Thursday, June 26, 2008


Odd how things work around here. A friend of mine sent me a link to a slide show created by Sean Posey and as I was looking through the photos I recognized a church that another friend of mine, Chris Barzak, had written about in his book One for Sorrow. The church is located by YSU and I'm told that it is was the first church in the area. It is in poor condition and I would love to see the building saved. However, that is a story for another day.

I want to share with you a slide show that depicts our ruins in all of their glory.
In the decay there is much beauty. I,for one, believe that by looking and perceiving the ruins through a lens of creativity there will be new birth. Sean Posey has not only captured the beauty of the place, but he has somehow managed to imbue his photos with the emotional strength and courage of the people who reside here though people are are not his subject matter, and are not found within the frames of the photographs. Click here to view the show.

After viewing his work I contacted Sean Posey to find out his connection to Youngstown. He told me that his family is from Youngstown and that they left in the 80's. He is currently a freelance photo journalist working from San Francisco. Sean is drawn to our area and is currently planning a fine art/documentary project on the rust belt in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. I will keep you posted about the upcoming show dates and locations,

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Stambaugh Building boarded up - What's wrong with this picture?

Last week there was an incident in downtown Youngstown at the Stambaugh Building. The Business Journal indicates that workmen were in the process of removing some windows from the building when a window fell from the structure to the parking lot below. The Stambaugh Building has now had over 100 windows removed. The stated reason is that the windows were dangerous and leaky so the developers (Lou Frangos)decided to remove the windows from the historic building.

The Stambaugh Building has a long and historic past. It was designed by Albert Kahn, one of Detroit's most important architects in neo-classical revival design. The building started out as a Euwers Department Store which was one of first department stores to incorporate a restaturant. Euwers Department Store 2 After the store moved the building became an office building that was later to house Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., and Standard Slag.

It is a travesty that the windows have been removed from this historic landmark. There is little that is more discouraging than a drive through our downtown only to look up at one of its most prominent buildings to see that the windows have been replaced by plywood. The citizens of Youngstown will not stand for this. The windows must be replaced and very soon. For an ongoing story about the issue go to Shout Youngstown.The Shout Youngstown blog also has links to local talk show radio programs where the issue of the windows is discussed, as well as video of the site. The Reason Blog on the Vindy site has also posted an article about the problem and is asking for comments to be posted. Also please sign this petition demanding that the city take action against the owner/developer of this building.

The citizens of Youngstown are not the kind to just sit passively by while a developer systematically destroys our city. We are an action oriented type of people. In keeping with that fine tradition an action plan has been proposed to the city of Youngstown about the stabilization of the Stambaugh Building. A draft if this proposal may be found a Youngstown Renaissance

What is happening here is demolition by neglect. This term is used to describe a situation in which a historic property is intentionally allowed to suffer from deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair. Property owners many times engage in this type of affirmative strategy of neglect to circumvent historic preservation regulations. Here, in Youngstown, it appears that the owner of the Stambaugh Building has this in mind. He has told the press that he believes that the building is a lost cause.

The issue of demolition by neglect is becoming a nationwide concern. It is one of the most serious problems affecting the fabric of our historic neighborhoods and cities. The most important tool for controlling demolition by neglect is to pass a carefully drafted city ordinance that requires affirmative maintenance. This ordinance should apply to not only historical buildings but also those buildings that are determined by the city to be significant or contributory to the overall community. Although Youngstown has a design and review committee that addresses the issues of restoration and repair, there does not appear to be an ordinance regarding demolition by neglect.

Such an ordinance might read like this one:

The owner, lessee,or other person in actual charge of a significant or contributory building shall comply with all applicable codes, laws, and regulations governing the maintenance of property. It is the intent of this law to preserve from deliberate, intentional, or inadvertent neglect the exterior features of buildings designated significant or contributory, and the interior portions thereof when such maintenance is necessary to prevent deterioration and decay of the exterior. All such buildings shall be preserved against such decay and deterioration and shall be free from structural defects through prompt corrections of any of the following defects:
1. Facades which may fall and injure members of the public or property.
2. Deteriorated or inadequate foundation, defective or deteriorated flooring or floor supports, deteriorated walls or other vertical structural supports.
3. Members of ceilings, roofs, ceiling and roof supports or other horizontal members which sag, split or buckle due to defective material or deterioration.
4. Deteriorated or ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roofs, foundations, or floors, including broken windows or doors.
5. Defective or insufficient weather protection for exterior wall covering, including lack of paint or weathering due to lack of paint or other protective covering.
6. Any fault or defect in the building which renders it not properly watertight or structurally unsafe.

It is also important that this provision come equipped with adequate remedies and enforcement authority. In addition a legal course of action for assessing whether or not demolition by neglect is actually occurring must be developed.

This criteria could potentially include:

1. Identification by the building code inspectors or third parties that a potential problem exists followed-up by an inspection to determine the condition of the building.
2. The findings should then be presented at a public hearing to a Commission set up for this purpose. A report detailing the defects in the building would be presented and the owner given thirty days to respond to the preliminary determination by providing a document detailing the specific work which is necessary to correct the "Demolition by Neglect" conditions and a time limit proposed for starting and completing the work.
3. If the owner fails to respond the matter would then be referred to the Commission for a citation hearing. If after appropriate notices are sent and the owner fails to respond, the building is posted with a notice of the violation in accordance with the provision of the Demolition by Neglect Ordinance and another public hearing called.
4. At the public hearing the owner is given an opportunity to show cause. The Commission would vote regarding whether the citation for Demolition by Neglect is appropriate.
5. If the owner fails to correct the problem or take steps to correct the problem within ten days the matter is turned over to the City Attorney's Office for action in Civil Court.
6. In addition to civil actions against the owner/owners misdemeanor criminal penalties should apply and be strictly enforced. These would include a criminal fine of $150.00 for the first offense. Whoever is convicted of a second violation for a second or subsequent offense within a period of two years from the date of the next prior conviction would be guilty of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree and shall be fined $250.00 or imprisoned for thirty days or both. Each day of the violation would constitute a separate offense.

Please provide your thoughts and concerns about such a ordinance and provision by commenting on this blog.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Obsessive Branding Disorder

Dear Readers:

I apologize for failing to post in the last couple of weeks. Life has been incredibly hectic and of course the growing season in Youngstown Ohio has commenced. There is a great deal of work to be done both at the Fairgreen Garden at the corner of Fairgreen and Ohio Avenue on the North Side, and at the Common Ground located at Broadway and Kensington. I won't even mention all of the work that needs to be done in my raised vegetable beds in the back yard. If you're looking to work outside in the fresh air e-mail us at Grow Youngstown or at Treez Please. So enough excuses, I promise I will try to do better. I have, of course, had many ideas for posts and research that I want to write about and I promise sometime this summer I will get there.

For now, however, I want to tell about an important book that has recently been publilshed called Obsessive Branding Disorder. The book is written by a friend of mine named Lucas Conley. Okay,I know that just because he is my friend that doesn't make his book a worthwhile read, but it is, take my word for it.

Luke began his career at the Atlantic Monthly and was a contributing writer for Fast Company. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, The Huffington Post and ESPN: The Magazine. A couple of years ago when I first met Luke he was just starting to write the book and we had some interesting conversations about branding. At the time I had no idea how important the subject of branding would become in my work to revitalize the city of Youngstown.

In recent months there has been quite a bit of conversation in the Y-town blogopshere about whether or not branding is something that we should even consider in Youngstown. I,for one, believe, that as Luke points out, everything is branded and whether or not we like that idea, if we don't chose our brand, then someone else will. In the case of Youngstown we have already been negatively branded as "mob town". It is time for us to change that brand to a more positive one.

In the book Obsessive Branding Disorder, Luke points out that in today's brand saturated culture, everything and everyone is susceptible to OBD (Obsessive Branding Disorder). He points out that even snow, oxygen, water,and dirt are branded,. It seems no matter how ubiquitous the "product", today's marketers will brand it. Essentially everything from celebrities to branding itself comes in various branded flavors. I have learned that there is such a thing as primal branding, passion branding, profit branding, and pirate branding. Who knew?

He explains that at their most elemental, brands serve as mental shortcuts to broader concepts. He points out that originally brands rose from the bottom up, founded on quality of products and services. Now the reverse is true: products and services are subject to top-down branding. And while brands are meant to offer clarity, the intent in today's markets is just the opposite.

In spite of this however, the book points out, that brands and branding are unavoidable byproducts of how we live. It is his Luke's hope that by pointing out the nature of branding in today's culture we may be able to gain a better perspective of brands' natural place in our lives and reclaim some of the order we've lost in the frenzy of branding that surrounds us.

Luke has mentioned that it is ironic that in order to publish the book he had to engage in branding himself. However,in the spirit of building the brand from the ground up, he welcomes questions, comments, and suggestions. So please feel free to contact him via his website: Obsessive Branding Disorder

His point is well taken and in the same spirit I think Youngtown's brand should be built from the bottom up. If you have suggestions please leave a comment on this blog.