Ideas and Encouragement

On Monday, November 16th, over 120 of your friends and neighbors gathered in the basement of First Lutheran Church in downtown Johnstown for a public visioning session. A cross-section of our region came out for the event – young and old, from all walks of life – ready to take on the task at hand: imagining a better Johnstown.

Rev. Lynne O’Shea, First Lutheran’s new pastor, opened the event with a short introduction. “Being a downtown church, it’s important that we all come together to support Johnstown,” she said. “We are thrilled to be able to work with our neighbors to get Johnstown to turn the corner and get to the place it needs to be. This is such an important time for us.”

Then city manager  Carlos Gunby explained how the evening would progress. Attendees were to break out into three groups based on interest in the areas of focus highlighted by Carnegie Mellon’s Remaking Cities Institute’s research: life-sustaining landscapes, a vibrant and open local economy, and a strong sense of community. Each group would be led by a circle “champion,” a member of the Vision 2025 steering committee, who would lead the group in a brainstorming session.

Facilitating the community brainstorming group were Gunby, Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic, and John Skelley of JWF Industries. Leading the economy circle were Ed Sheehan of CTC and Mark Pasquerilla of Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership. For landscape: Mike Kane of Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and Mike Artim of Cambria-Rowe Business College.

“This is the time where we actually put our thoughts, ideas, and visions down on paper. It’s where we think about what we want to make a reality,” said Gunby. “How do we get to where we want to go? Look around the room – that’s how we get there.”

Once in the brainstorming groups, the ideas came fast. People were eager to be involved, creative, and positive. In the community group, ideas members discussed blight eradication, connecting and engaging youth, ways to promote tourism and help tourists navigate the region – even how to capitalize on the friendliness of the people who live here. In the landscape session, the focus was on how to improve and renovate already existing amenities – cleaning trails, increasing walkability throughout the downtown, and attracting more whitewater enthusiasts, to name a few. And in the economy breakout group, façade improvement, creation of a strip district, attracting downtown retail opportunities, and connecting people with already existing organizations like Entrepreneurial Alchemy and JARI’s business incubator were all mentioned.

“It amazes me when you put people together like this and give them permission to think outside the box what incredible ideas come up,” said Beth Hall, who sat in on the economy group. “I’m very excited to see what’s ahead of us.”

So what’s next? Each group made plans to meet up again after the holidays – we’ll keep you informed of those dates and times once they are confirmed. At those future meetings, capture teams will be formed within each circle group to tackle specific projects. Each project will benefit from oversight, evaluation, and collaboration so that ideas actually turn into real world results. If you have an idea or want to volunteer your time and talents, it’s not too late to get involved. To be included on the email listserv, please message your name, phone number, email address, and circle area to Johnstown’s Vision 2025 Facebook page.

And remember – it doesn’t take much to help out. Recently hired community developer Wally Burlack closed out the event urging everyone in attendance to take action in any way possible. “Action can be anything. Show up at the Christmas Light-Up Night on Friday or support any other community event. Talk about the projects and ideas you heard here today. Help spread the message. It’s that easy.”