The loss of industrial anchors and economic opportunity has led to major demographic decline in the Youngstown–Warren area. In Warren, the 2020 census is expected to reveal a population of around 35,000, an estimated loss of 12 percent since 2010 and 50 percent since the 1970s peak. This rapid change has left communities with hard choices about how to deal with urban infrastructures designed for larger populations. The answer is often to tear down houses and buildings that are simply too much for these communities to maintain.
Today, communities across the Mahoning Valley are searching for new uses for these sites. A frequent solution is to turn the vacant lots into new community public spaces such as gardens and urban farms. In the years leading up to 2019, the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership (TNP), Warren’s community development corporation and land bank, demolished over 1,000 properties, renovated 350 others, and sold over 1,200 vacant lots to adjacent property owners. In Youngstown, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) created the Lots of Green program as a way to reuse vacant sites. The program organizes cleanup, volunteer, and funding efforts for small-scale community-based farming projects in previously vacant sites. These projects include pocket parks and side yard expansions, as well as larger community gardens. One such project from the Lots of Green program is the Iron Roots Urban Farm, a 1.5 acre urban farm that now serves as an agriculture training center.1Read more about Youngstown’s urban farm renaissance.
A City Built by Hand documents urban public space work that has been initiated by community residents with the support of TNP and YNDC. Helen Liggett’s photographic essay offers a comprehensive look at the transformation of vacant lots into civic spaces at the level of experience, revealing how these lots become incubators of civic life and local economic activity. —Quilian Riano, In the Mahoning Valley chief editor