By Ed Runyan
The diversity of Warren was a major topic of conversation among residents and officials who turned out Wednesday night for the first of about 20 public meetings regarding the future of the city’s neighborhoods.
But when the crowd of roughly 20 people broke into two groups to discuss their specific area of the city, the discussion took on a life of its own.
Matt Martin and Mariss Williams of the nonprofit Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, which organized the meeting, led each group and started by having them discuss the strengths and challenges in each area.
The group composed of downtown and historic Perkins neighbors explained why they love the downtown — the interesting architecture and cultural and religious amenities all within walking distance.
They also listed the crime and drugs that have become commonplace just north of downtown and how two killings near downtown in recent months, and Warren crime in general, have created misperceptions about the dangers of downtown.
The group of residents from the North End area north of Dana Street discussed the parks, museum, skate park, bike trailhead and other assets in that area.
But they mentioned vacant residential and industrial structures such as the former Delphi plants as well as littering, dumping and the damage to roads caused by truck traffic as some of its challenges.
The discussion was a starting point, Martin said, for later meetings that will refine the discussion more and to more specific areas. The meetings are required as part of a federal Housing and Urban Development planning grant TNP received.
“This is the first of a long-haul project,” Martin said.
In the downtown group, the discussion seemed to get the most animated when young and old agreed that the introduction of young, artistically minded people has started to infuse energy into the area.
If only that would translate into families with children investing in homes downtown, the process would really take off, downtown resident and Warren Councilman Greg Bartholomew and others said.
Downtown events have shown Bartholomew that people from Canton, western Pennsylvania and other areas more than an hour away have no concerns about coming to Warren if an event interests them, Bartholomew said.
What really is difficult is persuading people from Warren suburbs such as Howland or Champion who have negative perceptions about safety in the city to come downtown, Bartholomew said.
“We’ll try to keep that thread running through all of the meetings,” Martin said of discussions about using the creativity of young people to propel growth in the downtown area. “We’ll keep introducing that idea the next time we’re talking to central-city residents.”
Williams said her discussion with North End residents showed that many property owners there would welcome the opportunity to purchase a vacant lot to add to their property.