Commentary: Picture This

By Edward P. Noga

Any day of the week, any time of day, any street or block, any weather (even snow), any season, I have noticed that folks are in and around downtown Youngstown and the campus of Youngstown State University (and probably in our other downtown communities) taking photographs.

Now there are the obvious pictures that local media might take for a story they are covering. Understandable, since they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Also, in recent years, I have noticed that couples sending out wedding or anniversary invitations might use a backdrop of where they got married, where they first met or where they grew up. Again, this creative approach seems to add a more personal touch to a printed/mailed invitation announcement.

With all of the above as a backdrop, I am speaking of picture takers who wander through the downtown and the YSU area at all hours taking pictures of the following:

• Young men or women in single or group shots dressed to the nines, maybe preparing for graduation or a new job opportunity.

• Groups of musicians gathered around a street pole or on the steps of one of the government buildings, possibly to promote an upcoming CD or video release.

• Some young families with mom and dad and the kids standing on a street corner or near one of the colorful planters that dot the downtown.

• A Mahoning County worker, lawyer or judge who stands near his place of employment to possibly do a photo-op for an election bid.

• Some young actors in poses near steam vents on a cool morning to further enhance their acting careers and potential.

• A few fellas in hardhats (and suits) taking a picture by a construction site to maybe be used in a future company ad in the print media.

• Some ballet students prancing in a parking lot to send the photo to grandma or include in a life-history scrapbook.

• Football and soccer players in their uniforms posing near a piece of construction equipment to promote or display the strength of their team effort.

• Small clusters of camera (still and video) laden folks walking around, kneeling on the sidewalk, sometimes lying on the sidewalk, to get an angle of one of the new or historic buildings.

• The photo portfolios we might see on local weather newscasts showing off the seasonal foliage.

• The pictures taken from drones that add a 3D touch.

It’s nice to see the renewed interest in these areas that have suffered so over the years.

The Rust Belt experience in many of our nation’s communities not only saw a people-drain but much investment-drain. Downtown sidewalks that once teemed with people of all ages were drained by the industrial and community decline that ravaged many cities and towns.

Let’s be candid. There were times when some people would not drive through some communities, let alone stop to visit or do business. This reality has hampered communal and social life and has contributed to all forms of stereotypes.

Back in the 1980s, when our Valley was reeling from the steel industry retrenchment, a Youngstown State University professor and urban strategist, Terry F. Buss, drew crowds to various community symposiums and discussion sessions concerning “Where do we go from here?” I remember being at one evening session where he led the participants in a discussion of what makes our community personality different. What is uniquely ours?

The obvious answers came first: Mill Creek Park, our symphonies and music venues, having all three major TV network channels, art museums and the university. Following the obvious answers, the gathering started to talk about work ethic, diversity of cultures, easy mobility and cost of living. I can remember hearing all these positive comments as we all still worried about “what next?”

There was no doubt that part of the discussion, over-and-above steel mill closings, included organized crime, continued segregation, local politics that too often benefited the officeholders rather than the residents and other quality of life issues. Buss kept lifting up the notion that the positives that made us unique would form the future if we worked at it.

As I see the smiles and poses in the various pictures and videos being taken these days, I know and we 
know that photos and videos will not change the future. But may I suggest that the interest and creativity behind these shots just may be a reality that tells us we want to be more than we are.

Maybe the interest in capturing who we are and where we live tells us a bit about the yearning we have to work together for a better quality of life in the Mahoning Valley.

I heard a local mayor once say that our Valley can be likened to a house. In most instances, the homeowner wants all the rooms of his house to be in good shape so that the structure will be a true home.

If we liken all our communities to the “rooms in our Valley house” and if we take care of them all, we all benefit and we all will have a better house. No, a better home in which to live and grow and work. Can you picture that?