The Mahoning River flows through the eastern portion of the NEOSCC planning area before it eventually empties into the Ohio River in Pennsylvania. The Mahoning River was once considered the heart of the steel industry in the United States, where industrial development grew the cities of Youngstown, Warren, Newton Falls, Struthers and many others along its winding path. Commonly known as “The Valley,” this region experienced massive hemorrhaging of industrial and manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and 1980s. The result was population decline and disinvestment in traditional neighborhoods and urban centers that continues today. Additionally, the environmental impact of the industry in The Valley has made the Mahoning River infamous. The river is the only surface water body in Northeast Ohio where the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) has labeled its waters unfit for human contact from Warren to the Pennsylvania state line. More detailed information on the latest monitoring data and clean-up requirements is available from Ohio EPA. Despite the challenges, however, a tremendous initiative to clean and reuse abandoned brownfields, improve water quality, expand recreational opportunity and generate new economic development along the Mahoning River is now underway: The Mahoning River Corridor Initiative (MRCI).
Housed at the Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies, the MRCI is a regional brownfield and urban development collaboration of nine municipalities, Youngstown State University and four non-profit corporations. Among its goals are promoting the opportunities for economic development that exist in the Mahoning River corridor communities. One of the major outputs of the MRCI is a Feasibility Report that:
Describes the Mahoning River Corridor Initiative
Identifies, maps, and inventories 16 brownfield project sites involving over 800 acres in the river corridor (these sites are available for further economic development and recreational or environmental enhancement).
Identifies 11 major infrastructure projects related to those sites.
Identifies eight environmental/preservation enhancement areas and 12 recreational enhancement projects.
A copy of the MRCI Feasibility Report is available on the organization’s news website.
Dan Mamula, former mayor of Struthers and NEOSCC Board Member, manages the MRCI. Dan is available to answer questions about the development opportunities available in the corridor area and direct developers to helpful resources. Questions about MCRI may be directed to Dan Mamula by email (email@example.com) or by telephone (330.941.1850). Additional information about MRCI may also be found through the project’s website (http://cfweb.cc.ysu.edu/psi/mrci/index.html), including success stories within the MRCI partner communities.
On Thursday, March 28, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, Technical University of Dortmund, Germany (TUD), and German Marshall Fund (GMF) hosted a workshop in Youngstown titled: Policies and Strategies in Shrinking Cities: The Case of Youngstown, Ohio. The event was attended by more than 60 people including: stakeholders from throughout Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and representatives from the cities of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Akron.
The invitation only workshop included a site visit of abandoned industrial sites with potential for reuse, an expert panel discussion, and presentation of redevelopment ideas from urban planning students from the Technical University of Dortmund.
The expert panel discussion included Alan Mallach, Brookings Institution; Lavea Brachman, Greater Ohio Policy Center; Professor Thorsten Wiechmann, Technical University of Dortmund, Germany, and Ian Beniston, YNDC. The students’ redevelopment ideas included opportunities to reconnect Youngstown to its riverfront and industrial heritage and integrated best practice ideas from the Ruhr Valley in Germany. A final plan based on their work will be released this summer.
Construction has begun at the Iron Roots Urban Farm site. The construction project includes the complete renovation of the 91 year old, 2,693 square foot historic home and the construction of a new 1,200 square foot processing and training facility. The project also includes the installation of walkways, parking, signage, and other critical facility upgrades. The project is being completed by DSV Builders and is expected to be complete by June 1, 2013.
The new facility will be home to several programs to train residents in the skills necessary to become market gardeners and food entrepreneurs or enter the environmental workforce, as the site will give residents hands-on experience at a working urban farm. The farm will also train residents in the preparation of healthy meals and processing of fresh produce. Additionally, the facility will have space for community meetings and other neighborhood revitalization activities. YNDC is also working with the Common Wealth Inc. Kitchen Incubator to provide residents all the necessary training space and equipment needed to launch their new enterprises.
Iron Roots Urban Farm is a fully functioning urban farm that grows produce available for sale at the Northside Farmers’ Market, Poland Farmers’ Market, and is included in shares of the Grow Youngstown CSA program.
The Mahoning River Corridor People’s Garden Program, funded by a grant to the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) by the United States Department of Agriculture, will provide microgrants for the establishment of gardens to serve as community educational resources to residents of Mahoning River Corridor communities. Groups located within Lowellville, Struthers, Campbell, Youngstown, Girard, McDonald, Niles, Warren and Newton Falls are eligible to apply. All projects must be new garden spaces, and can be vegetable gardens, recreational gardens, or wildlife gardens. Projects will be chosen based on innovative design, community impact, project sustainability, and the project’s potential for community environmental education. Training workshops will be held In the month of February (see dates and locations below). A representative of each group applying for a grant must attend one of these training workshops. In 2012, the program supported the creation of 10 new gardens in Mahoning River Corridor Communities, including community vegetable gardens and native planting gardens. In 2013, the program will support 10-12 new garden spaces.
Grants will assist community groups with the establishment of new gardens, including vegetable gardens, recreational gardens, and wildlife gardens. Grants will be awarded through a competitive process, in which grantees will design their garden project and demonstrate community support and resources for the projects. Projects must be new or beginning their first year of full operation. Projects will be chosen based on innovative design, community impact, project sustainability, and the project’s potential for community environmental education. The program will be focused on neighborhood associations and resident groups, building their capacity to respond to challenges in their own neighborhoods through the creation of gardens on existing vacant land and the establishment, maintenance, and use of community forests as neighborhood assets. All garden projects will receive technical assistance and educational signage.
Back in June, NEOSCC took its board meeting to Mahoning County. As part of our 12 Counties in 12 Months Program, the NEOSCC Board had an opportunity to tour some of Youngstown’s unique assets as well as some of the redevelopment work that is occurring.
Part of the tour was led by Youngstown Neighborhood Development Council (YNDC), a multifaceted neighborhood development organization launched in 2009 in partnership with the City of Youngstown and The Raymond John Wean Foundation to catalyze strategic neighborhood reinvestment in neighborhoods throughout the city. YNDC highlighted some of the neighborhood revitalization work during the tour.
We wanted to showcase a recent YNDC publication: Lots of Green 2012 Impact Report.
YNDC’s Lots of Green program is a nationally-recognized, vacant land reuse strategy implemented in Youngstown neighborhoods by the YNDC and multiple partner organizations. The program engages residents and volunteers through several programs, including Iron Roots Urban Farm, Market Gardener Training, Community Gardens, Green Jobs Training, Lots of Green 2.0, People’s Garden, and Basic Land Stabilization, in reclaiming all vacant land in strategic neighborhoods, transforming the physical fabric of the neighborhood and increasing neighborhood pride and ownership.
In 2012, the YNDC developed Iron Roots Urban Farm that put 1.7 acres of vacant land back to productive use, created jobs for 7 individuals, operated a second year of the Market Gardener Training Program with 25 participants, and trained 14 young adults through the Green Jobs Training program. The organization continued to oversee 5 community gardens,and created 13 new gardens through the Lots of Green 2.0 and People’s Garden microgrant programs. In total, the YNDC implemented vacant land stabilization projects on 90 new lots (14.4 acres).