Published April 12, 2007
A column by Gayle Beck, editorial page editor of The Repository in Canton, about Youngstown has resulted in a firestorm of protest in some quarters in the city, in particular, and the Mahoning Valley, in general. There's nothing wrong in defending the home turf, but what Beck's critics seem to forget is this: It's an outsider's view of the city.
Here's what she wrote in part:
"... But when I hear someone bemoan Canton's economic troubles, I acknowledge that they're serious and then I suggest: Go to downtown Youngstown. Take a look around downtown. You'll come back feeling blessed to live here.
I don't mean to diss Youngstown. I've never lived there. I don't keep close tabs on it. And I know how crummy it feels when reporters from elsewhere take the deeply analytical look at political bellwether Canton that you get only by spending an hour here. City of Sagging Porches, my foot.
But that said, I have never seen a central city as sad as Youngstown's.
I assume some good things have happened in the 25-plus years since the Mahoning Valley's steel industry died. But at least from the south side, the closer you get to downtown, the more desolate the scene. You will see virtually no sign of life, only boarded-up buildings, until you are two blocks from the city's center."
Beck is not the first visitor to offer such an observation, and she won't be the last. Next year, when presidential candidates hold rallys in downtown Youngstown, it's a sure bet national reporters, in particular, will talk about Youngstown being a prime example of urban blight and deterioration. Network television "talent" will use the boarded up buildings as the backdrop for their on-the-scene reports.
So, what should local officials do until the revitalization of the central business district is completed, and the entryways into the city are made attractive and appealing?
Use the many billboards in the city for a "Before and After" campaign: West Federal Street 20 years ago, West Federal Street today; Market Street 20 years ago, Market Street today; Federal Plaza two decades ago, the area today.
Finally, someone in city government should put together a brochure that shows what changes have occurred in the central business district over the years. Those brochures should be handed out to visiting reporters so they have some context when they do their "Poor Youngstown" stories.