Campbell: What do you think were the biggest successes and failures of the 2010 plan?
Beniston: I think the main success was that it spurred people into action. Whether that resulted in the plan being implemented verbatim or not is another question, but there is a connection with the plan and organizations like ours existing. As far as what it was not able to accomplish: It was not a detailed neighborhood plan, but nobody said it was. I think it was generally a good comprehensive plan, which did kind of awaken the community to what more needed to be done in neighborhoods and then the city did take action after that, updating the redevelopment and zoning codes, which hadn't been done in many decades.
Campbell: So are you actually trying to get people to move to these neighborhoods?
Beniston: Yes, definitely in the transitional neighborhoods, where we're bringing homes back to the market and cleaning things up as best we can. We're definitely fixing homes that are occupied, but certainly the vacant ones we are marketing to people to move into the neighborhood.
Campbell: From outside the city or within the city?
Beniston: From all over. Some people are from the suburbs of Youngstown, some people are from other places, some people are from within Youngstown.
Campbell: So it sounds like embracing the shrinking isn't really the plan anymore. You need people to move to the city to fill these neighborhoods, right?
Beniston: I think perhaps it’s more complex than you think. Where we focus organizationally on transitional neighborhoods in an effort to stabilize those places, we need to stem the population loss. There is still likely to be population loss, particularly in the weak and extremely weak parts of the city. We’re not going to be building new housing or fixing homes en masse if they are extremely distressed. That's part of embracing the shrinkage. It's the same thing with the northeast quadrant of the city, where the city has recently moved to shut down four miles of roadway. That's because there are no occupied homes left. So that section of the city is much, much different from these neighborhoods that I'm talking about. I mean, the fact that we have been losing population is the underpinning of everything that we do. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be closing those streets.
Campbell: Do you think that other Midwestern towns can learn anything from Youngstown?
Beniston: I definitely think they can learn from what we are doing here, especially smaller to medium-sized, shrinking cities throughout the Midwest. It’s important to understand that there is a resource gap between these big cities like Detroit and Cleveland, which get a lot of attention and resources pouring in. I mean Detroit has had resources come in from all over the country. But then you see cities like Gary, like Flint, like Youngstown, like Mansfield, Ohio, that have somewhere between 25,000 and 150,000 people. There is not a flow of national resources. So at that level of population, I think there is a lot that these cities can learn about how we've assembled partnerships and capacity to stabilize neighborhoods, partnering with city government, community banks, corporations.
Campbell: Why do you live in Youngstown?
Beniston: This is my home. I think most people from here, given the economic choice, perhaps would still be here if they could. I love it here. There is nowhere else I want to be.