Photo: The Ready for Kindergarten area at the new Driving Park branch library in Columbus, Ohio. (NBBJ/Matthew Carbone, via The Atlantic)
by Kathleen Fox, SC2 Fellow 2012-2014
From 2012 through 2014, Kathleen M. Fox served as a Strong Cities, Strong Communities Fellow in Youngstown, Ohio, one of the state’s most challenged cities. Now she’s in Columbus, where she is vice president of program management at Pizzuti Solutions. We asked Fox to reflect on the lessons she learned as an SC2 Fellow in Youngstown, and to tell us how that translates into the work she does right now. Here’s her perspective.
Even in the most challenged cities there is hope, so long as there are people with energy and vision working to change the status quo. This was one of the major lessons I learned during my SC2 fellowship, working alongside visionaries in organizations such as theYoungstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Youngstown Business Incubator the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, and many others that are both rebuilding the urban fabric of the city and expanding educational and business opportunities for residents.
The critical importance of those opportunities is another lesson I learned. Even in a city like Columbus—a city that seems to have everything going for it and that is the only metro area in “rust belt” Ohio that is growing—there are people living in challenged neighborhoods who are striving to achieve the American Dream. These challenged areas and the people who struggle there can all too easily become invisible in favor of the larger success story. Cities can too often forget about the challenged areas–at our peril. Youngstown’s decline started with a few being left behind, then snowballed due to larger global economic shifts and low educational attainment.
This is why I value my current work in a consulting group that, among other projects, is assisting with building 21st century libraries in Central Ohio. I saw first hand in Youngstown how visionary leadership at the public library is bringing hope and change to neighborhoods and individuals.
Twenty-first century libraries are not your grandmother’s stodgy book repositories run by librarians who enforce silence. The new generation of libraries features transparent, open, technologically savvy community centers that partner with neighborhoods, families and schools to improve educational attainment and life long learning. They make a difference in people’s lives through information resources and targeted educational programs such as Ready for Kindergarden, Homework Help Centers, and in-library community college courses
Urban fellowship lessons apply to some parts of every city, even the most successful metro areas.
In addition to her SC2 fellowship and her current work at Pizzuti Solutions, Kathleen Fox is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and 2002 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She also holds a graduate certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Capital University Law School. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.