Commentary: Leave the Light On

By Edward P. Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Before the days of MapQuest technology (and even with all the technology we have), did you ever get directions to someone’s home and have him say, “I’ll leave the light on for you”? 

Similarly, these days for many reasons, community leaders advise that we leave our home’s lights ON if we want youngsters coming up to our door for Halloween trick-or-treat.

Then there’s the entertainment spotlight that shines on just about every stage from the local amateur venues to the grand theaters. The spotlight draws us in and grabs our attention.

This brings me to the hour-long meeting Sept. 12 in downtown Youngstown with city leaders, downtown landlords and business owners. It was a jam-packed 60 minutes of dialogue about downtown issues. Although I am not a landlord (my landlord was present) nor a business owner, I attended as a downtown resident and interested citizen.

Obviously, there was some complicated legal analysis of things that municipalities can and cannot do. I appreciate that. But I was most interested in the many comments stakeholders made of wanting more communication with city leaders.

In addition, these folks who have invested their time, energy and finances in the center of our city made comments and suggestions that were doable and seemed to be appreciated, judging by the head-nodding that went on in the room.

Now we come to the title of this column. I chose “Leave the Light On” because it represents what can be done, things in place that can be used to be more welcoming to those who visit downtown. I should add that my comments are not just for Youngstown, but for many (if not all) the communities in the Valley.

Issues of security and safety surfaced right away as we all want that sense of feeling safe when we go anywhere. Safety for ourselves and our loved ones is a primary focus. Sounds simple, right? If we feel safe then we will probably return. If we don’t, even if it’s a one-time experience, we hesitate when we think about returning.

Thankfully at the meeting, the safety issues seemed to get quite a bit of traction. Many stakeholders expressed gratitude and said they always know when a police presence is in the mix of downtown evening gatherings.

Then there were the comments about the obvious things that sometimes we forget about. For instance, nighttime lighting was mentioned.

Here, I have to pause and admit that with all of the improvements and construction going on in the downtown and Youngstown State University area, street and traffic lighting has been understandably absent for periods of time as upgrades and new technology are improved and installed.

As we get closer to finishing some of these projects, the improvements will definitely light up our way. As I listened to this dialogue, my mind drifted back to pre-COVID evening holiday parades and First Night Youngstown gatherings when businesses, government and other agencies were encouraged to leave their first-floor interiors lit-up.

Walking the streets on those evenings had a much better feel. Yes, there is a cost involved. And yes, there is cost savings with the new lighting technology.

But think of it. If each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening the structures on our downtown streets were highlighted, a more welcoming experience would benefit us all.

We have been blessed with center cities, small and large, that regenerate and rejuvenate themselves in our Valley. In many instances, the centers of our towns and cities have become true gathering points for information, relaxation and entertainment.

To those who leave their lights on (including their parking lot lights), thank you!

To those who provide us with the safety for our visits, thank you!

To those who appreciate what community life and quality of life really mean, thank you!

To those who are planning for our future, thank you!

We will help you to keep the light on by our visits, our patronage and our support.