Monday, September 29, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Homes on Baldwin


Are you a member of the creative class? That group of people that social scientist Dr. Richard Florida, believes are a key driving force for economic development of post-industrial cities such as Youngstown.

Granted many of members of the creative class love the notion of rehabilitating an old building or living in a central downtown, but there are just as many who would like to expend their energy researching and designing new products or technology and simply would like to live in a new home that requires few repairs or trouble and that has lower utility bills than the older homes in the area.

Commonwealth Inc. has just those kind of homes available. The homes on Baldwin are affordable, three bedroom, energy efficient, and have two floors,an attached two car garage, air conditioning, range, fridge, dishwasher, disposal, microwave, ceramic tile, carpeting and 1 1/2 baths. Monthly payments are under $500.00 and there are down payment grants available as well as a 15 year tax abatement.

The homes are within walking distance of the beautiful 34 acre Wick Park as well as within walking distance of Youngstown State University, St. Elizabeth Hospital, and downtown Youngstown. The Wick Park neighborhood is of strategic importance in the citywide plan Youngstown 2010 and is one of six neighborhoods targeted for improvements this year.

So if you're looking for a new home in a upcoming and hip area at a good price, come to 113 and 106 Baldwin Street, Youngstown on Sunday September 28Th from 1:00 - 3:00 for an open house. Tour the house and enter a drawing to win a gas card or new bike. If you have questions about the property call (330) 726-8888.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vacant Properties Organizing Strategy

Last night was a north side community meeting about the problem of vacant houses in the city of Youngstown. The meeting was organized by the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative. The Collaborative or MVOC is a broad based community organizing initiative that was established in March of 2008. The primary purpose of the group is to unite groups throughout the community to work together to increase quality of life in urban neighborhoods in the cities of Youngstown and Warren, Ohio.

The MVOC philosophy is that change happens from the bottom up and that residents hold the solutions to the problems that face their communities. The MVOC is also connected to state and national organizing initiatives to begin changing state and federal policies regarding urban development.

The meeting last night was the culmination of three months of listening. The organizers from all four sides of Youngstown have been out in the community asking residents about the issues that effect their lives. It quickly became apparent to them, that one problem that heavily impacts residents is the proliferation of vacant properties.

Because of Youngstown's shrinking population there is an oversupply of housing stock. The estimated number of vacant structures is currently 6,500 and 20,000 vacant properties.

The current approach to addressing vacant properties is reactive, intermittent, and very expensive. The lack of effective policies regarding vacant properties has decreased residents' quality of life, and discourages development and reinvestment in the area.

The MVOC has been working to develop a plan that makes sense. They propose:

1. Neighborhood groups performing vacant property surveys to determine the true extent of the problem in each neighborhood. This information will be used to create a database and information system.

2. Neighborhood SUCCESS grants can then be strategically utilized to transform NVPC best practice recommendations into reality in the neighborhoods.

3. Neighborhood groups can develop action plans to hold lenders and slumlords accountable for their large holdings of vacant properties.

4. Collaboration with Lien Forward Ohio's Community Outreach Specialists to increase awareness of their services to neighborhood residents.

The MVOC provided attendees with a substantial outline of how to proceed to address the problems. There were between 75 and 100 in attendance at last night's meeting. Several residents provided personal testimony regarding their personal problems with vacant properties. I, for one, don't think this portion of the program was necessary as anyone living in this city has personal experience with vacant properties. We have all been impacted even if we merely walk or drive by these structures and lots. I do agree with the MVOC that there is a need for a survey to determine where the current vacant structures are located. Youngstown will be receiving approximately 1 million in federal dollars for demolition. It is imperative that the dollars be put to good use and that the demo projects be prioritized in terms of the which demo jobs can have the largest impact on the community at large. This type of stragegy needs to be developed by using a two pronged approach, community participation and input, balanced with the development of new policies and legislation based upon the most up to date urban development and legal research.

For example, to my knowledge there are currently no policies or programs in place for reporting newly abandoned properties or contacting mortgage holders to notify them of abandonment. If for example, there were a phone number that residents could use to report a newly vacant house, this would provide an early notification to the city who could then provide early notification to the mortgage holder. The mortgage holder would be advised that they are responsible for securing the the building, boarding it up, and maintaining the grass etc. Mechanisms for accountability must also be developed. If such as system were implemented,residents who plan to abandon property could be encouraged to call the hot line to report when they are leaving a property abandoned. The reporting person should be able to do this without fear of ramifications from the city and could be encouraged via public service ads etc.

This would also reduce the problem that exists from late notification. Currently, by the time an abandoned building has been secured, it has already had it's windows broken, copper stolen, and untold damage from vandals. This in turn makes it more difficult to sell the property at a later date via auction.

In addition, a policy could be implemented whereby if a resident plans to abandon a structure, and the property does not have a clouded title with the possible exception of real estate taxes, the property could be quit claimed to a landbank established specifically for this purpose. This in turn would allow the landbank to sell the building at a low price, with strict guidelines that purchasers must make needed repairs and maintain the structure. If policies such as this or similar to this were implemented it would reduce the numbers of homes that will ultimately be demolished. My understanding is that the cost of a demolition on average is $30,000. $30,000 could pay for a substantial rehab on many structures. Currently lien forward has a program to get vacant lots into the hands of residents, but I'm not aware of a program that provides that type of service for structures.

In addition to the development of policies to handle the problems of vacant structures, it is time to revamp our zoning laws. The 2010 plan allocates areas in the city to be used for numerous purposes, for example agriculture, however, our current zoning is not in compliance with that plan. If a citizen does wish to engage in agriculture, they must fight to get the zoning changed. This is not an easy task at the moment due to laws on the books regarding spot zoning changes. Furthermore, there are areas in the city that are in serious need of commercial enterprise. Due to the current zoning laws, the development of retail stores and restaurants is prohibited. Granted, one might not wish to have a large grocery store on a predominantly residential street, however, for the purposes of creating a sustainable community, where walking is possible, we must be able to have retail enterprises on more of our major streets throughout the city. It is clear that our residential neighborhoods are changing and do not resemble the neighborhoods of 30 years ago. There is a great deal of green space,as well as property in need of development. This development could include the neighborhood coffee shop, green grocers, etc. In other words it is time to address the need for more mixed use neighborhoods.

I would suggest that a commission composed of representatives from the zoning department, the zoning board, city planning, housing, legal experts regarding property and zoning, and community members be established in order to develop new policy regarding the changing landscape of our city.

The meeting last night was a good start to the journey we must take in order to shift the community paradigm toward one of collaborative problem solving, as well as to begin to see the possibilities that exist for us in our changing landscape. I commend the organizers for their quick assessment of the problems in Warren and Youngstown as well as their quick response in addressing the issues.

Below is Annie Gillam speaking to the group about vacant properties and demolition:

The young man below also addressed the meeting last night about the importance of voting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dora and the Mayor at the Grey to Green Festival

Wow! It rained cats and dogs on Saturday, but that didn't deter environmentalists and others interested in all things "green" from attending the Grey to Green Festival in Wick Park on Youngstown's north side. Due to the rain, the festival was set up under tents. There,vendors and exhibitors provided information on everything from recycling to solar power.

Holly Burnett and her crew were there with Enviroscape,a three dimensional model of a community that is designed to show how various pollutants end up in our water. There was also a really cool mineral mine where you could mine for your own gems and receive information the one you dug up. I have to admit I mined for quite a few gems and finally had to force myself to move on to other exhibits and vendors. They all were great, and the colorful wares of the vendors certainly added a bright spot to the very grey day.

For me, the greatest thing about the festival are the relationships that were forged during the planning stage. The festival must become an annual one, if for no other reason than I'd miss everybody too much if we didn't organize another event. This forging of relationships carried over to the festival itself as vendors and exhibitors had an opportunity to share experiences, and get to know one another. Generally, I think everyone had a good time in spite of the rain. I know that Dora did!

The greatest achievement of the festival was that it increased awareness of global climate issues and Youngstown's Mayor Jay Williams was on hand to sign the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement.

In addition to it's goal of increasing awareness of global climate issues, the Grey to Green Festival also served as a means of increasing awareness of Youngstown's 2010Plan,its grey to green component, and the Wick Park Revitalization project. I believe the festival achieved its goals. Many people who had never been to Wick Park or the surrounding neighborhood came out to the festival. Phil Kidd, of Defend Youngstown, said he gave several tours of the area to interested folks. It is this type of outreach that is needed to change the incorrect perceptions that many have of Youngstown.

I would also like to thank the many volunteers who came out in the rain to help make the festival a reality. I would also like to thank the area journalists and my blogger friends who helped get the word out about the festival.
Valley 24 and another article here.
YSU - The Jambar
Earth Watch Ohio
The Vindicator

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Day We've All Been Waiting for is Almost Here: Grey to Green Festival September 13, 2008

The Grey to Green Festival is this Saturday, September 13, 2008 from 11:00 AM until 6:00 PM. Wick Park will be transformed into a "Green World" for the first ever "Grey to Green" Festival on Youngstown's North Side. Many environmentally oriented businesses, community organizations, and local, regional, and state agencies will participate in the inaugural event which strives to increase awareness of environmental issues, highlighting the grey-to-green concept in the Youngstown 2010 Plan as well as the Wick Park Revitalization effort that is currently underway.

The Grey to Green Festival organizing coalition's shared belief and vision is that a collaboration of citizens, agencies, organizations, and government can mobilize communities to address important issues and solve problems in new ways by moving from problem-driven solutions to vision-driven solutions in a post-industrial era of transition where many areas such as Youngstown Struggle to cope with such change.

The Grey to Green Festival organizing committee includes the office of the U.S.Congressman Tim Ryan, the Raymond John Wean Foundation, the Green Team,Youngstown Litter Control and Recycling, Defend Youngstown, CityScape, ReCreate, Treez Please, Grow Youngstown, First Book Mahoning Valley, the Oakland Center for the Arts, Art Youngstown, the Wick Park Revitalization Committee, the City of Youngstown, Youngstown State University,Defend Youngstown,YESS, and the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, and many great citizens of the area.

Our wonderful sponsors include: The Raymond John Wean Foundation, Youngstown State University, The City of Youngstown, Treez Please, Grow Youngstown, Home Depot, Common Wealth Inc., The Energy Detectives, Superior Chemicals,McCauley Funeral Home, Time Bank of the Mahoning Valley, Sherman Creative, Lien Forward Ohio, Susie and Ray Beiersdorfer, Richard Moore, Sister Barbara O'Donnell,and Frank Bishop and Attorney Debra Weaver.

Special thanks to the Youngstown Business Incubator, Kontinuous Jam, the Unitarian Church and all of our wonderful performers and volunteers.

Thanks to our wonderful sponsors and volunteers we have a day full of fun activities and entertainment, food and "green" merchandise vendors. The central theme of the festival will emphasize sustainable practices- minimal energy and resource consumption with maximum recycling and waste reduction.

Schedule of Events

Main Stage
11:00 Welcome
11:30 –Market Street Muppet Show
12:30 The Youngstown Connection
1:15 Jim Scott (song writer and performer of environmental songs)
2:30 – 4:30 Chaibababa with Machete (alternative world music)
5:00 Brady’s Leap (Celtic Rock)

Children's Activities
Dora the Explorer and activities
11:30 1:00 2:00 4:30
Trash and Treasure k- 4th grade 12:00 -12:30
Trash and Treasure 5th – 12th graders
12:35 – 1:00
Bird Craft and Walk
12:00 1:30 2:30 5:00

Yoga/ Tai Chi
Jack Wolp Tai chi - 12:00
Deb Wilson - Yoga - 1:00
Marie Lew Tai Chi Step One - 3:00

Other Events and Happenings
Drop and Shop 11:00 -3:00
Leaf Bag Distribution- throughout the day
Farmers Market 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Art Youngstown 11:00 – 6:00 PM
The Nasa Aero Bus
The EPA traveling Exhibit
Patty Evans drumming throughout the day in various locations
Belly Dance Class/ Demonstration
Bring your empty/clean spray bottles to the Shaklee Vending area and receive a free sample of their cleaning products.

Please note that one of the major goals of the festival is to generate as little waste as possible. We ask that you avoid the use of plastic bags, and that if possible bring your own reusable bag or purchase a beautiful new one from one of our vendors. We also ask that you leave the park clean. Recycling bins will be available throughout the park.

We will be providing programs to visitors with the list of activities, vendors, and events. We encourage you to recycle them if you chose not to keep them. Please note that inside the programs will be a small form to be completed with your name and address so that we can establish a contact list and so that you may win one of our wonderful gifts. Please complete the form and drop them into the box at the Pavilion or in the food area.

The Farmers Market will sell food across Elm Street in the area of the Unitarian Church from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM. Please note that all utensils being used at the church are compostable as are napkins and cups., There will be a composter available specifically for this purpose. Also, please feel free to bring a picnic lunch, lawn chairs, and blankets.

Please note that the Drop and Shop will operate from 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM
Drop & Shop for Freeat the Grey to Green Festival
Get rid of UNWANTED but USABLE household items!
Take stuff you need for FREE!
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Wick Park, 260 Park Ave. Youngstown, OH 44504

Bring unwanted but usable/working household items! Take items you need! It’s a
fast, easy, free way to get rid of stuff or get stuff you need. Plus, you’ll help your environment by saving landfill space and natural resources.
Questions? Call YSU re:CREATE at (330) 941-2238.
Sponsors YSU re:CREATE, Green Team, Grey to Green Festival Committee
Drop It & Shop for FREE!
Example of Items to Bring:
Any usable/working, non hazardous household items
Baby Items
Beds, Bedding, & Bed Frames w/o stains, odors, or rips
Canned Goods
Carpet w/o stains, odors, or rips
Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories
Construction Supplies
First Aid Items
Furniture w/o stains, odors, or rips
Kids Toys, Clothes, & Shoes
Knick Knacks
Kitchen items
Paper & Plastic Products
Remodeling Supplies
Tableware: Plates/Dishes & Silverware & Glasses
Toiletries-unused/new – any size
Computers Electronics
Gas Cans
Hazardous Items
Hospital, water, or sofa beds
Hot water tanks
Scrap Metal
For info on donation/safe
disposal call re:CREATE
(330) 941-2238
Printed on Recycled Content Paper
Don’t Trash It !

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

U.S.Politics and the First Amendment

I made a conscious decision some months ago not to blog about national politics and my own opinions regarding the upcoming presidential race. I believe that positive change comes from the grassroots level and percolates up. I believe that it is important to create unity rather than divisiveness on a local level and that in order to do that we need a common cause, a common dream, a common goal. I believe that we need a green revolution, and that this revolution starts here, in Youngstown Ohio. That said, I'm breaking my silence about the national political scene.

This change of heart came yesterday upon hearing that Minnesota police launched a series of preemptive raids to intimidate protesters and quash dissent at the Republican National Convention and also arrested one of my favorite journalists, Amy Goodman from Democracy NOW.

Here she is later on Free Speech TV talking about the arrest.

Here are some examples of police activity and arrests being made throughout the city of Minneapolis. Do you know where your children are? Imagine for a moment that they are here and please do not succumb to the common parental state of denial that says, "oh no, my child would never do that," because as a parent and as a lawyer I can assure you they could and would and often do, and in the case of citizen participation in government I believe that they should.

Lest you think that this is just happening at the RNC, keep in mind that a detention center was built specifically to hold protesters at the DNC in Denver as well.

What all of this tells me is that the First Amendment is yet again being attacked. We've seen it in the past.

I have been attending demonstrations for a long time and the police have been squashing the people's right to assemble for many of those years. One snippet of memory comes to mind from the Bush Anti-inaugural Demonstration in Washington DC. I was there when police in full riot gear as usual, came at the protesters from behind the line and also came at them from the front of the line. There were very large buildings on both sides of the street, this essentially trapped everyone and created panic which lead to violence and much brandishing of weapons and billy clubs. As an aside, should this ever happen to you start a chant, "sit down, sit down". When everyone is sitting on the ground, it is easier to stay calm.

My point is this. It is time for the attack on the people's civil liberties to cease. In case anyone has forgotten, the First Amendment states,

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

If we are to keep this fundamental right, we must use it, and keep using it. We must not take our democracy for granted, its continued existence depends on citizen participation and actions. As Naomi Wolfe explains in her book, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, "The descent into repressive regime is slow and quiet. It usually does not come as an overnight announcement of martial law or suspension of elections. Instead it happens over the course of years, so quietly, that most may never notice until it's a fait accompli. Only then will people ask, 'how did this happen?'.

We must not take our democracy for granted. We must stand up and protest the violation and erosion of our civil liberties. Jan Pentz, a Youngstown history teacher told me recently that, "The difference between the United States and Europe is that in Europe the government is afraid of the people and in the United States the people are afraid of the government." I recognize the truth in her words. Our democracy is duplicitous. We say we are a government for the people by the people, but this often does not appear to be the case. Our founding fathers are tossing and turning in their graves. We are Americans, we are better than this. We must find our courage and overcome our fears.

I will end this post with a poem that has had many incarnations. The version here is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me-
and there was no one left to speak for me.

AND THEN from the punk rock band NOFX the song "Re-gaining Unconsciousness".

First they put away the dealers,
keep our kids safe and off the street.
Then they put away the prostitutes,
keep married men cloistered at home.
Then they shooed away the bums,
Then they beat and bashed the queers,
turned away asylum-seekers,
fed us suspicions and fears.
We didn't raise our voice,
we didn't make a fuss.
It's funny there was no one left to notice
when they came for us.