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What must they think of us? West Sider asks



Published: Sun, May 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Now is the perfect time to get beyond the blight, one passionate reader from Youngstown says.

YOUNGSTOWN -- There's an eyesore out there, and you can't stand it. You want to see change.

Mark Knafels knows what you're feeling.

Knafels, 31, by his own account is an average guy. He lives on the West Side, driving each day to his job in Warren as a computer programmer.

Youngstown State University, the upper North Side and neighborhoods across the city that surround Mill Creek Park all leave favorable aesthetic impressions of the area, from Knafels' view.

Yet he describes himself as disgusted with, and embarrassed by, what he calls maybe one of the filthiest and most disorderly communities in which to live.

The last line of his three-page, single-spaced letter to The Vindicator captures the tone of, and his words epitomize, virtually everyone who wrote about the eyesore they most want cleaned up -- and why.

"I'm passionate about this place and don't want to see it slip any further into decay than it already has. I trust you will understand."

Knafels doesn't live far from the old Washington School at Oakwood and Portland avenues. He went there as a child. Two decades later the vacant building, predictably, is a mess, complete with broken windows and graffiti. That's the foremost eyesore on his list.

Bad impression: Like many, what bothers him is the impression left with visitors.

"You would not want an outsider to see what we see. They're going to think 'What in the world is this place about?' " Knafels said. "We have to be aware of that."

Political corruption is on the wane, finally, and that's the biggest blight of all, he said. That makes now the perfect time to move past the mob and get beyond the blight.

"It's about time to physically clean this place up," Knafels said.

The Valley, and Youngstown in particular, has become used to seeing eyesores every day for so long it's become normal, he said.

But it's not.

Knafels visits family in North Carolina, Maryland and Wisconsin. The street signs are in good shape, not rusty and unreadable. Hardly any litter clutters the landscape.

"When I go there I don't see these problems," he said.

Stagnation: The Valley suffers from a perpetual stagnation that leadership -- corporate and government -- can't seem to shake. But it must, he said.

People are demanding it.

"Nobody seems to be bold enough to say, 'Here's the plan.' It's astonishing to me we have to wait as long as we do for progress," Knafels said. "It's at the expense of having a decent city to live in."

Later, he adds: "I know that [stagnation] is not what people want. I don't know why people put up with it."

Knafels isn't naive to the realities that face local leaders. He doesn't have a solution to where the money will come from to improve the area's look.

If he were king, Knafels would put some of the nearly $30 million available for a downtown arena toward turning YSU's Beeghly Center into the major attraction being talked about now. The remaining millions of dollars could go toward a one-time cleanup, the likes of which no city has ever seen.

He also understands that probably isn't practical.

Nevertheless, the area is rebounding and needs someone to lead on the topic -- now, Knafels said.

"I don't know who that somebody is," he said.




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