William works for Youngstown, a city of about 67,000 people in northeastern Ohio, near the state’s border with Pennsylvania.
Youngstown became a leading steel producer in the late 19th century. The steel industry attracted immigrants from all over the world, including Europe and Latin America, and drew African Americans from the American South. The city’s population swelled to more than 160,000 in the mid-20th century.
The steel industry collapsed in the late 1960s, and Youngstown’s population has been steadily declining ever since. Part of William’s job is to map the future of Youngstown, and make it hospitable to residents and businesses.
William graduated with a business degree from Youngstown State University. He took a job with the city as an associate planner and moved up from there.
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
“Working with the community, getting people involved in determining the future of their community . . . Working with community groups, stakeholders, trying to make sure their concerns are being addressed.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
“Dealing with the political side of it—local politicians, city council.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“Geography to me would be the boundaries within an area that you are working in. For me it is the city limits of the city of Youngstown, Ohio.”
Like many urban areas, Youngstown develops a new urban plan and consistently updates its old one. The newest urban plan is called “Youngstown 2010.” According to the city, Youngstown 2010 “provides for a City that is smaller, greener, cleaner, makes efficient use of its available resources, and capitalizes on its many cultural amenities and business advantages.”
“Youngstown’s 2010 urban plan was drafted with reality in mind,” William says. “The steel industry jobs are gone and most workers work in a combination of light industrial, health care, or office jobs, and jobs in the public sector. Youngstown State University is also a major employer.
“The acceptance of Youngstown as a mid-size city led to an urban plan that will consolidate around existing infrastructure. The city’s population is stabilizing out at around 80,000 people, although the original planners designed a city to be more than twice our current size. In the future, this may mean making difficult choices when it comes to servicing areas with very few or no residents or businesses.
“Youngstown participates in ‘land banking,’ the act of buying up the city’s vacant land and making it available for use. This is in contrast to private buyers who purchase property and then let it sit, hoping that the value of the land will rise as the fortunes of the city improve. Unfortunately, having a lot of neglected vacant land is a reminder of Youngstown’s decline. People get used to seeing run-down buildings and weed-choked lots, and feel that the town won’t get any better. Instead, Youngstown plans to use the vacant property for things that residents want, like new parks and community gardens.”
William says the hard work of formulating the urban plan has started to pay off.
“By acknowledging that we are not the city that we once were, we are starting to move forward, and our plan is starting to get noticed around the country. CNN’s Money website ranked the Youngstown, Ohio, housing market one of the most affordable in the country, and Entrepreneur Magazine listed us as one of the top 10 best cities in the country to start a business.”
SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . URBAN PLANNER
William encourages students to volunteer with local organizations and attend community meetings. “Participate in neighborhood organizations, get involved in your community. Volunteer to help. One thing we [city planners] do is community outreach, get the word out about the plan for the city.”
If you live in Youngstown, find volunteer opportunities at youngstownohio.gov. There you can find block groups and neighborhood watches for the North, South, East, and West parts of the city. If your group isn’t listed and would like to be, call the Youngstown Planning Department for more information.