I, too, fall victim

1 07 2007

Wednesday, I had a doctor’s appointment that took me to the north side of Youngstown. It was a quick, get in/get out check-up, and since I had this day free I left home with my camera and afterward proceeded downtown to walk around and snap more pictures (there’s always a new perspective I haven’t captured yet somewhere).

After circling around Phelps and Hazel streets, passing by city hall and police headquarters and looking at the faded Segram’s sign on the old State Theater, I passed through the back alley south of W. Federal to look through the fence at a hole in the ground that will eventually become the Youngstown Technology Center. I walked down the rest of the alley, past the loading docks of the old specialty stores on Federal toward Home Savings, but as I kept looking over my shoulder, and as I, in my normally paranoid way, try to remember whether or not I locked my car, I found I was having some of the same sentiments of people who are vehemently anti-Youngstown.

I don’t know why I felt that way. I’ve been downtown dozens of times and never felt unsafe. It was like a point of pride for me that I could tell friends who hyperbolicly think Youngstown is nothing but a giant gang territory I freely walked downtown’s streets without worrying. Maybe I had a heightened paranoid feeling, maybe I was overly pessimistic; whatever the reason, I fell victim to the naysayers who flood the vindy.com forums and formerly bashed the city on Dems17.

Personally, I can hardly believe myself. I’ve been in the neighborhoods of the east and south sides of the city, parts that routinely make the news for violent crime and places most of my friends would never dare to go within five miles of. And while I may have been barely with the borders of this area, I have walked in the infamous South Central Los Angeles, home of the L.A. Riots and a place where most decent people, and certainly no tourists, would think of going near either. Unless for a USC game, I suppose.

This fear, I guess, is a result of the anti-Youngstown attitude that is basically ingrained in any kid from the suburbs as a result of local news, what we see/hear about “ghetto/urban culture” or whatever you want to call it and apply that to at least the fifth power to the city and what they’re told by their parents. And I believe the latter has the most impact. I think Bill Cosby is far removed from the best comedian of all time (each is own), but his recent schtick of criticizing parents is gold. He may be referring to inner-city parents in particular, but it can apply to everyone. If you’ve ever read the vindy.com forums, you know about some of the amazingly long tirades some go on about suburbanites needing to turn their backs against Youngstown and not support anything associated with it. If you read the Defend Youngstown blog from last week, a Vindicator letter to the editor, a Boardman resident terms Youngstown “a failing city” and a place suburbs like Boardman, Austintown, Canfield, Struthers and Campbell should isolate themselves from. These people will repeat what they type to their kids, and they’ll develop the same attitudes and it becomes a generational thing that the suburbanites just spit on Youngstown.

My family never practiced this, but I have friends who are genuinely believe Youngstown is a horrible place. A few weeks ago, I even text messaged a friend, saying I’m on my way to Youngstown to get something to eat, and the response was :

“Dude u might get shot”

At least some of this was in jest, but at least some of this was also out of many people’s perceptions of the city.

We all talk about changing people’s views on the city by just taking them down there for a meal or a beer or an event downtown, but that’s an individual basis. Maybe a more vigilent approach is needed. It could be on a regional scale, but Youngstown could learn from Cleveland and the efforts of then-mayor George Voinovich’s efforts to re-build the city’s image in the early 1980s. Voinovich, elected when the city’s finances claimed default, took a defensive stance on any anti-Cleveland comments, and the Plain Delaer worked aggressively to proclaim Cleveland as “The Plum” (as opposed to NYC’s  Big Apple). It may sound a bit ridiculous now, but the relentlessness to prove the city wasn’t all that bad paid off in the form of positive national media coverage.

Given, Youngstown would not have to advertise itself on a national scale, but a tenacity such as Cleveland’s on the local level may make suburbanites think twice about the center of our region. At present, the local news does a decent enough job reporting on positive stories on the area, but like anything else in life, it can always be done better.

As I said before, I don’t normally think so pessimistically as I did, but it’s probably something people who don’t normally go downtown worry about when they are there. The situation could change, but it takes the help of a lot of people. Beyond the city, trustees/mayors of the suburbs need to grasp the concept that neighboring communities are better when they work together, and not by a “fend for yourself” mentality. And the vocal minority may never be silenced, but other people outside the city- ones willing to have an open mind- deserve more positive coverage around the city, not just the crime scene reports, and maybe they can also be convinced Youngstown isn’t that bad of a city.

And yes, I am one of these suburbanites. I am not in the least uncomfortable in admitting this, and I even think it goes to show there is a vocal group of people outside the city who promote it and not denounce it.

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One response

4 07 2007
LouY

Great Article.

I too, am trying to change people’s perceptions of both the city and the area.

AfterGraduating from YSU and living On the South Side for years, I k recently moved to Boardman.

It’s been a real Eye-opener to see how my own reactions to Youngstown have changed in just two short years. I’ve always been a city booster, and think the city is the cultural and econonic heart of this region.

But more and more often, I find myself making excuses not to go into the city. And it’s a shame.

On a better note, however, we just got back from kayaking on Lake Newport, so there’s still hope.

Lou

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