There's no denying that our region of the country including Norwalk is facing economic challenges stemming from the downturn in the American automotive industry and offshoring of manufacturing jobs in general.
This presents a particularly tough problem for economic development specialists and municipal officials who from the beginning of time have been primarily concerned with growing their economy and their cities.
A city or an economy that is not growing is dying, or so the thinking has gone. Growth has long been associated with more people, more tax revenue, better schools, improved services and infrastructure, etc.
For many, if not most, Rust Belt communities, growth, at least for the foreseeable future, is not a realistic expectation. The faster we face up to that fact the better.
In Youngstown, officials have come to terms with reality and rather than focusing efforts on filling abandoned factories and storefronts, they are smartly putting their efforts into managing change.
No community has suffered more from the decline in America's manufacturing sector than Youngstown. Thursday's Wall Street Journal featured a fascinating front-page story on how city is attempting to deal with a contraction that has seen its population drop from a high of more than 160,000 in the 1950s when steel was booming, to about 80,000 today. Instead of struggling to clean up abandoned, decrepit neighborhoods and buildings, the city is demolishing them. In their place are large expanses of green space, community gardens and other clean, green amenities that Youngstown residents have never seen before. In addition, some property that has been abandoned is being cleaned up and sold at very low costs to neighboring homeowners who are using the extra space to expand and improve their homes. These people wouldn't have considered investing in their homes when they were located next to blighted neighborhoods.
It remains to be seen whether Youngstown's efforts will be successful, but we sure like the pragmatism and the outside-the-box thinking. Other communities should take note because the playing field for much of Ohio and the entire Rust Belt has changed. Bigger is not only not necessarily better, it's likely not even a remote possibility. But that doesn't mean our cities and the quality of life therein can't be improved. It just takes vision and the courage the see it through.