PBS comes to city to film documentary

The Vindicator (Youngstown)


Videographer Andy Fredericks records the demolition of a vacant house on Firnley Avenue on Youngstown’s South Side. Blueprint America began more than three years ago and examines the nation’s public infrastructure.


What: “Need to Know”

When: Set to air in late April or May

Topic: Examining America’s infrastructure, including Youngstown’s plan to shrink itself.

By Ashley Luthern



Linda Jenkins snapped photos as a backhoe tugged down the roof of a vacant house at 3219 Firnley Ave.

“No. 1, this was an eyesore, and No. 2, when houses are left open, you have young kids hiding in there. I was afraid to come home,” said Jenkins, who has lived on Firnley, across from that vacant South Side house, for 30 years.

Jenkins wasn’t the only one capturing the moment on film Monday.

A crew from Blueprint America, a PBS project that broadly examines America’s infrastructure, recorded the demolition for use in its upcoming feature on the city.

“This year, we’re really looking at the efforts of Youngstown and other cities to reorganize and to shrink themselves in order to better deliver services like transportation, electricity and housing,” said executive producer Kathy Hughes. “We think that what’s going on in Youngstown is very interesting.”

The project is set to air in late April or May for “Need to Know,” a Friday night PBS news program.

It’s not the first time the city will be featured on public broadcasting. A week ago, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” aired a segment about the city.

Jenkins and Jim London, president of the Idora Neighborhood Association and a Blueprint America interview subject, said they are pleased PBS has come to Youngstown.

“I want everyone to see what’s going on here. ... We’re trying to clean up our city. One day, a home will replace this one,” Jenkins said, motioning toward the wreckage across the street.

The Blueprint America crew will focus on the Youngstown 2010 Plan, Mayor Jay Williams and neighborhood residents, including the I.C.U. Neighborhood Block Watch, Hughes said.

Victoria Allen is part of the I.C.U. (“I See You”) block watch for residents on East Philadelphia, East Boston, East Avondale and East Lucius avenues. The group meets at 7 p.m. every third Monday at Metro Assembly of God, 2536 South Ave.

Allen said the block watch discussed their daily problems, such as barking dogs and drug houses.

“I see there are problems; we just have to find a way to fix them. Even if you have an officer on every street corner that still wouldn’t stop what happens in the city. I don’t know what the answer is, but we’ll try to work on it together as a group,” Allen said.

Tom McNamara, who is leading the crew during this week’s filming, said Youngstown serves as model for other Rust Belt cities.

“Youngstown is losing population, and a lot of Midwest cities continue to lose population. ... How are they going to survive? We’re asking that and listening to a lot of responses,” McNamara said.

He added that Youngs-town in particular has become a prime example of a shrinking city.

“You’re sitting in a city that is in some sense of the vanguard of the shrinking-cities movement. Youngstown is just one of those cities. Not every mayor of every city wants to use the phrase shrinking. ... Other mayors like to call it ‘right-sizing’ and ‘re-inventing’ so that’s why I think Youngstown is getting a decent amount of press coverage. A lot of eyes will be watching the process,” McNamara said.

Although the right- sizing phrase is used on the mayor’s website, Williams doesn’t shy away from the word shrinking.

“The work is too difficult and important to be caught up on terminology. We are shrinking, but that doesn’t mean we have to be inferior,” Williams said.

Williams said the 2010 census, which showed a more than 18 percent decrease in population, highlights the importance of the work of city officials.

“I don’t think anyone did not expect a decline, the surprise was the rate of the decline. It underscores how important it is that we keep working and say let’s look at the shortcomings” of the 2010 Plan, he said.

The mayor said national attention from sources such as PBS has a positive effect on the city’s image.

“Blueprint America will tell not how the city rose and fell — that’s been told — but how city is coming back and becoming relevant after a cataclysmic economic collapse,” Williams said.

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