Monday, November 19, 2007

Crime Statistics in Youngstown

Last night I was catching up on my Y-town blog reading. Up for discussion this past week was the recent Vindicator story about the Congressional Quarterly stats which place Youngstown as the 15th most dangerous city in the US and the 4th most dangerous city in those that have populations of 75,000 to 99,000.

Defend Youngstown ,discussed the message board and the thoughts of area residents about the crime stats. The message board confirmed what I already knew. Youngstown citizens are highly frustrated. Youngstown Renaissance asked the question, "Is how we feel about crime based on what happens around us and affects us directly or is it a vague sense of unease created by headlines and national reports?" Both writers call for us to think about the subject of crime objectively. I agree.

I understand the tizzy that many in the city succumb to. I live in the city, and I too saw the stories reported within days of the CQ Report; one about a home invasion and the other about an assault with a gun against a couple on the Northside. The reason that the two incidents created such a buzz is because they appeared to be random crimes. Here in the city we often hear about drive by shootings and murder. We tend to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that generally the perp and the victim knew each other, or that they were involved in some type of drug activity. Even when an innocent victim is caught up in the gunfire, as awful as it is, we tend to think that the victim was in someway connected to either gangs or drug activity and somehow that is alright. This thought process itself perpetuates racism and classism, and the cycle of violence. I will discuss this a bit later. But back to my point, when crime happens to your neighbor, or someone who lives on the same street as you, it gets frightening, this is true for everyone.

Our fear motivates us to change our behavior. We tend to become more observant, we start to watch for the man in the dark clothing with the gun that could grab us as we get out of our car in the driveway at night, or worse yet, if we are middle class, we decide it is time to move to the burbs where it is perceived as safe. It is by virtue of the fact that fear is an emotional response, that we must look at the crime problem from an objective point of view, otherwise the problem feeds racism, urban flight, suburban sprawl, and causes untold pain to families and victims.

Before addressing the issue of racism, classism, and urban flight however, I would like to suggest that our city officials consider a program that I came across several years ago when I was thinking about ways to reduce crime in Youngstown. The name of the program that I came across is called Citistat . Many of you may have heard me speak about this program in the past, and I raise the idea yet again because I believe it could work here. The program is one that was adapted from CompStat which was a program created by the New York City Police Department. CitiStat is a program about personal accountability. It is a computer database system that allows a city to regularly review every aspect of its city government. It serves as a transparent accountability and management tool through which the city can collect and thoroughly analyze data on an array of issues, police, fire, streets etc. It isn't complicated. It allows the Mayor to run the city more efficiently. Baltimore paid $20,000 in off the counter software for their system. In Baltimore in fiscal year 2001 the impact that CitiStat had on the Budget resulted in a savings of over $13 million, mostly the result of lower operational costs, increased revenue streams, and the termination of costly and inconsistent initiatives. It is a results based system of government. CitiStat promotes four tenets:

1. Accurate and timely intelligence
2. Effective tactics and strategies
3. Rapid deployment of resources
4. Relentless follow-up and assessment

The foundation of the system is bi-weekly meetings between the Mayor and the head of each city agency. Each department head answers questions from a panel led by the mayor or his appointed delegate. The questions are culled from Citistat's statistical analyses of the agency's previous two week performance. The program is not about dispensing blame but rather to generate accountability and problem solving efforts to produce quick effective results. The program improves service delivery a great deal, and the citizens of the community can see the improvement by viewing the results of Citistat on a city website. This creates a win/win situation, the city workers benefit from an improved image and fewer complaints; citizens win because there is increased governmental transparency, better service, and less crime.

If such a system were implemented I believe that it would stanch the flow of people to the suburbs. The social ills associated with inner city neighborhoods real or imagined, have become associated with with cities in general, and blacks in particular. I have often expressed the view that the underlying problem in the Youngstown area is two-fold; racism and classism. The social ills of crime and poverty are seen not as a problem of the system or culture that we live in, but rather are associated with black people. This leads to devaluation of the lives of black people, and as I previously mentioned it also leads to urban flight, suburban sprawl, increased racial tension, and ultimately full circle to increased crime.

White America is largely suburban America, 71% of whites live in what they describe as the suburbs, only 39% of black America live in the suburbs. Black America is largely an urban nation. Sheryll Cashin explores this fact in her book, The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are undermining the American Dream" . She states, " In the code of our unspoken understandings, 'urban' means black. For many it also means crime and bad schools. This separation of life spaces fuels misunderstandings. To continue she says, "the most enduring invisible cost is the gulf between Americans who live far from the reality of the ghetto and those who live in it."

Racism is not only a belief that race is a primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. It is also an attitude, which subordinates a person or group because of their race. Class too is an attitude. In Youngstown race is inextricably intertwined with class, which is defined as a discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social and economic classes. Attitudes about race and class must be addressed in conjunction with the implementation of a program such as CitiStat if we are to begin to make the changes needed in order to create a vital, sustainable city. The loss of citizens to suburban sprawl is not good for our city or for our planet. Steering growth to the urban core produces numerous benefits; It saves millions in public resources by building on existing infrastructure rather than sinking funds into new roads, sewers, and utility lines. It makes cities more vibrant and attractive, reduces carbon emissions and it makes the centers of job growth more accessible to the urban poor.

Currently separatism fosters a narrow conception of self interest that blinds our citizens to the benefits of building alliances with people different than ourselves.." I agree with Cashin when she states, "I have come to the conclusion that cultivating race and class integration... and building coalitions of enlightened self interest across boundaries of homogeneity is the only route to creating the kind of fully democratic society we imagine our very diverse country to be. Integration is critical to the enduring strength of our democracy."

As "Generation Next" stated per "Defend Youngstown" blog, "Now we live in a global economy and we still fight. This is why we don't have time for fighting any longer." To this I would add, we do not have time for racism and classism in Youngstown any longer, it is time to begin to re-create the city and in order to pursue an alternative vision of the city, we must change our mind set and an open our hearts.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Development of a Green Belt in the Youngstown Metro Area

Welcome to my new blog. I'm excited and a bit nervous. My goal in writing is to create a space for "dialogue with respect" as Paulo Freire has said. I mention the educational theorist here because his ideas have influenced my thinking about liberation and education. As a lawyer, I believe that liberty must be protected at all costs, and the way that is accomplished is through education. It is through dialogue that we often learn most effectively. Freire believed that dialogue wasn't just about deepening understanding, but that it was a part of making a difference in the world. He was concerned with praxis (action that is informed). Dialogue is a cooperative activity, it builds community, social capital ,and leads us to action for justice and equality. Please join me in a dialogue about the creation of community, and social capital in the city of Youngstown.

I would like to begin by talking about activism and how excitement is contagious. I have only met Jim Cossler, Youngstown's chief evangelist once or twice. The first time was at a brainstorming session at the Youngstown Incubator. It was a vitalizing experience. I was struck by his insistence that we need to dream large. The meme is catching on here in Youngstown. Things are beginning to happen at an exponential rate. As the meme spreads what I find happening is that people are smiling again, there is hope, and people want to be involved. Not only does activism bring about positive change, it is fun!

Treez Please is a recent example of activism and fun in Youngstown. This past summer several of us got together over drinks to talk about planting trees. That idea has transformed into the creation of a non-profit group that is growing quickly and more importantly bringing ideas to fruition. So far we have designed and implemented a project now called "Common Ground" which is at the corner of Broadway and Kensington, and we have celebrated that accomplishment with a community event. Please see our website for information and a link to Jaci Clark's blog to see fabulous photos of the celebration.

The idea of planting trees has given birth to numerous other ideas and projects and the dream is getting larger. Recently I had a conversation Phil Kidd, and he spoke with me about his idea for revitalizing Wick Park. He outlined his vision of Wick Park as a jewel of the city. We also spoke about how this project can serve as a model for city wide collaboration. Today, the story is in the Vindcator

Today however, I want to focus on another idea that is becoming an obsession with me, and one that I would very much like to see come to fruition. Many things trigger my obsession with this idea but what triggered it today was was reading the November 7, 2007 entry on the blog "I will Shout Youngstown". The article prompted me to share my thoughts about the creation of a green belt to be developed simultaneously with our new and burgeoning tech belt. For some interesting thoughts about the development of a regional tech belt see

Some time ago I became a Majora Carter groupie. I came across her story when I was researching a project on environmentalism and found a link to the Ted Awards. I was soon enthralled in the Ted Award concept and found a video of Majora Carter accepting the award. Her dream is to green the ghetto in the South Bronx. Although may of her ideas are specifically for a much larger urban area than Youngstown, I do believe that her proposal for an Eco Industrial Park could be modified for the Youngstown area. For a complete reading of her proposal see: A few of her ideas for an Eco-Industrial Park are below. In Youngstown an Eco-Industrial Park such as this could be the cornerstone of the development of "The Green Belt", and would provide much needed employment in green collar jobs. I would be interested in thoughts from others in the area about the concept and how it might be modified for this area.

Facilities at the eco-industrial park would include:
# a construction and demolition (C&D) debris recycling facility
# a plastics product manufacturer which would produce railroad ties using mixed plastic waste materials from post-industrial and post-consumer sources, provide the city’s recycling processors with a convenient market for mixed plastics in the city’s current recycling stream,
# a paper converting operation which would convert one-ton “parent rolls” of 100% recycled-content paper into individually-wrapped, consumer-sized rolls and packages of tissues and towel products for sale under possible supply contracts with the federal government and major commercial and institutional buyers
# a wood salvage and re-milling operation which would sort heavy and antique timber, beams, joists,shoring lumber and plywood salvaged from demolished buildings and construction sites by dimensions and species, would wholesale about half to lumber mills and timber framing companies, would retail about one quarter to highway construction, bridge refurbishing, and other contractors, would re-mill the rest into dimensional lumber and blanks for architectural and fine carpentry applications.
# a glass powder manufacturing facility which would process tons of mixed glass cullet and
container glass from the city’s recycling program into a valuable “green” building material, namely a clean, dry “glass powder” that can replace up to 40% of the Portland cement used in making concrete masonry blocks and ready-mix concrete.
# a small non-profit facility with educational exhibition space about recycling, re-use, and re-manufacturing and incubator space for craftspeople designing artworks or products made from recycled materials, a small cafe and the possible inclusion of a child-care facility for children of the employees.