Don't let the high-sounding concepts scare you away
At the very least, Myron Orfield's study of the Mahoning Valley's social, economic and development patterns should prompt political and community leaders to begin a dialogue about the future of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
Concepts such as "metropolitan equity" are bound to trigger the kind of parochial thinking that has stymied this region's growth, but they aren't what is most important about Orfield's findings. Consider this statement in his introduction to the study: "Social and economic isolation harm the entire region by increasing the costs of dealing with poverty and its side-effects."
It doesn't matter whether you live in Youngstown or Canfield, Warren or Howland, Salem or East Liverpool, it must be recognized that we're all in this together and that today's problems in one community will become tomorrow's problems in another community unless solutions are found.
Orfield, a Minnesota state senator and a leading expert on equitable development, was hired by ACTION, a coalition of 25 churches and groups representing more than 45,000 area residents, to study what is going on in the Valley in terms of growth. What he found should open the eyes of individuals in the public and private sectors who care about the future of the region. We hope the findings also become the basis for a region-wide discussion.
As we noted in an editorial last year, "metropolitan equity" is a very difficult issue because at its most basic it proposes a property-tax solution to the economic inequities that exist between urban and suburban communities.
Healing: We wondered what legal and statutory impediments exist, but more than that, we expressed the hope that this possible solution would not dissuade people of good conscience from coming to the table and talking about what ails us as a community and how we should go about healing ourselves.
Such a discussion at the grass-roots level is still necessary. The political and geographic boundaries that separate us daily should be set aside.
ACTION -- Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods -- is in the ideal position to lead this dialogue.
As a result of an economic development summit on Thursday and Friday on the campus of Youngstown State University, there is a commitment on the part of political and community leaders and members of the clergy to make sure that Orfield's study does not sit on the shelf gathering dust. Their goal is to encourage all Valley residents to participate in what could be one of the most important discussions about the future of the region.
The guiding principles that ACTION will use to develop a metropolitan equity plan might not receive widespread support. There undoubtedly will be areas of intense disagreement, just as there will be areas of strong agreement.
But the important thing for all us who feel a sense of responsibility to our community is to have an open mind and an open heart.
As the Rev. Edward P. Noga, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Youngstown and chairman of ACTION's metro equity strategy group put it, "First, last and always, cooperate."