Author discusses local reinvigoration

Eden Cohen, Staff Writer

The community betterment event’s attendees were those with the power to change the community. Forty people in business suits roamed Monday in Heritage Hall, introducing themselves, passing out jovial handshakes and clasping shoulders.

Fewer than five pairs of jeans were in Heritage Hall from 6 to nearly 8:30 that evening. The only two students in attendance were journalists. Attendees included local businessman Mark Pasquerilla, Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic and state Rep.Bryan Barbin.

They came for Johnstown and to hear David McDonald, author of “Saving America’s Cities,” who told the attendees how Johnstown can be revitalized and made into a more thriving city.

Concerned citizens with political clout need to join elected officials to enact policy, McDonald said. Clevelands and Pittsburghs residents were able to, he said; Johnstown residents could do the same.

McDonald prescribed three steps for Johnstown to be able to compete with suburbs. One, demolish all blighted housing. Two, create free parking citywide. Three, clean and enhance the river.

“Your rivers,” he said, “they look like drainage ditches.”

McDonald argued that suburbs have pretty structures, pretty views and a pretty parking fee—free. Once malls dragged city businesses to the suburbs in the 1950s, cities without government offices have struggled to compete, he said.

Suburbs have the reputation of having better schools and lower crime, he said. Johnstown officials need to do something to keep millennials and Pitt-Johnstown graduates in Johnstown, he said. He recommended condominiums along a cleaned river bank.

McDonald also advocated for consolidating municipalities, but admitted it was not worth the intense political battles.

Geography professor William Kory said he is a consolidation supporter. He wants Johnstown and its 19 surrounding municipalities to unite, if not into one political unit, then as allies.

“We stand together,” he said.

Kory said he appreciated that McDonald’s points were tailored for Johnstown. However, he is hesitant as to whether the solutions will necessarily work. Since McDonald’s experience is in large cities, Kory reasoned, his logic may not apply as well to Johnstown.

Either way, Kory said he thought the speech fulfilled a more important purpose of uniting and sparking discussion.

“It was a stimulating presentation,” he said.

Kory said he already implemented one of McDonald’s ideas in Southmont Borough, where he has been a council member for 20 years. He and his members persevered for 5 years to demolish an ugly house, and worked together to restore a local landmark arch.

Although he is not a city resident, Kory said he has been conducting city demographic studies for over 15 years as part of his Johnstown Area Study course. Communication professor Kristen Majocha also does not live in the city, but has community-revitalization experience.

Majocha said she was an executive director on a project aiming to attract and retain Pittsburgh’s young professionals. She, as well as Kory, were pleased with McDonald’s personalized Johnstown treatment.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see that he had taken great efforts to analyze our community and provide specific recommendations,” she said.

McDonald’s free parking recommendation was met with chuckles and skepticism. His consolidation recommendation faced several skeptical audience questions.

It remains to be seen whether the attendees and Johnstown’s influentials will enact McDonald’s demolition and river cleaning.