YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown CityScape will move forward with its annual downtown planting, but with a twist.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic this year, plantings in downtown and adjacent neighborhoods will be performed by the company that normally does the prep work in advance of the event, says CityScape’s executive director, Sharon Letson.
Instead of asking volunteers to amass in downtown for the planting and cleanup event, CityScape is inviting individuals to take selfies that day as they work in their neighborhoods or yards for posting online as part of “Virtual Streetscape 2020.”
They are invited to post their photos May 30 on the Youngstown Cityscape Facebook page or send them to The Business Journal to document their efforts that day.
A crew of about 10 landscapers beginning in mid-May will do the plantings over two to three weeks, Letson said.
When Letson canceled the March 25 kickoff event for this year’s Streetscape, she retained hope that the event could continue in some semblance of its traditional format.
As the weeks passed, it became apparent that, with social distancing restrictions, there couldn’t be people gathered under a tent downtown sharing a meal, and disseminating people to the planting locations would be a challenge, she concluded.
“As time went on, that wasn’t realistic,” she said. “We could not risk anybody’s health or welfare by even trying to do that. The daunting task of manipulating people and keeping people apart was more than we thought we could manipulate.”
Canceling Streetscape was “a pretty easy decision given the circumstances,” it was nonetheless a “gut-wrenching one,” as it has been for those having to cancel school, festivals or meetings, says Scott Schulick, vice president of investments for Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and president of the Streetscape board.
“In all those 20-plus years, other than one rain delay, this would be the first time we’ve ever had to cancel,” he said.
Also apparent early on was the impact that the outbreak has had on the local restaurants that traditionally donated food for breakfast or lunch. Many of those establishments have closed, and the ones still operating can only provide takeout service.
“Our first thought was we could buy food from them but realized that wasn’t going to work,” she said. Instead, the planting represents “what we can do for our restaurants, for our small businesses” when they are able to resume full operations, “so that we have this beautiful environment that people will want to be around,” Letson said.
“It’s important for people who come downtown to see something nice,” Schulick said. “People are accustomed to nice flowers and nice landscaping and we want to be able to use that to give people some hope in all of this turmoil.”
Downtown restaurant operators agreed.
Creating an aesthetically pleasing environment is an integral part of attracting people to downtown, affirmed Mark Canzonetta, owner of Bistro 1907. “They see life. They see positive. They see growth,” he remarked.
“It definitely helps when downtown looks better,” affirmed Christian Rinehart, operator of Irish Pub & Grill, Suzie’s, Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts and Rhine Haus Bier Hall.
The theme of this year’s planting event was to be “Blooming Arts,” tying into the centennial celebration for the Butler Institute of American Art. Representations of various masterpieces form the museum’s collection will be represented.
“It probably won’t be as big as we had hoped in terms of the pieces,” she said. “We’ll start it this year and add to it.”
Letson said she and Schulick pitched the idea to the museum’s executive director, Dr. Lou Zona, who liked it for the same reason she did: It opened the Butler’s doors to people who ordinarily wouldn’t go there.
“We have so many treasurers in our community and the Butler is one of those treasures,” she said.
The kickoff event normally serves as the launch of the fundraising effort to pay for the supplies for Streetscape. Last year, CityScape raised upwards of $50,000, Letson said. A final estimate for this year’s costs isn’t complete so she was unable to project how much CityScape will need to raise this year.
Fundraising is at about half the level it normally is, Letson said.
Commemorative T-shirts reflecting the “Blooming Arts” theme are being sold for $25 or more “to help us cut the cost of the labor that we will have done,” she said.
Even as they prepare for this year’s event, Streetscape’s organizers are looking forward to next year. “We hope this is just an anomaly this year but we do want to try to have as much of an event as we can,” Schulick said.
For more information on participating in Virtual Streetscape 2020 or to make a donation, visit this website.
Image at top: YoungstownLive.com