Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Green Acres... in Youngstown

We were heading to my parents' house on the edge of Youngstown early Thanksgiving morning, when we accidentally got on Interstate 680 instead of staying on I-80 toward Hubbard. I cringed, knowing this would take us around downtown Youngstown and spit us out on Oak Street, a road I had traversed many times as a child but now avoided if at all possible.

Oak Street was never what you would have called a picturesque street. It was dotted with simple two-story houses, food marts, an auto body shop here and there and a of course a couple of beer gardens. (The Royal Oaks, a bar that has been around since Lord knows when, is still there and looks exactly the same as it always has.) Oak Street was urban and working class, a little gritty but still approachable--the words you'd use to describe Youngstown in the 1960s and '70s.

But it got uglier and unfriendlier as the steel mills closed and Youngstown struggled to find a new identity. Houses deteriorated; stores shut their doors. Oak Street became a road you simply traveled down--quickly--to get somewhere else.

Imagine the happy surprise that awaited my family and me as we turned off Rte. 422 and onto Oak Street. With the sun peaking just slightly over the horizon, a misty glow cast down on, of all things, green space. Dilapidated houses had been torn down, and in their stead was nothing more than grass and trees.

Gone were the run-down buildings, the ugly chain-link fences and the litter. The houses that were still standing looked neat. Oak Street looked like a city thoroughfare with pride.

I've been reading about Youngstown's efforts to become a great small town, in part by tearing down unsightly buildings and replacing them with green space. My brief time on Oak Street showed me that this initiative is underway. The street still looks and feels urban and working class, but, hey, that's what Youngstown always was, and that's nothing to be ashamed of.

Kudos to Youngstown for this effort. Keep up the good work.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting Nostalgic Over Paper

The pile of old newspapers and magazines sat weathered and dusty on my office floor. It was hard not to notice them when you entered the room, yet I managed to block them from my peripheral vision for more than two months. Once our two new kittens began to use the pile of reading material as a bed, however, I knew it was time to do something. There aren't many things worse than the smell of newspapers on which almost-totally-trained cats have lounged.

The reason I'd been putting off going through those old publications was simple and understandable, if you're a long-time writer, as I am. That seemingly annoying stack of slush represented ten years of my career.

The pile consisted mostly of Sunday Magazines from The Plain Dealer (back when The Plain Dealer had a Sunday Magazine instead of Parade), Crain's Cleveland Business and several national publications where I'd been fortunate to have my queries accepted and turned into actual articles. They dated between 1995 and 2005, and most of the articles I'd written for them had not been placed on the Internet. They existed only in ink.

So my mission, should I choose to accept it, was to wade through about 300 articles, select the ones that seemed to best represent my writing skills and scan them into my computer. The papers and magazines would then be bundled and set out with Tuesday's garbage.

I didn't want to tackle this task because a.) I am inherently lazy, especially when it comes to daunting tasks that I know will take me hours to complete and b.) I didn't want to throw away the memories.

"Create new memories--on your computer!" you may say. But as I leafed slowly and gingerly through the papers, it confirmed what I already knew: The memories I have of writing these stories is strongest when I hold the articles in my hands. Gazing at them on a computer screen doesn't have the same effect.

Why is that? I can still see the words and the accompanying photos. I can easily recall the challenges of writing some articles and the fun of writing others. But with a click of the mouse, these stories disappear. When I hold a magazine or newspaper in my hands, the stories linger. So do the memories.

As I read through articles from several years ago, I recalled vivid details, not so much of the actual writing process, but of meeting the people and visiting the places described in the articles. There was the dad who painted a mural of the Wizard of Oz across all four walls of his daughter's bedroom, the florist whose dog liked to wear cool sunglasses while riding in the car and the homeowner who happily gave my two-month-old daughter a bottle while I jotted down notes about her living room. I remembered lugging an infant to interviews when I couldn't find a sitter, and the extremely considerate interviewees who never complained about the extra bundle at the interview. I recalled the quote from a longtime Browns fan who was selling off his extensive memorabilia: "When I got married, I told my wife the Browns come first on Sundays. As you get older, you realize it's not that important." I can see myself sitting in the home of two prominent lawyers, who welcomed me in as though they had all the time in the world to talk with me.

The articles reminded me of the people I'd met and the kindnesses they'd offered me. I thought about the joys and sorrows they shared with me, the way they confided in me as though I was a good friend and how thrilled they were to read about themselves, their business or their home in a publication.

Anytime I wanted to relive one of those memories, I just had to find a paper or magazine and flip to my article. I guess it should seem easier now. All I have to do at this point is click the mouse a few times and find the same articles. It's better for my office and for the environment. Plus, once I get them online it will be possible for many, many people to view them. But it still makes me a little sad to let go.

So I've decided to hold onto about 20 articles in print. These represent some of the most memorable articles I've written. They also give me hope that maybe print isn't totally dead. Maybe there are a few others out there like myself who like the feeling of holding a magazine or newspaper in their hands and lingering over an article or two. Maybe they find print to be a better way to capture words and photographs. Or maybe I'm just deluding myself.

Either way, I've still got those print articles. Just in case anybody wants to look at them.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Betting on a Downtown Resurgence

At least two plans have been proposed for a casino hotel adjacent to the upcoming Medical Mart. We've got Jeff Jacobs and Dan Gilbert tossing their names and influence into the ring. The way the story is being played out, we've only got one thing to do: Choose which of the two casino hotel plans we like better.

There is another option, of course: Decide that you don't want a casino hotel downtown at all.

If you select the latter option, you may be confronted with puzzled looks, as some might question, "Don't you want downtown to thrive?" Well naturally we all do, and it's high time that something new and exciting headed downtown. When the Medical Mart is built, there will be a great need for more hotels, restaurants and attractions.

But do we really need a casino to boost our popularity and viability? Will Cleveland actually make money with a casino? It's not necessarily a safe bet.

According to an August, 17, 2009 post on, Las Vegas and Atlantic City have seen their revenues drop during the last few months. Detroit's Greektown Casino-Hotel is bankrupt. A Wall Street Journal article recently reported that 2008 revenues were down for two-thirds of the states that have legalized gambling.

Here's another potential problem with building a casino hotel next to the Medical Mart: It may discourage visitors from discovering the wonders of the city.

We all know that not enough attention is given nationally to the historic and cultural treasures around Cleveland. And if visitors are too busy stuffing quarters into a slot machine or betting on a game of poker, they're not going to find out about them. Think of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance Hall, The Rock Hall, The Great Lakes Science Center. What about Little Italy, Tremont, Ohio City? How about that lake that doesn't get enough use? Don't we want to flaunt what we've already got?

Perhaps this is naive. Not everyone who comes to Cleveland--and possibly no one who comes in the dead of January--is going to want to traverse the city looking for things to do. There certainly could be a chunk of people who would rather spend a few hours in a casino than getting blown up East Ninth Street trying to get to The Rock Hall. But isn't it possible to build something besides a casino next to the Medical Mart to will attract visitors and get them to send positive reports back to their home towns/countries?

A casino hotel may very well be on its way to Downtown Cleveland. In that case, the Medical Mart may want to consider a special wing for products and services that help gamblers break their habit.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Everyone Agrees: We Need to Do Something More With Cleveland's Lakefront

PD Columnist Joe Frolik wrote an article for Sunday's paper titled "Let's figure out more creative ways to use our urban waterfront that can work today." In the article, he quotes Meg Walker, vice president of a New York-based nonprofit that helps cities develop open spaces. Walker commented that Cleveland's lakefront is beautiful, but it needs to be used.

To borrow a quote my kids when I state the obvious: DUH!

Cleveland has been talking about developing its waterfront for years. Frequently, an individual or developer or organization has an idea to create pedestrian areas that lead right up to the lake to offer recreation, dining, entertainment, etc. They are always great ideas. So why don't they ever happen?

Last summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Whiskey Island for the first time. What a gorgeous spot! To stand along the shores of the lake and watch the sunset was breathtaking. But my husband and I were astonished that the land was so underused. Not that you have to turn it into a carnival-like atmosphere; however, you can certainly create opportunities for folks to stroll the property, maybe take a boat ride and even spend the night. We figured we weren't the first people to think of this.

In informal polls that I've taken, people in Northeast Ohio would love to have more access to our Great Lake. Now I'm taking another poll:

What's holding Cleveland back from making full use of its lakefront?

Please share your ideas and observations. Maybe we can finally get to the bottom of this so we can get someone like Meg Walker of Project for Public Spaces working with us on a plan for the Cleveland waterfront.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

To: Governor Strickland, Re: Ohio's Libraries

I just sent a letter to Governor Ted Strickland regarding his plan to cut funding to Ohio's libraries. If you feel as strongly as I do about preserving Ohio's libraries, I encourage you to write him as well at You only have a couple of days left.

Dear Governor Strickland:

The other day, I took my three young children to the library to get more books for the Summer Reading Program. I saw a variety of people there: toddlers, teens and adults. Some were perusing books or having books read to them; others were on the computer. Most seemed to be making good use of their time at the library.

All of them would suffer if cuts were made to funding for Ohio's libraries.

My love for books and writing is a direct result of my mother taking me to the public library in Campbell, Ohio, every week. I can still see the tall green stacks and the wood file cabinets holding index cards of all the books. I picture the checkout area and the table in the back where I used to study when I was in high school. I can even conjure up the smell of the books. These are warm and cherished memories that I still feel every time I enter a library.

The ability to choose any book about any topic allowed me to read fiction, study about ancient cultures and ponder the accomplishments of great people in history. Without the opportunity to do that, I can't even imagine where I would be today. I certainly wouldn't be a writer, that's for sure.

Please ensure that everyone in Ohio has the opportunity to enjoy books and take advantage of special programs at their local libraries. To deprive them of this opportunity is to deprive them of a lifetime of learning.


Diane DiPiero Rodio
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Great De-Constructive Idea for Youngstown

I sometimes lovingly refer to Youngstown as "the land that time forgot." Driving across some areas of the city and its suburbs, it seems as though the place lies in wait for the steel mills to reemerge.

But right now Youngstown wants to move on in a very positive way. "Deconstruction" promises to remove urban blight through re-use and recycle methods.

A public meeting was held last night in Youngstown with national deconstruction expert David Bennink, who is helping the city with this project. Bennink explained how rather than totally demolishing a home, deconstruction seeks to salvage reusable materials. This of course has a popular green element to it, but deconstruction would have many other positive effects in Youngstown. On his blog, Youngstown Renaissance, Tyler S. Clark Can lists some of the benefits of deconstruction:

* Provides 20 times more jobs than demolition
* Provides skills for workers they can parlay into future jobs
* Keeps Youngstown's legacy of homes at home (instead of shipping it away to West Virginia, et. al.)
* Value-added markets can be created from waste materials

No one would argue that there are many houses around Youngstown that are abandoned and beyond repair, creating an unfortunate eyesore in what is still a welcoming, tight-knit community. For years, residents have asked why such homes haven't been torn down. Now there is an alternative to that, one that removes the blight and in a very productive and potentially lucrative way.

This makes total sense for Youngstown, and I applaud the city's forward thinking! Unfortunately, the public meeting with Mr. Bennink drew only about 50 people, according to an article on Such a great opportunity should lure more residents out of their homes to learn how Youngstown is going to turn lemons into lemonade. Hopefully, the City of Youngstown will construct a giant "lemonade stand" in the form of marketing and advertising to let everyone in and around the city understand what good things deconstruction can bring to the Mahoning Valley.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why I Love the Browns but I Don't Hate the Steelers

We were driving down a suburban Cleveland street the other day, when we passed a house flying not one but two Steelers banners from a giant flagpole. My husband let out a disgusted snort. "That takes a lot of nerve," he said.

I laughed.

My bad. He wasn't trying to be funny.

"No, I mean it," he said. "How could someone fly those flags in Cleveland?"

The idea that someone would live in a Cleveland suburb and root for the Steelers--or worse yet, advertise it--is incomprehensible to my husband and probably a lot of other Clevelanders. I agree that pride in your community should encourage you to root for the home team. But I try to give people a break. Maybe they grew up in Pittsburgh. Or maybe a football player they've admired since his college days plays for the Steelers.

Or maybe they're from Youngstown.

You see, Youngstown is in a very interesting position, geographically speaking. The city lies almost smack-dab between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. People from Youngstown sometimes gravitate to one city, or find themselves going back and forth. My father, for example, would only pick up family members from the Pittsburgh Airport, never from Cleveland Hopkins. On the other hand, he leans toward the Browns rather than the Steelers. Go figure.

When it comes to football, living in Youngstown allows you to take sides in the AFC North without a high risk of injury. You could go to Olive Garden wearing your Steelers jacket and sit next to a guy in a Browns jersey, and there'd (probably) be no chance of you getting socked in the jaw. You could also remain neutral, just happy to see something exciting happening in the area, and not be pressured to choose.

In Cleveland, you see only enough of the Steelers to know you dislike them (like when they beat the Browns). In Youngstown, both Pittsburgh and Cleveland games are often carried on television, so you get a different perspective. It's almost like there are two hometown teams instead of one.

That may be why I don't trash-talk the Steelers, why I don't make jokes about the questionable intelligence of people from Pittsburgh and why I can't help but smile every time I see Terry Bradshaw on TV. The Browns are my favorite team, and I root for them every Sunday. But I don't hate the Steelers.

Because of this, my husband has given me the unattractive nickname of "traitor," and he asks me every Sunday if I'll be waving my "terrible towel." I guess that's what a rivalry is all about. You're not supposed to love one team and kind of like the other. It's like saying (gasp!) that you root for Michigan when they're not playing Ohio State.

I can't get it through my husband's head that my allegiance is with the Brownies. Time and again, I relay the story of my one and only trip to the old Municipal Stadium. I was a junior at Penn State, and my friends and I boarded a charter bus headed for Cleveland. I entered a sea of black and gold, and I guess I stood out in my bright orange sweatshirt. It was a vocal group on that bus.

"Browns fans can't sit in that seat," one guy hollered when I tried to plant myself next to my roommate (who, by the way, was a diehard Steelers fan as well). Everyone else on the bus found this humorous, and during the four-hour ride from State College, Pennsylvania, to Cleveland, I withstood the abuse. "Browns fans can't eat snacks!" "Browns fans can't sleep on the bus!" And then there was the most embarrassing one of all: "Browns fans can't use the bathroom!!"

They laughed as they tormented me, and I didn't feel really threatened. But I got the sense that if I did too much bragging, I could find myself standing alone on the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. So I did a few "ha has" and ribbed them back a little, but I tried to stay low-key.

As luck would have it, the Browns won the game. I couldn't wait to get on the bus and give it back to those Steelers fans. But when I sat down, everyone seemed to have their heads lowered, and no one was talking. I tried to lighten the mood. "Hey, Steelers fans can't sit down the whole way home!" Hee-hee-hee... Oops, no one was laughing; in fact, I distinctly remember a couple of glaring stares thrown my way. So I was forced to ride home in silence, rejoicing in victory silently in my head.

My husband probably would like this story better if it ended with me taking all of the "terrible towels" from the bus and ripping them to shreds in front of the amazed eyes of the Steelers fans. Although I felt a sense of Browns patriotism, I still couldn't bring myself to hate the other team.

Now we find the Steelers in the Super Bowl. For the second time since the "new Browns" have been around. The Browns haven't won a championship since I was four months old. I understand the frustration. And the resentment. So I won't be wearing black and gold on Sunday. But as a Youngstowner at heart, I realize that Pittsburgh is as much a part of our region as Cleveland, and anything that brings good news to the region is a plus. As a Clevelander, though, I'll wear my brown and orange and daydream about the Browns in Super Bowl XLIV. Woof, Woof!

Monday, January 5, 2009

All The News That Fits Together

A guy writes about a city he loves for 45 years, and what does he get? A farewell column that has at least two sets of words mashed together in every single paragraph, making it almost impossible to read.

When Dick Feagler reminisces about the good old days of newspaper journalism in his front-page column of last Sunday's Plain Dealer, he might also be talking about the good old days when someone was actually proofreading the publication.

Just imagine, your swan song after nearly a half-century of covering news, politics and life in general in Northeast Ohio, and you get this: "We alwayscarried enough dimes in our pockets to call the city desk." I read it as "We always scared enough dimes..." the first three times I looked at the sentence.

It doesn't matter if there are only six people left on the staff of a major newspaper: One of those people has got to read the damn stories before the paper goes out the door. Sure, there are printing errors that happen at nearly the last minute of publication, but there is always someone on staff with the responsibility of catching those mistakes prior to thousands of people seeing them. Well, almost always.

It breaks my heart when I see errors in any publication, whether in print or online. I've made a few of my own mistakes in published articles. No matter how hard we try, mistakes can happen. Maybe the problem was caught after the early editions left the printer, and corrections were made later in the day. Nevertheless, this latest boo-boo from the PD makes it feel like there aren't any humans left to blame for mistakes such as this.

Or maybe Dick Feagler made the errors himself, purposely, to see if anyone still reads newspapers. I see that the pushed-in words were separated in the online version of Feagler's column. Maybe it's an old columnist's way of saying, "Hell, everyone's online anyway, let's just throw in a bunch of really bad mistakes and see if one fool out there is reading this and will catch them." I checked the comments under his column online; there were several fools who caught the mistakes in the print version.

Newspapers certainly have changed since Dick Feagler began writing 45 years ago. But then they've changed drastically in the last 5-10 years, too. For those of us who still love to read them, it's a difficult time indeed.