration of the disaster that is Detroit.

Titled Urban "Laboratory and the New American Frontier," it sees the crumbling city as an opportunity to be seized on.

One thing this massive failure has made possible is the ability to come up with radical ideas for the city, and potentially to even implement some of them. Places like Flint and Youngstown might be attracting new ideas and moving forward, but it is big cities that inspire the big, audacious dreams. And that is Detroit. Its size, scale, and powerful brand image are attracting not just the region’s but the world’s attention. It may just be that some of the most important urban innovations in 21st century America end up coming not from Portland or New York, but places like Youngstown and, yes, Detroit. ...

... Maybe it's not for everybody, but that's the whole point. The American frontier wasn't for everybody, either, just the ambitious, the adventurous or the desperate. Such is Detroit.

Detroit isn't the archetype of the urban frontier. That designation goes to Youngstown. However, Tyler Clark suggests that this unique opportunity landscape is under siege:

Last week it was announced that the City of Youngstown received a grant to pursue a deconstruction program related to the dismantling of vacant structures. Steve Novotny, currently interning with the city while finishing his degree at Youngstown State, wrote the $39,000 grant proposal for management of the project and is being looked at to lead the program. ...

... I think the key paragraph comes in the last part of the quoted Vindicator article: David Bozanich "defended the plan to hire Novotny." Defended against whom? Nowhere is there an assertion that anyone is questioning Novotny's fitness to lead the program. Anyone except The Vindicator, perhaps.

Notice, too, the title of the article: "Youngstown council to weigh plan to hire YSU student." It suggests, "Read me, you may find out about another questionable expenditure of funds at City Hall." Yet, no funds are being spent except those Novotny himself applied for and won. And no one is quoted as objecting to or even hinted at questioning the decision to hire the 24-year-old for the program.

The area cant grow if there is no risk taking. There will be no risk taking if we as an area collectively assault the new. Some senior at YSU took an initiative on urban planning? Good for him/her. The city wants to hire that person? Sounds good to me...fresh minds / fresh ideas.

For Youngstown to stand out in a region littered with cities of declining population, then it needs to promote itself as a place where such ambition is encouraged. I'd expect the squelching of unproven talent in Cleveland or Pittsburgh, but not Youngstown. However, I'm not as concerned about the journalism employed to write the story.

On the contrary, I applaud the Vindicator for its approach. The nature of the reporting reveals the substantial resistance to urban frontier Youngstown. It reminds me of the soap opera surrounding the V&M Star expansion. There are many residents of the Mahoning Valley who didn't like how the deal was going down. Is it better to sweep these parochial attitudes under the rug?

The key is bloggers such as Tyler to pick up the ball and run with it. If Novotny doesn't get the job, a lot of us will be asking questions. The situation is high profile and politically charged. It won't be business as usual for the patronage network.

The other side of the story is that the newspaper serves all readers, even those who would disparage the hiring of someone so young and inexperienced. If the Vindicator is generating controversy where none existed, then it is behaving in an unethical manner. I suspect that the editor and reporter took a risk in airing the opinions of unnamed sources. But that's what I read in between the lines.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for commenting on the article, Jim. Good to hear your perspective.