It may seem like a baby step in the overall scheme of things, but the significance of the two communities reaching out to each other cannot be overstated. Indeed, the entire Mahoning Valley could benefit if the plan succeeds.
After years of bickering over the issue of water, and failing to work out an agreement for a joint economic district that would mean tax revenue for one and jobs for the other, the city of Youngstown and Austintown Township appear to have found a project that is not only doable, but is necessary.
The financial and symbolic value of the Meridian Corridor Project, which was detailed on the front page of the Local Section in Sunday's Vindicator, is plain to see. The area along Meridian Road, which divides the two communities, is viable with the businesses and residences, but it is also clear that a shared vision of the corridor is necessary.
As Anthony S. Kobak, chief planner with the Youngstown Planning Department and a key participant in the Youngstown 2010 initiative, said of the joint venture, "We wanted to make sure their [Austintown's] plans for future development are in harmony with the city's future development." Youngstown 2010 is the city's roadmap for future development and growth.
Harmony. There's a word rarely heard when talking about the relationship between political subdivisions in the Mahoning Valley. That's because of the attitude of elected officials and public workers -- they see advantage to maintaining the clear lines of demarcation.
Tough economic times
We strongly disagree, as we pointed out in an editorial Sunday when we urged commissioners from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties to identify areas of cooperation that will result in savings for all three. Each of the counties, like most of the cities, townships and villages in the region, are facing tough economic times. And given the demand of taxpayers that government do more with less, projects like the Meridian Road Corridor will eventually become the rule rather than the exception.
Dr. Fred Owens, president of Austintown Growth Foundation and an active participant in Austintown 20/20, the township's planning guide, has been a strong advocate of communities working together for the betterment of the county and the region. Owens and the Austintown Growth Foundation are indicative of the active role the private sector is playing in Austintown. That in itself is noteworthy because such involvement neutralizes whatever political upheaval exists -- and there is quite a lot in the township.
Owens is convinced that both Austintown and Youngstown will benefit from the collaboration and believes that the Meridian Road Corridor will open the door to other such efforts. That's a good thing, considering that several years ago the two communities were fighting a legal battle over Youngstown's water rate surcharge for its suburban customers. The city supplies drinking water to customers in parts of Austintown and Boardman.
"The [Meridian] project will show the way we can work together," Owens said.
What is significant about the project is that it will be guided by a 12-member entity (six from each community) not dominated by government types. That means there won't any of the political baggage that has been such a weight on this region's shoulders.
Interestingly, Kobak and Owens share the goal of reaching out to other adjacent communities -- Youngstown to Boardman, Austintown to Canfleld, as an example -- to ensure that both sides of their shared boundaries are developed intelligently.