Illustration by Mary Crooks
  • 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.


    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.


    “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.”


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


    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.”


    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.”


    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.”


    If you live in Youngstown, find volunteer opportunities at 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.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    amenity Noun

    feature or facility that provides comfort or convenience.

    border Noun

    natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: border
    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.

    geography Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    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.

    neighborhood Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: neighborhood
    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.

    urban area Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area
    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.