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'Creative Shrinkage' in Youngstown

Posted by: Peter Coy on December 11, 2006

The population of Youngstown, Ohio, has fallen by more than half from its glory days as a steel city. Lots of buildings are empty. Instead of trying to grow, Youngstown is accepting its new smallness. youngstown1.jpg
It’s razing entire abandoned neighborhoods and turning them into parks. So says an article yesterday in The New York Times Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

“The city and county are now turning abandoned lots over to neighboring landowners and excusing back taxes on the land, provided that they act as stewards of the open spaces. … Instead of trying to recapture its industrial past, Youngstown hopes to capitalize on its high vacancy rates and underused public spaces; it could become a culturally rich bedroom community serving Cleveland and Pittsburgh, both of which are 70 miles away.”

Making the best of a bad situation.

Reader Comments


December 12, 2006 7:58 AM

Industrial to Tourist town can be a difficult evolution, but the fact that Youngstown is thinking of ideas like this will help it survive.

Recently moved out of Y-town

December 14, 2006 9:51 AM

Articles like this one pop up a few times a year in the national papers. They always seem to say similar things about how the area is such a bargain and is just about ready to "boom". I work in real estate markets all over the nation and I can tell you that the infatuation with the Youngstown area from these sindicated papers has much to do with the extreme low cost of living and housing in the area. The median price of a home in Youngstown-Warren is consistently in the bottom five communities in the country. Last year Youngstown was dead last right around $82,400 per home. In comparison, the community I was forced to move to in order to find a suitable job, Weston Florida, has the median price of $529,000 per 3 bedroom home. People outside of the midwest cannot believe that there are actually places where people can purchase decent homes for less than $200,000. They do not believe me sometimes. Likewise, people who reside in Ohio do not always have an accurate view of the cost of living in other parts of the country.
Now, to digress back to this most recent article. I think that the thought of creating these new parks is admirable. If it were truly being put into practice on a large scale it would certainly help the areas look less dilapidated. Would these parks suddenly cause a shift in population? No. People, like me, are moving or have moved out of the area and will continue to. I move not because I did not like the scenery, but from lack of well paying jobs.
What the article failed to mention was that the city is allowing this for several reasons, none of which are very positive. First, the city is too cash-strapped to create and manage any more parks. This is why they let others do it by giving them the land. Second, there exsists such a backlog of properties that need to be razed and demolished that the city cannot keep up with them. There are literally hundreds that need to be dealt with. The properties in areas close to the downtown are virually worthless as well. I have personally sold homes for less than $8,000 there. ($8,000 was not a typo)
Until the economy turns around and new sectors of business move in, people will continue to move away and things will, at best, stay close to the status quo. I personally do not see very many people who have jobs in outside ares moving into the downtown areas that have these dilapidated lots soon. There is an inherient reason why those lots became rundown. The people that were living there did not want to take care of them in the first place or moved away to better areas.
For the record, many sections of the downtown are still nice. Specifically, the architecture that exists in areas like 5th ave. is simply spectacular. I hope the residents of those remaining special areas continue to hang on to the identities that each of their neighborhoods have. Hopefully, soon, more people can appreciate living there.

Sally in Chicago

December 14, 2006 11:36 AM

Makes a lot of sense; cities like Detroit should look to Youngstown for trends.

Jack Baller

December 27, 2006 4:11 PM

Man that guy really wrote a lot of stuff down, now that was a big waste of time that will change nothing.


February 28, 2007 12:01 AM

The Youngstown area is interesting to me. Being an industrial real estate professional, I can say that there is a growing need for warehouse space in NE Ohio. Ohio has been competitive in attracting new business, offering very good incentives for businesses to either own or lease space, much more than the neighboring states. Youngstown is logistically located between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, not to mention the entire Akron/Canton area, that has proven to be a consistently strong market for attracting businesses because of its proximities to most of the cities in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Taxes on industrial land are much less in the Youngstown/Warren area than the Pennsylvania neighboring cities, making an attractive investment for any industrial company looking for a break in having a home for their distribution business. It will take some time, however to regain the potential of this market. But the location is still the key selling point to this metro area, and over time, more businesses will see the advantages of the area because of the inexpensive taxes, the availability of the workforce, and the location of the area. It may take some time, but the Youngstown/Warren market will be a competitive area for many businesses looking to break into NE Ohio for years. Thanks Peter, the jobs will come with the industrial investment, I personally look forward to it.

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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