I have nothing against old people. I am one after all. But a city in which young people can’t see a future for themselves is a dying city. The Tribune published an Op-Ed piece written by me this morning on that topic and why creating a Garden District is important to Warren’s future. It didn’t make the online edition so I have posted it below.
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PLANT FOR THE FUTURE
Matt Martin, Director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and I recently spent a day at Warren Harding meeting with six senior English classes. We solicited their ideas for repurposing Warren’s 1000+ vacant lots and presented our own ideas to them.
We began each meeting by asking, “Once you have completed your education, how many of you intend to live and work here in Warren?” We posed this question to roughly 120 kids that day, and although our expectations were low, we were stunned when a grand total of ZERO hands were raised during the course of the day.
Not one of those 120 teenagers intends to live in their hometown. This should be horrifying to the rest of us. Yes, I know that most teenagers can scarcely imagine what their lives will be like next month let alone 5-10 years from now. And it is probably a safe bet that regardless of what they think today, many of them will be here 10 years from now, whether intentionally or for lack of options.
Anyone with either a financial or an emotional investment in this community should find this frightening for reasons of pure mathematics. Warren has lost a third of its population over the past few decades leaving behind 2000 vacant and unneeded houses. As generations of young people have sought a brighter future elsewhere the remaining population has become older, poorer and less well educated.
Aging home-owners, minus fleeing young people, equals falling real estate values, more rental properties, more vacant homes and increased blight. This spiral has been in place for 40 years. Many people seem to think that we have reached bottom and are coming back up, but where is the evidence of this? The past year saw RG Steel shut down their furnace and GE/Ohio Lamp announced they will turn off the lights in 2014.
Our kids see no future in Warren for themselves. It was depressing to hear but it made us even more confident that Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and gregg’s gardens efforts to create a Garden District in Warren’s center city, in combination with TNP’s broader land reutilization strategy, which includes side lot expansion and urban agriculture, is vital to turning this situation around.
This city – especially its young people – needs visible symbols that Warren has a brighter future. By transforming what is now a dangerous and blighted neighborhood into a beautiful and colorful area, walkable to downtown and adjacent to the very school they attend, we will give some of them a reason to stay and help create the future.
The Garden District idea takes advantage of the City’s plan to demolish the worst vacant houses — up to 300 houses city wide, with 50 or more likely to be removed from the 22 square block area in the heart of the city.
Once the “D & F” rated houses are gone the remaining 600 houses in the neighborhood will be mostly occupied and two-thirds will be “A” or ”B” rated. The other 200 houses will mostly be rated “C” meaning they are in a livable condition but are in need of immediate work to keep them from further deterioration.
They will be very affordable; many can be purchased today for $5000 or less from private owners or the Trumbull County Land Bank. And they will be surrounded by more than 100 beautiful gardens.
The next phase of the Garden District development will be to work with the Land Bank to market these houses to people who want to be long-term members of a new and vibrant community. These will be people willing to invest a little bit of money and some sweat equity because they see opportunity and a future they can help shape.
A vibrant Garden District will promote downtown growth and will complement the efforts of the Historic Perkins Neighborhood to preserve the best of Warren. It might someday even promote redevelopment of the old north end industrial area into the kind of mixed use neighborhood that is so popular in many cities.
None of the Harding kids raised their hands the day we visited, but a third of them signed up as volunteers. These are kids we want to keep in our community, but it will take two or three years to create the Garden District. In the meantime we may lose another few hundred of them to other towns — although we might keep some if we provided a few outdoor basketball courts in Warren. That was their number one complaint.
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