Cities destroyed by industrial closures should never be written off for dead. “The Place That Makes Us” features a handful of people trying to revive Youngstown, Ohio, where steel mill closures resulted in an exodus of residents, a rash of empty homes, and an ebb of civic engagement.
The film, directed by Karla Murthy, focuses essentially, perhaps too closely, on the work of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, a nonprofit that renovates empty homes with the goal of turning ghost blocks into desirable neighborhoods. Topics profiled include Ian Beniston, the group’s executive director, and Tiffany Sokol, the housing manager removing plywood from a door and walking us through the process of studying the potential of an abandoned house. In the end we saw it sell to a new owner we met.
Elsewhere, councilor Julius T. Oliver is focused on investing in Youngstown’s youth by pushing for the reopening of a once thriving basketball arena. With the filmmakers he visits the former locations of the two houses in which he grew up. (After speaking of violence in the first location, he says the problems eventually moved on to the second.) Early on, he talks about how, as a businessman, he found that a simple perception that a neighborhood is “scary looks, “can put off potential customers.
The families’ stories help set The Place That Makes Us in motion into more than a political proposal. Ian’s father, a former steel worker, says, “If I had to Do it again, I wouldn’t have been to Youngstown. “Ian and his sister Abby, who have chosen to stay, are more optimistic.
The place that makes us
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes. Watch on PBS platforms.