William works for Youngstown, a city of about 67,000 people in northeastern Ohio, near the state’s border with Pennsylvania.

Youngstown became a leading steel producer in the late 19th century. The steel industry attracted immigrants from all over the world, including Europe and Latin America, and drew African Americans from the American South. The city’s population swelled to more than 160,000 in the mid-20th century.

The steel industry collapsed in the late 1960s, and Youngstown’s population has been steadily declining ever since. Part of William’s job is to map the future of Youngstown, and make it hospitable to residents and businesses.

EARLY WORK

William graduated with a business degree from Youngstown State University. He took a job with the city as an associate planner and moved up from there.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK


“Working with the community, getting people involved in determining the future of their community . . . Working with community groups, stakeholders, trying to make sure their concerns are being addressed.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“Dealing with the political side of it—local politicians, city council.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

Geography to me would be the boundaries within an area that you are working in. For me it is the city limits of the city of Youngstown, Ohio.”

GEO-CONNECTION

Like many urban areas, Youngstown develops a new urban plan and consistently updates its old one. The newest urban plan is called “Youngstown 2010.” According to the city, Youngstown 2010 “provides for a City that is smaller, greener, cleaner, makes efficient use of its available resources, and capitalizes on its many cultural amenities and business advantages.”

“Youngstown’s 2010 urban plan was drafted with reality in mind,” William says. “The steel industry jobs are gone and most workers work in a combination of light industrial, health care, or office jobs, and jobs in the public sector. Youngstown State University is also a major employer.

“The acceptance of Youngstown as a mid-size city led to an urban plan that will consolidate around existing infrastructure. The city’s population is stabilizing out at around 80,000 people, although the original planners designed a city to be more than twice our current size. In the future, this may mean making difficult choices when it comes to servicing areas with very few or no residents or businesses.

“Youngstown participates in ‘land banking,’ the act of buying up the city’s vacant land and making it available for use. This is in contrast to private buyers who purchase property and then let it sit, hoping that the value of the land will rise as the fortunes of the city improve. Unfortunately, having a lot of neglected vacant land is a reminder of Youngstown’s decline. People get used to seeing run-down buildings and weed-choked lots, and feel that the town won’t get any better. Instead, Youngstown plans to use the vacant property for things that residents want, like new parks and community gardens.”

William says the hard work of formulating the urban plan has started to pay off.

“By acknowledging that we are not the city that we once were, we are starting to move forward, and our plan is starting to get noticed around the country. CNN’s Money website ranked the Youngstown, Ohio, housing market one of the most affordable in the country, and Entrepreneur Magazine listed us as one of the top 10 best cities in the country to start a business.”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . URBAN PLANNER

William encourages students to volunteer with local organizations and attend community meetings. “Participate in neighborhood organizations, get involved in your community. Volunteer to help. One thing we [city planners] do is community outreach, get the word out about the plan for the city.”

GET INVOLVED

If you live in Youngstown, find volunteer opportunities at www.youngstown2010.com. On the left-hand side of the page, under “Youngstown 2010 Action,” go to Neighborhood Groups. There you can find block groups and neighborhood watches for the North, South, East, and West parts of the city. If your group isn’t listed and would like to be, call the Youngstown Planning Department for more information.

Urban Planner: William D’Avignon

Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

amenity
Noun

feature or facility that provides comfort or convenience.

Noun

natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

business
Noun

sale of goods and services, or a place where such sales take place.

capitalize
Verb

to take advantage of something.

city
Noun

large settlement with a high population density.

city limits
Plural Noun

official boundaries of an urban area.

collapse
Verb

to fall apart completely.

community garden
Noun

single piece of land cultivated and maintained by a group of people.

consolidate
Verb

to combine or unite.

decline
Verb

to reduce or go down in number.

develop
Verb

to expand or grow.

draft
Verb

sketch or outline.

efficient
Adjective

performing a task with skill and minimal waste.

employer
Noun

person or organization that hires people for wages and salaries.

encourage
Verb

to inspire or support a person or idea.

entrepreneur
Noun

person who starts and manages a business.

Noun

study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

health care
Noun

system for addressing the physical health of a population.

hospitable
Adjective

welcoming or inviting.

housing market
Noun

economic ability to buy and sell homes in a specific location, usually a city or town.

immigrant
Noun

person who moves to a new country or region.

industry
Noun

activity that produces goods and services.

infrastructure
Noun

structures and facilities necessary for the functioning of a society, such as roads.

land banking
Noun

practice of buying a vacant lot of land and holding on to it, undeveloped, in the hopes that the area will develop and increase the land's value, at which point the owner will sell it for a higher price.

neglect
Noun

failure to pay attention.

Noun

an area within a larger city or town where people live and interact with one another.

politician
Noun

person who serves as a representative of the citizens of a geographic area to the local, state, or national government.

property
Noun

goods or materials (including land) owned by someone.

public outreach
Noun

program by an organization to connect its work to other organizations or the general public.

public sector
Noun

work and work force of local, state, or national government.

purchase
Verb

to buy.

resource
Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

south
Noun

direction to the right of a person facing the rising sun.

stabilize
Verb

to anchor or make strong and reliable.

stakeholder
Noun

person or organization that has an interest or investment in a place, situation or company.

steel
Noun

metal made of the elements iron and carbon.

Noun

developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

urban plan
Noun

policy and method of land use in a specific area, usually an urban area or country. Also called a general plan.

urban planning
Noun

process of creating or improving the natural, built, economic, and social environments of urban areas. Also called city planning.

vacant
Adjective

empty or abandoned.