Envisioning Downtown’s Future

By Justin Wier

Students from Holy Family presented a model of Youngstown in 2176 at Tuesday’s Economic Action Group meeting prior to the unveiling of the Downtown Vision and Action Plan. Photo by Justin Wier/ The Jambar.

On Tuesday, the Youngstown Economic Action Group unveiled the Downtown Vision and Action Plan.

The 150-page plan outlines a shared vision for the city center that was arrived at by conducting several surveys and interviews with stakeholders downtown over the last year. It also includes a strategic plan for realizing this vision.

Sara Wenger, community development program manager for the Eastgate Council of Regional Governments, co-authored and presented the plan. Wenger said it arose from a lack of an overall development strategy and a desire to develop focus.

The plan is focused on “breaking down the barriers that limit downtown from reaching its potential by facilitating economic development, attracting cultural amenities and supporting the rebirth of a residential market.” It intends to be “a blueprint that will direct growth, investment and development in the downtown by offering direction and recommendations.”

Wenger said the plan would foster pedestrianism, entrepreneurism, arts and culture.

“We want to create an environment where people want to stay here,” Wenger said.

It establishes initiatives like marketing downtown as a destination, recognizing opportunity sites, improving wayfinding and streetscapes, addressing a lack of green space, improving campus and pedestrian connections and enhancing infrastructure.

It breaks each larger piece into small immediate, short-term and long-term objectives.

“Most of these actions can take place within five years,” Wenger said.

Phil Kidd, a downtown resident and business owner, said the plan has been needed for a long time.

“I think that there have been a lot of significant individual efforts and investments that have been made over the last couple years. But the strength of this plan is that it’s pulling a lot of those stakeholders together so that we can work on some common things that benefit the downtown as a whole,” Kidd said.

Dominic C. Marchionda, city-university planning coordinator for Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies, co-authored the plan with Wenger and addressed concerns that it was just another plan that will sit on a shelf somewhere collecting dust.

“It’s an ongoing document, and I want it to change as opportunities arise,” Marchionda said. “These things can change. I expect them to change, and it certainly won’t offend us.”

Wenger emphasized that unlike previous plans, this one is not tied to any specific time, person or organization.

“This plan doesn’t have a date. It’s not tied to an individual such as the mayor. It’s these groups and individuals as stakeholders that should take ownership of this plan and find the initiatives where they best fit,” Wenger said.

Marchionda said they didn’t want to put a name on it because people come and go.

“This isn’t going to council tomorrow, and this isn’t being forced down anybody’s throat either,” Marchionda said. “I never planned on taking this entire document to council and saying, ‘We need to adopt this.’ I’m much more interest in seeing who wants to come together on a specific initiative and then take that to council.”

Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, stressed the need for continued involvement and collaboration.

“The plan is only as good as all of us. So that’s really key for all of us to remember, that the implementation of this plan is up to us, and how it looks is up to us, so it’s important that we all continue to be involved,” Letson said.

Kidd highlighted the importance of reducing larger goals to smaller implementable components.

“A lot of the stuff in there are real, actionable items. These are things that are going to keep this group together,” Kidd said. “Things that we can work on and month-to-month come back and report on, which is very important when it comes to planning because if things get too big-picture than you just kind of lose focus and these things often fall apart.”

He said the diversity of individuals involved will also help because you don’t have Eastgate or YSU telling people downtown what they need to do.

“The people that are part of this group and this initiative are a lot of the right people,” Kidd said. “You have a lot of business owners, a mix of city officials and community organizations, residents of downtown, so you have the right mix.”

Cutline for eye tracking Story:

YSU students participated in a study that uses a remote eye tracker to track eye movement using infrared light. The image shows a Java program with a student’s eye gaze placed on a heat map to show where he or she looked when viewing source code.