Johnstown is poised for growth. Between the recent $24.5 million-winning RAISE application and the $33 million stimulus package, we find ourselves on the doorstep of a new era.

Challenges face every city, be it Beverly Hills, Aspen, Johnstown or Daisytown. We have our share of struggles, but what distinguishes us from many other cities is the solution to a majority of our challenges boils down to just one thing: grow population.

Want to cure blight? Easy, grow population. Want healthy neighborhoods with a revitalized housing stock? Easy, grow population. Tired of going to the Altoona Target? Me, too.

For the love of mercy, let’s grow population.

In the old days, growing population meant growing jobs, but that’s not necessarily the case any longer. These days, growing population means improving quality of life because people choose where they want to live first and either take their current position with them or simply start anew once they arrive.

Jobs are part of the solution, but only one of numerous factors that contribute to building a desirable Johnstown.

Within the realm of city building, there are commonly accepted metrics that signal to the world the desirability of urban places, adaptability being chief among them. But other things, too, create desirability, such as business diversity, people diversity, walkability, quality education, public health, great downtowns and neighborhoods, historic character, arts and cultural character.

All of these are factors that contribute to a community’s quality of life.

It was the census of 1920 when Johnstown last experienced population growth.

But what we’ve learned over 100 years of decline is that adaptive cities are more than just one-trick ponies. Adaptive cities honor their heritage but embrace change. Adaptive cities understand that to compete in a 21st century international economy is to monetize the old school, just as the Center for Metal Arts is doing, but at the same time accentuate what makes us different, like being a true mountain town within easy striking distance of D.C. through N.Y.C.

Adaptive cities have an underlying energy that you can feel as you walk down the street. Adaptive cities embrace new ideas and explore them with vigor. Adaptive cities fail to fail. Adaptive cities are places where people want to live.

Adapting into a 21st century city that embraces growth and knows precisely how to stimulate it is exactly where we are today – adapting and on the cusp of growth.

Cambria County President Commissioner Thomas Chernisky said something the other day that was profound. He said, “We lost the first RAISE grant in 2020, but we struck out swinging, not looking.”

Indeed, adaptive cities swing the bat. Even before swinging the bat, adaptive cities know how to get into the batter’s box.

If Johnstown City Council is talking about investing $10 million into improving Main Street, the answer is yes. If Intuit wants to add a location downtown, the answer is yes. If outsiders want to relocate to Johnstown, the answer is yes. If Target needs some incentives to add a location in Richland, the answer is yes. (For the love of mercy, the answer is yes!)

Make no mistake, however, adaptive cities are not that of call centers and private prisons. Adaptive cities have standards. Adaptive cities are not desperate.

We already know, for instance, that Old Conemaugh Borough is the best neighborhood in Johnstown, we simply need to get the word out. I’ll take a $2.50 bottle of suds at Rovida’s over whatever swill they serve at a suburban chain. Rovida’s, OCB, and most joints around Johnstown create a product chains such as Olive Garden desperately try to replicate: authenticity.

It’s only a matter of time before word gets out that Johnstown is something special. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a line out the door at Rovida’s. It’s only a matter of time before Target pulls a construction permit application at Richland Township Hall.

Target is an apparition, however, without a healthy central city that’s growing population. Like a mist in the moonlight that you can see but can’t quite touch, there is no Target without a healthy Johnstown proper. There is no Galleria. There is no TJ Maxx. There is no Walmart.

Johnstown proper is learning adaptability. City leaders are so adaptable they know how to say yes to $24.5 million. They know how to say yes to improving Main Street. They know how to say yes to Intuit. They know how to say yes, period.

They’re willing to swing the bat. They’re proactive rather than reactive. A silo of excellence they are not. If the question is to increase population, then the answer is Johnstown City Council, and they are answering with vigor.

The winning RAISE award is ahead of many home runs to come. This is what happens when we enter the batter’s box. It’s what happens when we swing the bat. If you judge us for our strike outs, I hope it’s in the positive because we’re not a city that strikes out looking. We aim to keep swinging the bat. 

Mike Tedesco is president and CEO of Vision Together 2025, a consortium of government, business and philanthropic leaders within greater Johnstown dedicated to improving our community.

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