Government of the people, for the people reexamined

It was 2012. I ran for Congress. I made a video about the foreclosure crisis and called on the banks to admit responsibility for the properties they seize and let rot.

I didn’t go to the hardest hit parts of the city- I just went a few blocks from my house and office.

Occupied. Home owner. In progress.

Occupied. Home owner. In progress.

The house where I’m sitting on the porch, with the siding falling out on the side- has had occupants for about a year now. It’s still not painted, but, it’s back to habitable.

The guy who lives in it, is young, a contractor, he specializes in floor sanding and refinishing. He’s doing work around the neighborhood- and he, and his lovely girlfriend have been at a few neighborhood functions.

They like it in South Park.

The house had sold at one time for well over $150K- and been totally rehabbed. He bought it for a fraction of that.

What was red, and unsightly is now an Air B&B and architects office

What was red, and unsightly is now an Air B&B and architects office

The house where the sink, furnace, and wiring is cut- is now an architect’s office and Air B&B. People pay $90 a night to stay there. The owner, lives next door. It’s a total rehab- and completely finished. Cute. Friendly. A neighborhood asset.

Why am I pointing these two out?

Because, the city of Dayton did nothing for this to happen. The neighborhood is what made it happen.

People are still investing in South Park, wanting to live here, wanting to fix things up, because of the community we have created. Our public schools suck just as bad as they do for Westwood, or Residence Park or Dayton View- which has way nicer housing stock.

We all have the same crappy street cleaning, same crappy trash collection, same overburdened police, same poor parks and rec department- but houses that would have been doomed for demolition come back from death’s doorstep here. True, the historic zoning makes it harder to tear things down, but, in South Park things are happening.

We have a church- that houses an arts center. We may have another one on the way- right next door. The neighbors produce free Shakespeare in the park, we have progressive parties in the summer, an active neighborhood association. One idiot organizes social soccer on Sundays. We have a book club, hot toddy parties, the list goes on.

Since I moved here in 1986, we’ve been lucky to add places like Custom Frame Services, Halal International Grocery, Pizza Factory, South Park Tavern, Remember When Antiques, Coco’s, Jimmie’s Ladder 11, Spin City, Ghostlight Coffee and The Next Wave as locally owned, independent businesses. Unfortunately, we lost Graeff Hardware, Poppelmeirs, a shoe repair, a car parts store, a small bakery and a few others.

There are still opportunities here- and interest. Someone is thinking about a wine bar, another about a conference center/reception hall.

And all of it happens, without the help of an “Economic Development director” or the “West Dayton Fund” or ED/GE grants, or tax abatements or any of the other government “tools” that you constantly hear about as the reason for a “renaissance.”

On Monday the City Commission will swear in another pawn in the game, and re-seat a seat warmer. The Mayor will talk about all the things that she has accomplished- and yet, things are still grossly wrong in Dayton.

Property values are still moribund. Population is stagnant. Schools are the worst in the state. Our expectations from government are low. Taxes and fees are increasing. Service is lackluster.

The city has cut funds to neighborhoods considerably. Our police force is at record low staffing. Problems we had 25 years ago are still being dealt with- or pushed to the back burner, while we’ve added the heroin epidemic on top of it all. White-collar jobs are still fleeing downtown for Austin Landing, the Greene, and if it wasn’t for Obamacare driving the growth of CareSource, Dayton would be broke.

The focus always seems to be on buildings. We were told if we fixed the Arcade and built new “class A” office space downtown jobs would return, then we were told if we built new schools, performance would improve, now we’re looking at the Arcade again, we’re buying buildings with no public use for a premium over market value, we’re making holes in the ground on Ludlow street- all in the name of “economic development.”

For 2016, my advice to Dayton: go back to Lincoln and the Gettysburg address. Invest in community, in the power of people. Look at communities and figure out if the density is there to have them come back- or look to consolidate to other neighborhoods. Find ways to improve the quality of life. Stress pride in our community. Talk about what we have that’s working- and celebrate those that make living in the city awesome. Find ways to empower people who homestead. Look at empty houses as opportunities. And most of all, stop accepting mediocrity.

We need to dig in and find our collective integrity, a new respect for our citizens, innovate our way around the hand we’ve been dealt, inspire all to expect more, and bootstrap our way into being a city that is once again known as the cleanest, safest city in America. Invest in people, not in the buildings- and the return will surprise you.

South Park isn’t perfect, but, we’ve managed to buck all trends. It happened because we decided that we wanted something better, and came together to make it happen.

Of the people, for the people.

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