Warren: Old and getting older

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hey_you_kidsI 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.

 

Posted Thursday, May 16th, 2013 under Recommended reading, Vision, Wildflower gardens.

6 comments

  1. Jim shively says:

    Dennis…you are right on…good luck….time for buckeye or univ@larchmont

  2. Hi Dennis –

    There is a statue of Jim Rhodes in front of the Rhodes Tower near Broad and High Streets in Columbus with a quote from him (which I paraphrase from memory.)

    “The vast majority of the ills of society stem from the inability of a man to find a job that will allow him to support his family and his children.”

    Adjust that quote to allow for gender neutrality, and substitute “Warren” for “society.” Then you will have hit on what causes the young people of your town to think of their future in other places.

    Warren needs jobs. It will have those when it is attractive as a place to where enterprisers believe they can come and operate businesses at a profit.

    I honor and respect your work on the gardens and otherwise. The city needs to be attractive in all ways, including the presence of attractive flower gardens and the absence of bawdy houses, but the future’s big enchilada is described in the phrase “operate businesses at a profit.”

  3. Amy Bufano says:

    Sup got it right.

  4. It is certainly “Great News”, to have money to improve the physical infrastructure of a large section of the City. Community Gardens work being done in Warren, Ohio by the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership is a fine project.

    But is this wise? It is not additional physical resources that we need to prepare the younger generation for a better future or to encourage them to want to commit to their community.

    How much resources and money will TNP spend to improve the social infrastructure of the community?

    What is the community and TNP doing about lack of trust, social isolation, lack of respect for others, and high crime rates?

  5. No single organization can take on every problem in the world. TNP’s mission is specific and important. All they can do is the best they can do versus their goals.

  6. There’s a conversation within any group, organization, and community which determines it’s culture. By simply changing that conversation, we learn that there is more to do. For example, will TNP produce a monthly cultural audit. The first organizational self assessment would establish a baseline and following monthly assessments would track the audit’s indicators over time.

    If TNP wishes to measure it’s partnering with clients, community members and neighborhoods, then it can. Feel free to print and use this tool with all your TNP staff and neighborhood groups; http://timebankswork.net/tiki/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=9

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