Commentary: Square One

By Edward P. Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In football, sometimes teams have to punt. In baseball, managers have to call in a relief pitcher. In basketball and other sports, teams call for a timeout. In the world of sports, coaches have an array of ways to adjust their game plans.

In our daily lives, we often have to make a change in our schedules because of unforeseen circumstances. And there are times when we have to seek help to make a needed adjustment that will help us down the road.

Driving around the Mahoning Valley, one sees communities of all sizes that have personalities and traits based on their geography, history and population.

The Courthouse Square in Warren and The Green in Canfield are two of many examples of a community core surrounded by neighborhoods. Areas of green space in the centers of Warren and Canfield provide great opportunities for people to gather and to promote business, recreation and entertainment.

For almost five years, I have lived in downtown Youngstown after living on its South Side for almost 35 years and living on its West Side for three years in the mid-’70s.

I have grown to appreciate the character of the city and the fact that, as the county seat, Youngstown’s many governmental, educational, religious, entertainment and financial services bring many people to our city center.

For the past few years, aggressively planned construction has brought our electrical grids and other power, informational and service infrastructure up to date. Anyone who has visited downtown during this unprecedented period has come to realize that the actual paving and curbing of the streets is a rather small part of the upgrade.

The makeover of Federal Street is nearly complete. Time to reassess what works.

Much, if not most, of the work has been done below the pavement. For those businesses, apartments and government buildings on the streets involved, the construction timetable has been frustrating at times.

As work progressed, it often seemed that there was a lack of gathering and sharing information. Yes, the pandemic changed much of how we lived (and live).

That this major upgrade and improvement of a significant part of our city seemed to just happen without reaching out for advice or sharing information indicates some short-sightedness on the part of planners.

I know there were public meetings before the work began. But with the massive scope of the project, one would think that periods of pause would help the project along and enable downtown stakeholders to ask questions as a way of being more engaged in the work rather than just enduring the project.

Often, public meetings are a way of announcing a project and alerting the public to its importance. It is a necessary first step – but one of many steps in the right direction.

We are now in a position where much of the work has been finished or almost finished. As a downtown resident, I have noticed some rather puzzling items.   

For instance, regarding cars parked along the streets, many sections do not seem to provide enough space for someone to enter or exit his vehicle without stepping into traffic. I have also noticed that much of the brand-new curbing is blackened. That might indicate that the lanes are not wide enough.

I am not aware of the company that designed the new streetscape, but I’ve heard from several stakeholders that an out-of-town company designed what we are now living with. There is nothing wrong with bringing in expertise from outside our region, but I do wonder how much they knew about our community or took the time to listen to who we are and what we do downtown.

Some have observed and commented that traffic backs up anytime someone tries to park in the constricted lanes. And although I have not seen it yet, safety service vehicles (which are larger) will certainly be challenged to navigate the entire area in emergencies – especially if people are in the process of parking or exiting a spot.

Recently, we were told that the upgrade of Central Square will be next. Again, I would hope that this period of pause will be used to elicit additional information that might help us learn from what’s already been done. I am more than curious as to how much dialogue is taking place. Are we just going to move ahead without checking on how the new street plans are working?

For sure, the center of town, our Central Square, needs revamped, restored and upgraded. The buildings on the perimeter of the square and the monument in the middle are wonderful examples of historical recognition. We have the opportunity to ensure that the square becomes the focal point that it needs to be. And if we have to modify some of the original plans, then we have the time to do that. In a sense, it’s like going back to SQUARE ONE.

With the continued work in our downtown core and the continued development by our neighbors at YSU, we have a tremendous opportunity to welcome people not only to a place of destination but also to a place to live. The university and downtown are effectively one geographical area. The planning and energy and funding to make the area “work” is a constant process of information, evaluation and investigation.

Call it a punt or timeout. Let’s not be afraid of going back to Square One.