KSU Grad Student Studying Youngstown Blight for Research Project

A graduate student from Kent State University is hoping to earn her doctorate degree in geography by studying the different neighborhoods in Youngstown to see where blight exists and how many vacant structures there are.

The idea behind the project is to compare how communities are able to recover from natural disasters like tornadoes or hurricanes with what happens to cities because of a bad economy.

Jennifer Burrell and fellow KSU student and research assistant Spencer Baker spent Monday afternoon driving around town with a series of digital cameras mounted on their car. They started on the lower South Side and worked their way around the city, ultimately hoping to map areas that are in decline and those that are more stable, as well as find reasons why some areas are recovering more than others.

“We see a lot of times with natural disasters, there’s a clear indication when the event started and when the event ends. So people really have a sense of community. They come together to rebuild a community. With economic disasters, you don’t really know the starting and stopping points, or if it ever really stops. You just have the notion that you need to recover from it,” Burrell said.

This is the second time Burrell has visited some local neighborhoods and she plans to come back again in August to see if there are any noticeable changes. Eventually, she hopes to provide her compiled research to local officials and community groups.

She said she chose Youngstown after hearing from some students at Youngstown State University, where she also teaches a class part-time.

“So I started to look more into Youngstown and started to see this really is a great city. It’s fallen on some hard times, but it’s really trying to fight back and defend itself, which I thought was really great and I thought that kinda needed to be documented. And we can see this throughout the whole Rust Belt,” Burrell said.

One person interested in Burrell’s research is Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley, who has been trying to link crime and gang activity with what’s happening in certain neighborhoods, like those with more rental properties and those with more home ownership.

“What gets left behind after rental properties have been there for a long time. That’s the problem that the blight comes into, so we need to tie that all together,” Foley said.

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