That simple catch phrase has been a primary catalyst for Youngstown CityScape’s StreetScape program since its small and humble origins in 1998. Today, as StreetScape’s hundreds of volunteers prepare for their 16th annual frenzy of sweeping, cleaning, clearing, digging, mulching, planting and pruning in and around downtown Youngstown later this spring, one can only marvel at the noteworthy role the nonprofit has played in the aesthetic transformation of the central city and its gateways.
After all, appearances do count. Flash back to the mid to late 1990s and the picture of downtown Youngstown focused heavily on blight, disrepair, abandonment and sleaze. Streetscape crews resolved to change that image seed by seed, shrub by shrub. Its work in adding and maintaining thousands of natural amenities over the years has made the downtown more presentable to outsiders and no doubt has played a role in developing today’s brighter picture of downtown growth, beauty and hubbub.
As such, the program has earned the community’s respect and deserves its support as it embarks on what promises to be the biggest and most successful CityScape planting and cleanup day yet. The all-day event, aptly named “Grow the Yo!” takes place Saturday, June 1.
STREETSCAPE’S BOUNTIFUL HARVEST
The accomplishments of StreetScape sponsored by CityScape are abundant. The group has landscaped Central Square, installed irrigation systems, conducted major cleanups of downtown gateway areas of Walnut Street, Rayen Avenue, Mahoning Commons, Smoky Hollow and much, much more. What’s more, CityScape is not a one-day wonder; the program watches over and maintains its green thumbprints on the city year-round.
“Sixteen years ago, we were one of the seeds being planted to start the rebirth” of downtown, said Pete Asimakopoulos, CityScape president and executive vice president of small business banking/Youngstown market president for First National Bank. “I get very excited about where we came from, where we are now and where we’re going.”
That excitement transcends sheer aesthetics. The tens of thousands of volunteer hours invested in beautifying the downtown has reaped other dividends. The armies of StreetScape recruits have saved the cash-strapped Youngstown government countless thousands of dollars that could have been spent paying city workers or outside contractors to perform such massive dirty work.
Less tangible but equally important has been the attitude adjustment toward downtown that has jump-started business and resuscitated life in the central city. Walk down West Federal Street in 1997 on a weekend night, and you may have encountered a homeless person or two wandering aimlessly and hopelessly past one blighted structure after the next. Walk down West Federal Street on a weekend night in 2013, and you’re likely to be bowled over by hundreds if not thousands of people reveling at the dozen highly animated nightclubs, restaurants, bars, theaters and a major sports/concert arena.
The new image of downtown has also grown contagious. In recent years, scores of neighborhood groups and nonprofit organizations have taken their cue from CityScape and have rolled up their sleeves and dug into cleaning and clearing all sides of the city, such as the major cleanup of the West Side Interstate 680 corridor planned at 9 a.m. this Saturday.
What’s more, a host of organizations, including the Fifth Avenue Boulevard Neighbors, St. Elizabeth Health Center, 7th Ward Citizens’ Coalition, Neighborhood Improvement Corps, North Side Interfaith Partnership, Mahoning Commons and Wick Park Neighborhood Association and others will clean up and landscape other areas of the city in conjunction with CityScape on June 1.
It’s no wonder then that support for CityScape has blossomed over the years. Hundreds of private and public foundations, corporations , organizations and individuals have donated their time, talents and dollars to the project.