Professur für Internationale Planungssysteme

Youngstown, Ohio

Shrinkage profile of Youngstown

One of the case studies investigated for this research project is the city of Youngstown. It is located within Mahoning County in the northwest of Ohio, USA. The city was founded in the early 19th century and was an important site for steel production in the US during the first half of the 20th century (Aley 1950, p. 43). Youngstown covers an area of approx. 89 km2, which is comparable to Flint, Michigan, the second US case study looked at in this project. Youngstown had a population of 66.900 people in 2010. This is less than it had a hundred years ago when the industrialization brought jobs and people to the city (US Census Bureau 2012).
One can see from the Table and the chart below that the population in Youngstown grew in a very steep curve between 1900 and 1930 with a very stable population for the next 35 years and a beginning decline in the late 1960’s.

Population Development


The reasons for this “sudden” loss of population can mainly be traced to the strong dependency on steel production as the main branch of employment.

In the 19th century the region was already engaged in coal mining and iron production and between 1900 and 1930 several steel manufacturers put up plants in the city or the region. This coincides with the growth of population from around 30.000 to 170.000 inhabitants. The following 40 years the steel mills were the major business in the city and the region with only few other industrial branches like car manufacturing. In the 1970’s, when structural change forced several steel mills to cut back employment, the city had no diversified economic structure and was very dependent on the existing steel industry. By the end of the 70’s (19th September 1977 is known as “Black Monday”) until the mid 80’s several of the major companies went bankrupt or shut down their Youngstown plants (Linkon and Russo 2002, 131).

In the United States it is not uncommon for a city to lose population because of suburbanization and urban sprawl also in the case of Youngstown. But this accounted only for the comparably small losses during the 50’s and the 60’s (Röschlau 2012, p. 21). Since the 1970’s not only the “core” city of Youngstown lost inhabitants but also the surrounding county, as shown in the chart below. The degree of population loss in Mahoning County was not as dramatic as in Youngstown but still the county lost around 65.000 inhabitants over the last 40 years.

After the steel mills had closed and 50.000 people lost their job in the 5 years after “Black Monday” (Linkon and Russo 2002, 131) the population started to move away from the city, causing several problems, of which vacancies in the building stock and abandoned sites in residential and commercial areas might be the most visible ones. In 2009 around 4.500 buildings and 22.000 sites were abandoned leading to the highest rate of vacancies in the US (Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative 2011, p. 13). Due to the high vacancy rates the costs for maintaining the infrastructure and public services like roads, sewage systems and waste disposal increase. This leads to somewhat radical solutions. Abandoned buildings are bulldozed and unnecessary roads are torn up. Also people in sparsely populated areas are offered to move, so whole neighborhoods can be demolished (Christie 2008). Another problem, which is not only based on shrinkage but occurs in a more distinct way in a shrinking environment, is the ethical and social segregation of remaining neighborhoods. Additionally the crime rate in Youngstown is far above national and state average with (Shoaf and Phillips 2009). Although the rates are declining, crime remains one of the major problems in Youngstown caused by a lack of opportunities and perspectives for a whole generation of people. Due to low job opportunities, in particular younger people left the city causing the average age of the remaining population to increase leading to further problems like decreased mobility and higher demand for health services. Following the loss of inhabitants the retail business is declining as well because of low absolute numbers of inhabitants, low densities of the remaining settlement structures and low average income (Christie 2007).

Actions to deal with shrinkage

After the loss of so many jobs within a five years period, several projects were initiated to re-gain more jobs for the local population. There were some plans to restore the economy by big projects/investments like a riverboat casino, a NASCAR race track or a car factory, which would have brought back jobs in great number. Also a branch of the Pentagon (US Ministry of Defense) was promised to the city. These plans were not implemented or failed their expectations e.g. the case of the car factory. Also it is not clear if these enterprises would have offered jobs for the local community (low skilled) or rather attracted new people to the city, increasing social segregation. However, there are some positive developments in the city and the county. There are a number of suppliers for the automotive industry and the Brownfield reclamation program has shown some success, although the redeveloped sites are only to some part contaminated. For the more contaminated sites, finding a new investor proves to be much more difficult (Linkon and Russo 2002, pp 232-234). But despite these positive aspects, the “revitalization” of Youngstowns economy could not make up for the loss of 50.000 well-paid jobs in the steel industry.

During the 90’s (1992 to 1997) the County took profit from the increasing crime in the area and gave permission to build up 4 prisons in the area (Linkon and Russo 2002, 234), three of which are still in use. This was important for the local economy and public finances but the image worsened during this development process and some members of the community were against this development (Linkon and Russo 2002, 235).

By the end of the 1990’s, Youngstown University was planning to expand close to downtown and the city developed a new master plan to replace the one drawn up in 1951 and updated last in 1974 (Sweet 2004). “Youngstown 2010” was developed as a process of collaborative planning and strong participation of the local community. The main feature was the agreement that Youngstown would not regain its former population of 150.000 but instead would remain a smaller city in the future. The aim was to improve the quality of life for the remaining population (City of Youngstown 2011).

Youngstown's downtown has recently improved, partly because the university campus relocated to an adjacent site, partly because of the new business incubator located in the center. Several startup companies are located here and Youngstown was awarded one of the “best 10 cities to start a new business” by the 2009 issue of “Entrepreneur Magazine” (Zeller 2012).

Additionally, the French company Vallourec & Mannesmann started investing in a new plant for the production of tubes to support natural gas exploration in a nearby gas field. However, since the gas exploitation would use the method of “Hydraulic Fracturing” or Fracking, the benefit of these new jobs could cause new sorts of problems (Russo 2012).


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