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AN INCLUSIVE TABLE | Understanding and overcoming poverty’s symbiotic relationships - Mahoning Matters

The messaging that frames our lives and perceptions of ourselves isn’t always necessarily obvious. It can be as simple as the broken playground play sets that never seem to get repaired, the absence of seats in the waiting area at your local pharmacy or the boarded windows marking yet another failed business in your community.

I first became aware of poverty’s symbiotic relationships in my college days, specifically when I learned how businesses could structure consumer interactions to send a message. Fast food restaurants, for example, have more rigid seats than places where you are expected to enjoy a leisurely meal. That’s not an accident.

In communities like ours, that type of coded language permeates more aspects of our day-to-day lives than you might realize. One of the top priorities presented by residents who responded to the 2021 Greater Glenwood Neighborhood Survey was the need to improve housing and property conditions. The reasoning offered by most residents was simple: “It’s important. It says who we are,” one person said. “The nicer each home is, the more value you add to the neighborhood,” another commented.

Sadly, that way of thinking also works in reverse. When the entire neighborhood is in disrepair, what encourages a homeowner to ensure they tend to their property as quickly as possible? When only a particular type of business exists along the Glenwood corridor, business owners assume their business may not succeed in that area and that the area doesn’t attract the kind of consumers they’re interested in courting.

It’s a catch-22: The current conditions push away all the factors that might help improve the current conditions. And the ramifications extend to our mental and physical health. The absence of a gym, a well-maintained walking trail or the prevalence of broken sidewalks can deter exercise. And if you have to drive across town to get to a grocery store with fresh produce, the probability that you’ll make more convenient — and often less healthy — choices for your family increases. Making a difference Here's how Mahoning County's felony drug court faces addiction and works to change lives.

The conditions you live in and what you see in your neighborhood can also impact how you view yourself. It can dictate what you feel is attainable for you. And it can create such disdain for the community you call home that you feel more motivated to leave than to be part of the solution.

Luckily, what we’ve seen happening in Youngstown over the past year proves our reality is quite the opposite. The community is engaged and ready to roll up its sleeves and support initiatives like the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation.

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