No region in the US was more dependent on the steel industry than the Youngstown region. So when the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s Youngstown also collapsed in a spectacular fashion. Youngstown boomed from 1880 to 1930, growing to a peak population of 170,002. The current population is 65,405 and the decline shows no indication of stopping. In addition to loosing it's main industry, Youngstown has suffered from bad race relations, segregation and white flight. Youngstown has also suffered from a multitude of well intentioned but ultimately destructive freeway and urban renewal projects. As if all of that weren't enough, Youngstown was famously run by the mafia from the 1950s to the late 1990s. Youngstown has recently gotten a lot of press for it's Youngstown 2010 plan. This plan has been characterized "smart shrinking". It is supposedly an innovative strategy that cities dealing with de-industrialization can use to re-focus city services and adapt to smaller populations and budgets.
Other than reducing the amount of land allocated to residential industrial and commercial use, the Youngstown 2010 plan seems like a typical city master plan to me. All of the various uses are neatly segregated into large exclusive zones. The zones in the plan are still vastly larger than the current demand for space in the city. The plan doesn't seem to do much to address the main problem Youngstown is having, which is that no one wants to live there. "Smart shrinking" is an interesting concept though. The plan essentially calls for abandonment of certain very thinly populated areas. This would keep the city from having to provide services to sections of the city that provide little in the way of tax revenue.
Some of the other smaller former steel towns in the Mahoning valley are also suffering. None of them though, are doing as badly as Youngstown. The suburban area on the Western side of Youngstown seems to be fairly prosperous. I think that if Youngstown itself were a more appealing place to live or shop or work relative to the other cities in the area, that it would be doing much better.
I visited Youngstown for the fist time in a few years in the summer of 2013. I spent several hours driving all over the city looking for signs of the Youngstown 2010 plan. Downtown Youngstown is doing very well. I was actually unable to find a place to park on a week day morning because the area was so crowded. This was very different from the city I remember visiting 10 years ago. Most of the activity seemed to revolve around local and federal government operations. Downtown Youngstown is compact and covers a fairly small area. The area around Youngstown State University also seemed to be doing well. Otherwise Youngstown was the same as ever if not worse. All of the major steel mills have been demolished. This was done to make way for new industry. There are some tenants in the new industrial parks but most of the land is still empty. I doubt that these new industrial tenants are helping the city of Youngstown very much. I think it's likely that many of the people working in these new businesses are commuters. In destroying the old mills Youngstown destroyed an irreplaceable part of it's history. There are many smaller older industrial buildings scattered around the city, many of them abandoned. None that I know of are worthy of preservation and few could be converted to different uses. Youngstown doesn't seem to have many historic assets left outside of downtown. Too much of the inner older neighborhoods have been demolished for any kind of revival to seem likely. In spite of all of the demolition there are still abandoned buildings scattered throughout the neighborhoods. I saw no evidence that the zones slated to be de-ubanized according to the 2010 plan were in fact being cleared. Outside of the small central area I didn't see any evidence of any coordinated effort to revive the city. Just many miles of mostly empty commercial boulevards and neighborhoods with scattered standing homes, some occupied, some abandoned. I'm curious to see how the "clean slate" approach works for Youngstown. Detroit seems to be headed in the same direction.
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