Published March 17, 2009
Chief Planner Anthony Kobak has left the City with a huge gap to fill after his resignation last week. As Shout Youngstown points out, Youngstown 2010 has been recognized by the American Planning Association (APA), not to mention the national attention it has garnered the City.
Anthony spoke Wednesday at the Main Library as part of its "Lunch and Learn" series. He emphasized 2010's vision for a sustainable mid-sized city within a new regional economy, creating a healthier and better place to live and work. This focus has led to increased budget allocations for demolitions and neighborhood-by-neighborhood planning to address hyper-local issues of concern to residents.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are committed to addressing the issue of vacant housing--a key concern for shrunken cities--with the hope of millions more to assist in the fight. The job of filling the role of Chief City Planner must be treated with equal care and significance.
Another point Anthony brought up at the Library is the issue of the plan's name. "2010" is nigh. What does that mean? Is there something we're supposed to have accomplished by January 2010, or is December 2010 the magic date? In all likelihood, neither.
2010 is a vision whose goals extend beyond that date and bespeak the future of the city for as long as it takes. 2010 is not so much a deadline as it was a point on the horizon at the plan's inception. It is also, more importantly, the date of the next census. Unfortunately, if fittingly, the next census is predicted to find us a greater victim of shrinkage during the present decade than the previous one.
The leadership we need in the planning department as well as the mayor's office is the foresight to both efficiently downsize the services for the remaining population and address the problem of vacant properties so that they cannot spread like a cancer on the rest of the city's body.
If these challenges are met quickly enough, we can right-size the city in a way that simultaneously creates a welcoming environment for new investment. This requires an attention to zoning issues that are currently mired in the prerogatives of city council representatives. Until the spirit of 2010 overcomes these backward-looking disputes, in the form of a sufficiently empowered and adequately manned planning department, we won't get there.
The city must not shrug off the importance of the planning office. The challenges are too great and the opportunities for the city's future too critical for the position to merely be handed to a golfing buddy or old school chum.
Let's develop a campaign that reaches out to planners nationwide. The campaign should present the challenges here in plain speech while outlining the opportunities for the ambitious candidate. Make sure the campaign is visible in the appropriate trade publications and Web sites. Be upfront about the salary--the right candidate will exchange immediate salary gratification for a visible and unique career-building challenge.
Then, the city must support the new hire, both by ensuring the responsibilities of the job are accompanied by the necessary authority. And by providing the butts in seats that the challenge requires--likely a combination of additional funds for hiring full- and part-time staff and outreach to local universities for interns.
This is not just a unique moment of opportunity for hungry professional planners, but it is a moment for the city to show that it understands what it takes to move its plans forward and that it understands how to undertake a transparent, competitive, merit-based hiring process.
Let's all wish Anthony Kobak the best for the future and offer a tip of the hat for the efforts he's given to the city during his tenure.