PROJECTStrong Cities, Strong Communities

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  • Youngstown, Ohio

    Strong Cities, Strong Communities City Profile 

    Janae Ladet and Joseph Schilling
    May 2018

    Local Dynamics and Program Overview

    In October 2012, President Obama designated Youngstown, Ohio, as a Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) city to leverage SC2’s federal expertise (through its Community Solutions Teams, or CSTs) and provide short-term capacity with only one full-time midcareer SC2 fellow. Given additional federal capacity, Youngstown was added several months after the launch of the first cohort of SC2 cities that included a part-time CST lead Scott Smith from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development regional office.

    The CST lead coordinated with the US Department of Justice to create a diagnostic center to research trends and data-driven strategies to improve public safety. The SC2 boot camps in Youngstown focused on revitalizing Youngtown’s downtown using various tools, strategies, and partnerships.

    In Steel Town USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown, authors Sherry Lee Linkon and John Russo trace the rise and fall of Youngstown. The collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s turned a thriving working-class city into the poster child of urban decline. Despite dramatic population and job losses along with concentrated poverty and vacant and abandoned buildings, Youngstown’s efforts to rebuild and revitalize provide important insights on the complexities of regenerating small, old, industrial cities.

    In 2010, city leaders responded to Youngstown’s decline by adopting a new comprehensive land-use plan, Youngstown 2010, organized around four core principles: (1) accepting Youngstown is a smaller city with a population of roughly 80,000, (2) defining Youngstown’s role in a regional economy, (3) improving Youngstown’s quality of life and enhancing the city’s image, and (4) a call to action (Finnerty 2005). Youngstown 2010 gained national attention for formally acknowledging that Youngstown could not grow its way out of its decline. Despite attempts to implement the plan’s smart-decline strategies, city vision, and goals, Youngstown continued to lose population and jobs.

    One goal was to connect federal partners’ resources with the city and the region’s assets, such as anchor institutions and a strong philanthropic community. One important asset was the Eastgate Regional Council of Government’s Economic Development District, which falls under the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Youngstown is also within the Tech Belt Initiative, an economic development strategy connecting Cleveland, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh. Youngstown is also home to Youngstown State University and Kent State University Trumbull Campus. The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, a citywide neighborhood revitalization intermediary, provides city planning and project management capacity while tackling the repair and reclamation of thousands of vacant and abandoned homes.

    When I came into office in January 2014, it was immediately clear that our citizens expected a renewed city focus on responsive, effective, and efficient code enforcement and blight remediation in order to stem the tide of neighborhood decline. As mayor, I made blight remediation a top priority using the Strong Cities, Strong Communities resources. Our SC2 fellow worked with city staff and community development organizations to review our code enforcement and related processes, make recommendations, and obtain resources for technical assistance and training that are improving our service delivery in this critical area.

    —Former Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally IV1

    Projects and Initiatives

    Working with the mayor, city officials, and their partners, the Youngstown CST and SC2 fellow engaged in various capacity-building and technical assistance activities to strengthen federal and local government relationships. These SC2 engagements were driven by the mayor’s identified priorities and collaborative SC2 work plan to facilitate economic growth within constrained local governments, a key goal of SC2. These federal-local collaborations involved trainings, workshops, consultations, and concrete policy and development projects supported with guidance and assistance from the CSTs, federal agencies, and resources. Each activity helped build trust and establish stronger partnerships between the city and the federal government and provided the city additional short-term capacities. Below, we highlight a few projects and products from the SC2 initiative in Youngstown.

    • Creating a safer walk to school. The team engaged the Department of Justice Diagnostic Center to improve public safety. They used data to measure needs, recognize trends, establish baselines, determine data-driven strategies, and find available resources. As part of ongoing technical assistance to Youngstown, the diagnostic center sponsored a multiday training for the command staff of the Youngstown Police Department to enhance agency and officer performance evaluation. Subject-matter experts from the Johns Hopkins School of Education and Division of Public Safety Leadership led the training.
    • Improving city planning. With assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city commissioned a contractor to review regulations for demolition activities. Once implemented, the contractor’s recommendations improved the city’s process for dealing with high property vacancy rates, promoted changes to state and local targeted demolition regulations, and helped administer resources.
    • Supporting more outdoor spaces. In partnership with Fresh Coast Capital, the team planted poplar trees and lavender in four city parks. Fresh Coast Capital agreed to lease the parks from the city for seven- or eight-year terms and plant trees and lavender. This partnership saved the city more than $150,000 in park maintenance costs and created public spaces where the community can gather.
    • Providing technical assistance for small businesses. Magnet, a nonprofit organization that promotes manufacturing in the 18-county northeastern Ohio region, partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Youngstown State University to conduct a “road show” for local manufacturers. NASA subject-matter experts provided technical problem solving to local businesses to improve business development and productivity. This was part of their broader regional effort to support manufacturing and business development in the Cleveland area and other Ohio communities.
    • Developing small businesses. Through a partnership with Youngstown State University and a local business incubator, the city received a $3 million grant from the Economic Development Association for broader downtown revitalization.
    • Reducing blight. The team worked with the US Department of Defense Innovation Readiness Training program to design military exercises that demolished disused buildings. The City of Youngstown partnered with the 910th Airlift Wing from the Vienna Air Base to save the city money while demolishing blighted properties. The airmen used city machinery and equipment, but local taxpayers did not have to pay for labor. Colonel James Dignan and Youngstown mayor John McNally led the effort, and the 910th Airlift Wing demolished more than 74 houses and installed more than 600 street signs and traffic lights. This resulted in savings ranging from $500,000 to $740,000 for the city. This creative partnership removed nuisance properties and allowed the reservists to meet training requirements. Additionally, the SC2 fellow worked with the city and the land bank to support code enforcement and blight remediation in Youngstown (GMF 2015, 9).

    Box 1

    Reports and Media


    1. GMF (German Marshall Fund of the United States), Strong Cities, Strong Communities Fellowship Program Final Report 2012–2014 (Washington, DC: GMF, 2015).


    Finnerty, Thomas A., Jr. 2005. Youngstown 2010. Youngstown, OH: Youngstown State University.

    GMF (German Marshall Fund of the United States). 2015. Strong Cities, Strong Communities Fellowship Program Final Report 2012–2014. Washington, DC: GMF.

    Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros
    Policy Centers Research to Action Lab
    States Ohio
    Cities Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA