Progress is measured by the bulldozer’s pace in Youngstown. The hobbled Ohio steel giant has lost more than 100,000 residents since the 1950s and has been racing to tear down the now dilapidated homes jobless workers left behind.
The city has demolished at least 2,566 structures since January 2006 and is constantly seeking new funds—from the stimulus, from the multi-billion dollar state attorneys general settlement with misbehaving mortgage servicers, and now, perhaps, from leasing the city's land for natural gas drilling, or fracking—to knock down more. Many homes, however, fall to arson first. It is a way to cash in on insurance, or for scrappers to steal copper wiring and plumbing. Or, sometimes, it’s just the pyromaniac ennui born of unemployment and nihilism.
“We have guys,” says local activist Phil Kidd, my guide through the city’s pockmarked streets, “who are caught and say, ‘I like watching houses burn; I like the lawlessness of it. I wanted to see how long I could get away with it.”
Firefighters have even suggested that neighbors might set some ablaze, eager to see a long-decaying vacant structure prioritized for demolition. Arsonists torched 158 houses in 2005 alone.
Transforming this decaying tableau was at the heart of an ambitious plan called Youngstown 2010, implemented in 2005, set to retrofit a city built for more than 200,000 for the much smaller city of today. In a sober inversion of traditional civic boosterism, city leaders and community organizers set their sights on small.
Kidd imagines a more ecologically in-tune metropolis, a "rurban" post-industrial city interspersing large-scale urban farms and forest amid neighborhoods targeted for density. Knocking down the blight must come first.
“Some people don’t like this idea," says Kidd, whom I first met during a visit in July 2009, the expletives that cheerfully peppered his energetic speech here omitted. "They think we are increasing the problem, that urban farming and things prevent the city in the long run from being redeveloped with some kind of density. But the rurban people, that camp, they say: what’s the alternative? You knock on the old lady’s door and say, ‘the drug house next door can’t be knocked down because it might be primed for development in 30 years.’ And she’s like, ‘what are you talking about? You’ve got to take that house down.' If there was a market, the private market would have come in to spur development already.”
Accepting small is hard. In a country where urban renewal earned the epithet "Negro removal" in the years after World War II, the concept is fraught with pitfalls. Right-sizing means targeting select neighborhoods for development and discontinuing service delivery to others, treating them like the semi-rural locations they’ve become. The families who live in between the abandoned homes, taken over by drug users or repurposed to hide bodies, do not always take kindly to hearing that their neighborhood is being written out of the city plan.
In Detroit, a plan to shrink has sparked an angry rebuke from residents who accuse the city of abandoning its poorest—and it's hard to blame them. A May 2012 investigation by the Detroit Free Press found that the Detroit Works program, rolled out with little public input, is set to rollback city aid from distressed areas, including an impending cut-off of funds to assist low-income people with home repairs. There is no money to help residents—people who have sunk years of memories and thousands of dollars into what is sometimes the last sign of life in neighborhoods taken over by prairie grass, wild pheasants, and plunging-half-burned structures—move somewhere else.
“I really felt that my ward was totally left out in any real redevelopment," says Youngstown City Councilmember Janet Tarpley, who represents some of the city's poorest and most depopulated neighborhoods. "The only thing they want to do is give us green space...There's a push to redevelop downtown and I'm all for that. But there should also be a plan to redevelop businesses in the neighborhoods.”
Everyone agrees, however, that something needs to be done. And “certainly,” says Kidd, “the demolition aspect is not controversial.” Yet cities abandoned by the state and federal governments, and by ever-flighty capital, have little with which to do it. As the 2010 plan puts it, Youngstown is like “a size 40 man wearing a size 60 suit.” Phil Kidd hopes that Youngstown, a city that has produced boxing greats like Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Kelly Pavlik, can punch of above its weight.
• • • • •
“That’s Youngstown. We had to wander through the desert for 30 years before we got it,” Kidd says, as he guides a group of young volunteers through Wick Park, a neighborhood of stately mansions in decline, long-since abandoned by an industrial elite. “Youngstown issues are Flint issues, Buffalo issues. It’s all the same. It’s all about resources, and for that we need collaboration.”
Youngstown issues are, in fact, American issues. Decades of government-backed corporate suburbanization, Sun Belt relocation, financialized capitalism, and foreign outsourcing have created a sharply uneven geographic order: people who live in cities like Washington, D.C., San Francisco and New York, gentrified by money from privatized military contractors, high-tech, and Wall Street, live in urban realities completely alien to what prevails in Youngstown, Camden, Buffalo, Gary and Detroit. There are internal divides too, with much of The Bronx and Chicago's South Side more than missing out on their cities' acclaimed renaissances. Meanwhile, cities like Las Vegas, where growth was fueled by real-estate speculation, have faced a nasty hangover.
Youngstown envisioned a city of between 200,000 and 250,000 people, with 1,700 acres zoned for heavy industry when its previous comprehensive plan was drawn up in 1951. Most industry, of course, is now gone, and many neighborhoods have more homes vacant, imploded porches and boarded-up windows, than inhabited. Tall grass dominates much of the city’s landscape and the murder rate rivals the population decline in its severity.
The 2010 plan was articulated from these neighborhoods up: the city and Youngstown State University organized dozens of community meetings, forums and focus groups.
Youngstown 2010 is a plan to make Youngstown a great city of 80,000 instead of desperately trying to claw its way back to 170,000. But the plan quickly began slipping through the city's fingers, and the population had already dipped to 66,982 by 2010.
Of course, 2010 was three years ago. The plan was named for the year of the big decennial census and, city leaders insist, in no way suggests a deadline to complete any particular goal. Youngstown does not have the fiscal luxury of making hard-and-fast commitments, particularly after the recession and housing bust drove more home foreclosures and hobbled an already hollowed-out job market. Youngstown, like cities nation-wide, is scrambling just to protect the basic services they already provide. The neighborhood planner retired in 2009 and a new one has yet to be hired.
“This job is like being the only nurse on a floor full of sick patients,” former demolition chief Mike Damiano told the daily Youngstown Vindicator, describing his long to-do list and the plaintive messages from neighbors cramming his voicemail. “You really have to fix the emergencies first.”
One recent estimate puts the number of vacant structures citywide at more than 5,000. More go empty every day.
“It’s a moving target,” Community Development and Planning Director Bill D’Avignon told me in 2009. “According to Census estimates, we’re losing 1,000 people per year. That equates to an additional 400 housing units. If we can’t keep pace and turn the trend around, we’re going to have a hard time keeping up with continued population decline.”
Meanwhile, Youngstown is not getting any richer: 16.3 percent unemployment, a median household income of $25,175, with 15,960 households making under $25,000 a year, according to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey. That includes 35.7-percent of residents below the poverty line, up from an estimated 30.5-percent in 2006.
“If a neighbor refuses to keep the grass cut - Call the Police!” the city website's Frequently Asked Questions announces. Failure to cut the grass is now a misdemeanor 3, equivalent to prostitution, and could lead to jail time.
• • • • •
Phil Kidd stood below the veteran’s monument in Youngstown’s Central Square most every Friday and Saturday night during the summer of 2006. Kidd, whose civic spirit channels the fervor of a street preacher, held a sign to engage passing motorists: “Defend Youngstown.” People started to talk to him. Then came t-shirts, which he sold first on the corner, and later online—in the thousands and for just slightly above cost.
The solitary stand became Defend Youngstown, “a movement dedicated to the advancement of the city of Youngstown.” Its logo is a Soviet realist-style worker wielding a sledgehammer, expressing, perhaps, both an enthusiasm for demolition and a willingness to strike hard against external foes. For Kidd, it’s a marketing campaign to get the city to believe in itself.
“This guy says, ‘I built this place. Do something.'”
Kidd, however, is not from Youngstown. He arrived in 1998 to study criminal justice at Youngstown State University, leaving halfway through his senior year for North Georgia College & State University, a military college. He joined the Army after graduation.
In 2004, he returned with no job in sight and slept on a mattress in the bed of his truck. He eventually landed administrative work at the courthouse. In the afternoons and evenings, Kidd threw himself into volunteering for the insurgent and independent mayoral campaign of Jay Williams, who became the city's first black mayor after overseeing the development of the 2010 plan as the city's Community Development Agency director.
“The transition back into the civilian sector was so difficult for the first six months, I almost went back in,” he says. “I could not stand the inefficiency going on around me.”
Kidd was soon hired by the new Mahoning Valley Regional Organizing Collaborative to run their vacant properties campaign. Since then, community organizing has flourished: Kidd estimates that the number of neighborhood organizations has grown from 19 in 2008 to 50 today.
Kidd took to Youngstown with a transplant's zeal, making himself hard for cynical and sometimes puzzled locals to ignore. His muscular frame is likewise difficult to miss, especially when he takes regular jogs around a park carrying a log over his shoulders. An unlikely newbie who grew up outside of Pittsburgh has grown into a larger-than-life allegory for the city’s hoped-for transformation.
"I'll never stop doing what I'm doing,” he told the Vindicator for a 2007 profile. “I can't stop Defend Youngstown. I can't stop being Phil Kidd.”
• • • • •
“When I was a young girl you could just walk straight through town,” said Cybil West, a leader on the city's predominantly black East Side. We were sitting in her living room, where the former cement pourer at the now-closed GE lightbulb factory keeps a close watch on her well-tended block from her front window, in 2009. “We had theaters, we had so much. I don't think people even realize how much we had, especially the younger generation. The older generation remembers.”
Youngstown is at the center of the Mahoning River Valley, a region nestled between Pittsburgh and Cleveland that once produced nearly a fifth of this nation’s steel. Nine large mills lined nearly 25 miles of still-polluted river near the city. Water was used to cool hot steel, and then heavy metals and toxins were dumped back in.
The intersection of natural resources and running water lay the groundwork for explosive growth. In 1803, just six years after the town’s founding, deposits of iron ore were discovered. In 1844 the first blast furnace west of the Alleghenies arrived, and the hot-burning “Brier Hill black” coal was discovered. In 1895, a Bessemer furnace was installed, revolutionizing steel production. Eastern European and Italian immigrants arrived in droves to take backbreaking but plentiful jobs.
This hundred-year-plus development was upended overnight when the city woke up on September 19 1977, known as Black Monday, to discover that Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company would close the Campbell Mill. More than 5,000 jobs were lost immediately, and 50,000 followed soon thereafter. Sheet and Tube’s Brier Hill Works, home of the Jeannette (Jenny) blast furnace of which Bruce Springsteen sings, closed two years later. Mill closings at US Steel and Republic came next.
It was a multiplier effect in reverse, as manufacturers and businesses that supplied the mills folded in quick succession. The population began to drop and a spasm of property sales and purchasing began, an economic free-for-all that Kidd compares to the mayhem following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Youngstown workers fought back, like they had many times before: during the 1937 Little Steel Strike; coal miner strikes in 1865, 1869 and 1873; newspaper strikes in 1965 and again in 2004; and the legendary early 1970s shop-floor rebellions at the nearby GM factory in Lordstown.
Workers, however, were largely on their own. City leaders and, critically, the federal government, withheld support for an employee takeover of the Campbell mill proposed by the Ecumenical Coalition of the Mahoning Valley. Meanwhile, the free trade era witnessed manufacturing at major factories like Packard Electric and (parent company) GM fall into a parallel, and precipitous, decline.
“I don't know if you’ve had an opportunity to drive around yet,” D’Avignon tells me, “but from being the third-largest steel producing city in the United States, you'd never know it to drive through now. There's no evidence of it anywhere.”
The 90-foot tall Jenny furnace was demolished in January 1997, the tower and nine cylinders sent across the street to be recycled as steel pipe at North Star Steel, a smaller operation operating out of a corner of the once-mighty Brier Hill Works. The memories, unsurprisingly, are painful. Locals fiercely debated whether or not to open a steel museum. Even Bruce Springsteen’s song "Youngstown" divided the city.
“This is coming from a younger person’s perspective, so I can’t speak for an age that lived and worked and basically created a life in that era,” says Kidd. “I think it’s not helpful to have all of these relics of what once was. Especially as they decay ... My opinion has been to just get it down, clear the space, and let’s move forward. It’s not helpful to drive by everyday. At some point you need to just turn the picture to the wall and move forward.”
• • • • •
The Golden Dawn diner, where Kidd was holding a community meeting, is plastered with football posters and fitted with rows of leather booths. This is also where Ed O'Neill, known to alumni of 1990s television as Al Bundy, comes to eat breakfast when he returns to his hometown for a visit.
I sat at the wrap-around counter during counter my recent visit and the waitress, recently retired from the Navy, pointed our her 91-year old father, a former Sheet and Tube worker, and 93-year-old uncle, carrying boxes up a narrow stairway from the basement. Her grandfather opened the restaurant in 1934.
“For my generation, Youngstown was always something to get away from,” Keith Sekora told me in 2009 in a Golden Dawn booth. The young University of Chicago graduate grew up in a nearby suburb and came back. “You’d be driving down the highway. Your parents would see the skyline and get a wistful look, talking about everything Youngstown was and can never be again.”
The post-war divide between city and suburb was also a racial one, formalizing patterns of segregation that had long shaped the city--like it has in many others.
In the plant, black workers were relegated to unpleasant work in coke plants and blast furnaces. Many had first arrived at a mill owner's invitation to labor as scabs during strikes. After World War II, that segregation on the shop floor and in the city's housing came to be replicated on a metropolitan scale, and Youngstown leaders energetically supported the construction of I-680, a highway to developments under rapid construction in nearby suburbs like Boardman.
“No African American was going to get a loan in Boardman in the 1960s, 70s—or maybe even today,” says Kidd.
And so Youngstown’s population loss was, initially, mostly a matter of white suburbanization and resegregation. The black population grew only slightly from 1970 to 2000 (35,285 to 35,937), but their proportion of the population exploded during the white exodus, rising from 25 percent to 43.8 percent.
“We’re not losing population overall as a region,” says Kidd. “We’ve lost some. But mostly it’s due to sprawl, our metro policies that basically subsidize out migration to suburbs and exurbs.”
New commercial development lined the fresh asphalt, and Youngstown proper slumped. Today, “white flight” has proved a faulty escape plan: The Mahoning Valley that grew together now faces a shared death.
The mill’s whistle silenced, and Youngstown is much quieter now, save for the hum of the highway traffic ferrying passengers between I-76 and I-80. It's a junction that most drivers pass by happenstance.
• • • • •
Kidd leads campaigns against the city’s ubiquitous “corner stores,” businesses where he says alcohol accounts for over 90 percent of sales. Activists have been harassed and threatened with violence. One man in the Idora neighborhood had a dozen windows smashed out with bricks.
“He boarded the windows up, and used the windows as billboards for the campaigns,” says Kidd. “Is it basically just 40s and single cigarettes? Or is there some produce and fresh meat?”
Today, the mixed-income neighborhood is a laboratory for the new normal envisioned by Youngstown 2010. Neighbors worked with the city and organizers to develop and implement the first neighborhood transformation, replacing 120 abandoned lots with pocket parks, gardens and an urban farm.
“There’s one neighborhood under 2010 that’s happening exactly as the process was supposed to,” Kidd tells me. “We will move on to the next neighborhood and create a new plan, but that process is slowed down by the lack of capacity.”
Meaning money. Something that Youngstown once had plenty of.
Idora hugs the edge of Youngstown's proudest inheritance, the 4,445-acre Mill Creek Park. The sprawling complex of forests, lakes and rose gardens was designed by successors* to famed landscape architect* Frederick Law Olmsted as an escape from a dirty and body-breaking grind. In 1899, the Idora amusement park opened in Mill Creek at the terminus of a newly constructed electric trolley line, and soon offered rollercoasters, swimming pools and a dance hall to the Polish, Hungarian, Italian, Irish and Slovak societies that thronged the park for national picnic days. The Italians had two. Requiring no general admission, the park was the consummate public sphere—though blacks, to be sure, faced restricted entrance policies.
The park closed after a major fire in 1984, and the Idora Park Carousel ultimately landed in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, a shiny symbol of that city's revival.
Iron Roots Urban Farm, created by the Youngstown Neighborhood Revitalization Project, is seeded into one formerly abandoned plot. The greenhouse went up in 2011 and the manager, 51-year-old Curtis Moore, was hired last March. When I visited last May, a doe was giving birth against the house next door, which will serve as the farm's headquarters and host a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes. Iron Roots hires teenagers from around the city to build raised beds and work the soil.
“I lost my job the day before I got married in 1981,” says Moore. “I watched Youngstown fade. And in the last seven years, I've watched it coming back. It's a mindset.”
The old mindset was “either steel or autowork,” he says. “It was either Lordstown or the steel mills.”
Beets, arugula and carrots were up coming soon, and a solar-powered refrigerated shed will keep produce cool for storage. Moore is considering installing an aquaponics system, which uses fish tanks to heat the greenhouse year round.
Joseph “Ace” Paris, an older African-American man, stopped his bike to take a look and shouted out a greeting to Moore. I asked him what he thought of the neighborhood plan. “Tear the houses down!” he responded.
A few blocks away, a former salesman turned off his lawnmower to discuss the difficult progress.
“They're trying to save as much of the city as they can,” he said, pointing down his own block. There were eight abandoned homes within eyesight, and grass was already growing high on lots where structures had been demolished.
As planning inches forward, more neighborhoods slip. Cynicism returns.
One afternoon at Mill Creek, we ran into a policeman that Kidd knew, who was visiting with his fiancée. It was 2009, and the state Supreme Court had recently struck down residency requirements for cops and other city employees. Officer Mike Cox explained that seven police lived in his neighborhood, and that it could all fall apart if they left. We looked out from a high balcony onto a lake that stretched out deep into the forest. Up the hill is the rose garden, where a wedding was in progress.
“If I leave,” Cox ruminated, “the block will be just a couple more houses from turning.”
Turning, slipping, or tipping point. The dynamics of neighborhood stability are treated with the certainty of physics.
When I called Cox in 2010, he told me that he and his wife had moved to the neighboring town of Struthers. Cox grew up in Struthers, and so he doesn't feel so guilty. But he thinks the new rules were a bad idea, and predicts that an exodus of cops could devastate the city. Not that he blame officers for taking advantage, either.
“Other guys are moving out just strictly because they want to get as far away from the city as possible,” he said, the sadness leavened by gallow's humor. “We work in the city eight hours a day. We constantly see the negativity. For example, in January, we had an 80-year-old lady from St. Doms, the biggest Catholic church on the south side of town. Somebody tried to rob an 80-year-old of her purse and they shot her.”
Two elderly parishioners were shot a few months later, and the Rev. Gregory Maturi led a campaign to tear down 27 nearby vacant buildings. Maturi, like Cox and Kidd, do not have the money. It's all about triage.
• • • • •
“There’s the new Youngstown, which is tech, the university, the downtown,” says Kidd. “But that doesn’t touch the Youngstown of present, the people in the neighborhoods. We’re trying to bring these two things together so they touch each other. That’s where we’re just starting to go now.”
It's hard to distinguish criticism of the 2010 plan and complaints that, 2010 or no, Youngstown is in impossibly big trouble. It's whack-a-mole: there is too little money to meet various needs needs, and when the city focuses in on any one thing, everything else keeps falling apart. Crime continues to be a major problem, and the city is proposing the installation of security cameras on the street. Meanwhile, the schools continue their downward spiral.
In 2011, the Brookings Institution announced that Yougnstown had the highest rate of concentrated poverty of any city in the nation's 100 largest metros—49.7 percent.
“The report,” write Youngstown State University professors John Russo and James Rhodes, “shocked some city officials and local boosters who had been promoting an exaggerated story of Youngstown’s 'renaissance' over the last seven years ... the situation in Youngstown’s neighborhoods looks nothing like what’s happening downtown.”
The problem, they write, is simple: “the lack of good jobs in the city.” And that's a problem that will be hard to solve without the sort of resolute federal intervention that has been out of political fashion at least since Jimmy Carter refused to save the Campbell mill.
The downtown renaissance is nonetheless exciting to many, and includes a new cafe with live music and fresh food. But state office buildings and federal courthouses, squatting in the shadow of the almost cubist Mahoning Valley Justice Center, provide much of the daytime foot traffic.
Phil Kidd—and it was, I now realized, inevitable—now has a storefront. “Youngstown Nation” sells everything Youngstown, including the iconic Defend Youngstown t-shirt. I finally bought one.
Turning Technologies, a graduate of the city's business incubator, makes popular "audience participation" software. In 2009, Entrepreneur Magazine thrilled—and shocked—residents by naming Youngstown one of top ten cities to start a business. Today, banners heralding the article still line downtown's main drag.
And industry has crept back. Just barely. The auto bailout is credited with reviving the Lordstown plant, which now manufactures the Chevy Cruz. And neighboring Pennsylvania's natural gas boom has piqued demand for steel, prompting V&M Star to spend $650 million on a new mill that will create an estimated 350 jobs making seamless pipe.
But progress brings new peril. First, the drilling waste sent to the Youngstown area and injected deep into the earth caused eleven earthquakes in 2011. When one hit 4.0 on New Year's Eve, state officials temporarily shut down wells and the public began to question plans to begin fracking nearby.
“After that happened,” says Kidd, “it all hit the fan.”
Not that it would stop the broke city from contemplating leasing public land to natural gas drillers.
Meanwhile, Ohio's first casino, located in Cleveland, opened last May. A second has opened in Toledo and a third is coming soon to Austintown, just a few miles west of Youngstown.
The population continues to fall and Kidd says that Youngstown has been “experiencing a high volume of what we call random arsons.”
Youngstown can be a great city again. But it is not likely to become Portland, Oregon, which is what most cities seem to want to become. The feds have long since left the economy to its own destructive devices. The very sort of economic planning and foresight embodied in the 2010 plan are politically toxic at the national level.
Kidd stopped with me to grab a sandwich at Kravitz Deli—as advertised, the only Jewish deli between Pittsburgh and Cleveland--and suggested that I order the corned beef. He failed to point out the sandwich that I would have asked for instead: Philly the Kid, Defender of Youngstown, with “grilled peppers and onions, extra large roast beef and melted cheddar or provolone served on a sub roll.” The Wall of Honor Menu includes other Mahoning Valley luminaries, including “The Channel 21 News Team of Mini Sandwiches” and “The Walmart @ Liberty (formerly waiting for Walmart).”
• • • • •
Youngstown has been waiting for an economic deus-ex-machina since Black Monday.
The brash and charismatic Jim Traficant, the infamous sheriff who refused to evict laid-off steel workers, tried out first. He was elected to Congress and became nationally known for his toupee, sincerely retro suits, and penchant for ending speeches on the House floor with the tag line “Beam me up, Mr. Speaker.”
Then came Mickey Monus, who co-founded the discount drug chain Phar-Mor in 1982. By 1990, Monus had opened a downtown headquarters and expanded to 300 stores and $3 billion in sales. In 1992, it was revealed that Monus had embezzled $10 million.
There was a fruitless campaign to lure Saturn to town in the late 1980s, and the failed venture to manufacture the luxury Avanti.
It would take the shiny new economy of the 1990s to discover Youngstown’s place in America's post-industrial economy: four new prisons and a number of telemarketing call centers opened and people who once looked forward to a union wage in steel had to learn to make due with $12 per hour.
These spectacular characters and their promises could not overcome global economic forces. By July of 2002, Traficant, who had in the 1980s dodged a conviction for assisting the mob, was under indictment and faced expulsion from the House of Representatives.
"I want you to disregard all that the opposing council has said," Representative Traficant told colleagues then sitting in judgment on the House Ethics Committee. "I think they're delusionary. I think they've had something funny for lunch, in their meal. I think they should be handcuffed to a chain-linked fence, flogged. And all of their hearsay evidence should be thrown the hell out. And if they lie again I'm going to go over there and kick them in the crotch."
Expelled from Congress, Traficant went on to serve seven years in federal prison. Upon his release, Traficant jumped right back into Youngstown: hosting an AM radio show, meeting with retirees, and trying to open a casino. In 2010, the one-time Democrat ran for his old seat as an independent, speaking at Tea Party rallies and pledging to take care of his federal nemesis, the IRS--and, he said, "kick them in the crotch real good."
"This is actually a very historic moment in the city," Kidd told me at the time. "We're seeing the sun go down on an era of Youngstown, and the man who really represented that era trying to make a comeback. This election will be asking the Mahoning Valley, 'where are we at as a community? Are we moving forward?' We didn't know what he was going to do. I'm glad that he's on the ballot, because I want to see some formal closure to this situation."
Youngstown, it seems, was ready to move on: Traficant lost. And anyhow, he would have had to ask his parole officer for permission to travel outside northeast Ohio.
*Corrections: An earlier version of this story referred to Frederick Law Olmsted as an architect. He was a landscape architect.
Also, we originally wrote that Mill Creek Park was "designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted." We received a note from Nord Wennerstrom, Director of Communications at The Cultural Landscape Foundation, who said he believed that it was not Fredrick Law Olmsted Sr. but his successors who were involved in the park's design.
"The Olmsted firm generated 586 plans for the site over a six decade period: in 1899 (under the firm name Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot) and from 1923-1962 (under the firm name Olmsted Brothers). Olmsted, Sr. had retired from practice by 1895, so it does not appear he had any involvement in the park's design; rather, it was the successor firms that were responsible and involved for many decades."
We called Mill Creek Park Planning Director Steve Avery--a registered landscape architect. Avery told us that Mill Creek designers included Olmsted Sr. student Charles Eliot--and that Olmsted Sr. also visited Youngstown to consult. In what capacity, he's not sure. Avery says that landscape architects Warren Manning and H.W.S. Cleveland also consulted.
Linda Keenan for the National Association for Olmsted Parks says that while "Mill Creek Park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers [firm]," Olmsted "Sr. stopped working in 1895 and his son John Charles died in 1920, so if any member of the Olmsted family were involved in the Mill Creek project, it would have been Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr."
Meanwhile, Indiana University Press' "The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia" also states that the park was "designed by Frederick Law Olmsted." That, like our original passage, appears to be an error--though perhaps only of omission. We regret it.