BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – A community divided, that’s what’s happening after a mural painted on the side of the Southern Park Mall has raised concerns over the message behind it.
“You can’t break a city built from steel — forged in Boardman, Ohio.” That’s what you’ll see painted in big white letters on the side of the mall in Boardman, but some community members from Youngstown and Boardman feel the wording is misleading.
As the owner of Youngstown’s Steel Heritage Museum, Rick Rowlands is as passionate as anyone about the city’s steel history. His first reaction upon seeing the mural at the Southern Park Mall was, “Well, I thought that was rather nice that someone is trying to pay tribute to our industrial heritage.”
“Some folks are interpreting this mural logically and they’re saying it doesn’t make logical sense,” said Derrick McDowell, owner of Youngstown Flea.
“Boardman isn’t a city.” “Malls hurt small businesses.” “The suburbs don’t support the inner city.” These are some of the comments you’ll see after many people took to social media to voice their concerns over the mural.
One of those people was urban planner Samantha Yannucci, who is a Struthers resident but graduated from Boardman High School.
“A mall is a symbol of suburbia, which is a symbol of, I mean, the degradation of the city and of white-flight and red-lining and all these other social and racial issues,” she said.
Yannucci shared a post on Facebook disapproving of the mural and to her surprise the post got hundreds of likes and shares with people agreeing.
Yannucci feels the mural is misleading and almost offensive.
McDowell explained why some others may feel that way as well.
“Some folks purely are looking at it and saying, ‘I’m not happy with the co-opting and the appropriation of the Youngstown name when it’s convenient, without an investment truly back into the actual city of Youngstown,'” he said.
“Those boundaries actually mean a lot as far as resource allocation, resource sharing and people who grow up in the city, and people who grew up in the township had a very, very different experience,” Yannucci said.
Yannucci and McDowell both acknowledge that Youngstown isn’t the only city that contributed to the steel industry but say it’s the one that suffered the most once the steel mills shut down.
“Youngstown certainly got its identity from steel, but we don’t own it. We’re not the only ones in the area that provided steel to a community. We certainly benefited by that identity, but we’ve also suffered because of its demise as well,” McDowell said.
Not everyone agrees with them, though. Many other social media users posted comments in support of the mural, saying it was meant to unite the communities and the message behind it is inspiring.
Yannucci and McDowell both say they don’t want to dismiss other people’s opinions on it.
“We have to learn to converse,” McDowell said.
“Just ask why, and just make greater considerations instead of just attacking people on the thread and attacking me for composing it, like, just ask why,” Yannucci said.
Both McDowell and Yannucci say this can be an opportunity to build connections and greater dialogue between the city and the suburbs moving forward.
McDowell compared Youngstown and its suburbs to “siblings,” saying the communities should work together as a family at all times.
“What does it mean to be a Youngstowner? I think that mural has kind of brought that question up again,” Rowlands said.
First News reached out to the Southern Park Mall, but they do not wish to comment on the matter.