Op-Ed Series: Ryan Kieta

This is the first of a four-part series that discusses the goals and ambitions of Johnstown’s Vision 2025 community redevelopment movement. Next week, Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic will talk about the importance of a Strong Sense of Community. Between January 19-28, a series of Public Circle Work Sessions will be held to advance the movement.

As the year 2025 winds down, we reflect on our blessings, the joys of family and friends and how far our community has progressed over the past decade. Can you believe that 2015 was nearly ten years ago?

Let’s ponder for a moment as we consider what Johnstown looks like in 2025.

In 2025, Johnstown has a restored connection to its natural environment. The revived riverfronts in our city offer miles of beautiful and pristine shoreline interspersed with state-of-the-art waterfront shopping districts, nightlife venues and trail and park systems. From their headwaters in rural Cambria and Somerset Counties to their confluence at Johnstown’s Point, the Little Conemaugh and Stonycreek Rivers are among the cleanest, healthiest rivers in Pennsylvania, with trout fishing, unparalleled whitewater paddling, plenty of recreational access and picturesque, natural beauty.

This is quite a change from the past, when acid mine drainage polluted much of our watershed and created an unfortunate disconnect between us and our environment.

In 2025, Johnstown has a strong and diversified economy. The brain drain that plagued our community for decades has slowed to a trickle. When they come of age, our children no longer have to face the difficult decision of leaving their hometowns to pursue their passions. Increased economic opportunities have enabled our sons, daughters, nephews and nieces to boomerang back to the region, raise families close to home and enjoy successful careers. We have some of the best schools in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and those schools are preparing our kids to lead their communities when their time comes.

In 2025, the City of Johnstown has a vibrant and bustling downtown core filled with unique shops, retail anchors and a variety of unique ethnic and local eateries. Year-round, towns throughout our metro host family-friendly events and festivals. Our new mantra is that tourism season doesn’t end in August; it lasts for twelve months a year.

We have an amazing arts culture. Johnstown is filled with museums, historical attractions and unique cultural amenities. In the city, old buildings now host local vendors, restaurants and shops. Bands play. People eat. Tourists spend money. Festivals occur. Johnstown profits. Buildings and places that once had no optimism or vision now comprise some of the most iconic sections of our city and have become regional shopping and entertainment destinations.

The city’s healthy downtown core anchors friendly, safe and clean outer neighborhoods which boast record-low crime rates and engaged populations full of pride and goodwill. Moxham, the West End and Cambria City are among the most desirable places for young professionals to make an investment, plant roots and raise families. During the day, their streets are filled with neighborly chit-chat, families walking dogs to nearby parks and children riding bicycles to friends’ houses. During evening hours, neighborhood groups convene to plan for improvement projects large and small, and social clubs get together to toast their neighborhood’s successes.

Johnstown’s suburbs, too, remain strong, stable and vibrant. Places like Richland Township, the West Hills and Windber exhibit robust economies, housing markets, attractions and amenities. An unprecedented network of cooperation has been built, which keeps all of our towns and boroughs connected for the greater good. In turn, that metropolitan cooperation has made possible regional connections to Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore and Harrisburg – which are now a mere train ride away and allow us to travel for work and leisure to our nearest “big sister” cities with an ease that we’ve never known before.

The success of Johnstown, its neighborhoods and its suburbs has enabled Johnstown’s outermost rural sector to retain its impeccable rustic character. Farmland throughout Northern Cambria, Davidsville and Forest Hills is rich and unbroken, interrupted by only the occasional hiking trail or community park.

In 2025, Johnstown is a national case study in resilience. We’ve become the poster child for how to transform a distressed mid-sized city in Rust Belt America into a modern, attractive and desirable place. Businesses compete to work here. Our parks and greenspaces are unparalleled. People flock to our towns and to our city to live, work and play.

So 2025 Johnstowners, let’s send a message back in time, in the hope that we provide some insight and maybe a bit of inspiration to our predecessors. Johnstowners of 2015: You all have visions for your community. Define what you want Johnstown to become. Don’t be afraid to dream big. You are all in this together. Imagine your future, map it out, and achieve it. Every thousand-mile walk begins with the first steps.