What happens when the people leave Dayton?

Dayton made another list- number 5 at losing population. It’s another one of those stupid how-do-you-define-“Dayton” questions that really needs answering soon if we don’t want to keep being made fun of- and continue to lose respect for all that we have:

5. Dayton, Ohio

Population: 153,843

Population Change 2000-2009: -11,961

Population Percent Change 2000-2009: -7.21%

Home Vacancy: 18.9%

For its size, Dayton, Ohio, was once one of the most productive and creative cities in the U.S. It produced more patents per capita at the turn of the century than any other. The city was home to several former great Fortune 500 companies, including National Cash Register, Mead Paper and Phillips Manufacturing. Through the first half of the 20th century, Dayton had one of the healthiest manufacturing industries. It had more GM autoworkers than any city outside of Michigan during World War II. In the past 50 years, Mead has merged with West Virginia Paper and moved to Richmond, and GM has closed one plant after another in the city.

via us-cities-running-out-of-people: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance.

If you look at the Dayton Metro Area- the losses are much smaller- not worth a story- but, since we continue to believe that the health of a core isn’t that important- we keep missing opportunities.

The other day I was reading a trade journal- sponsored by local company NewPage. You know the paper merchant formerly known as Mead. They proudly stated that they were headquartered in Miami Township- or Miamisburg (can’t remember- and I’m not in my office right now). Try finding that on a map?

It’s that kind of lameness that perfectly defines our problem. While we continue to think that because we know the differences between Beavercreek and Trotwood- the rest of the world cares. Never mind that we’ve let sprawl and over-building dilute our community- the reality is, we’ve been talking about how we’re going to fix our problems a lot more than we’ve actually fixed any of them.

With cuts coming in state and federal funding- we’re going to see Dayton proper face even bigger challenges- and the first ring communities suffer even more as more people file out- but- not too far out, because believe it or not- even poor people want safe neighborhoods and good schools.

In the meantime- the current city commission isn’t talking about serious regionalism- or about concentrating what limited resources we have on making sure we get our fundamental services right- they are thinking about spending money demolishing excess inventory- with no plan on how to regrow our community.

Last I checked- we don’t pay taxes to do property maintenance on other people’s buildings- nor do empty homes require government services.

Let’s make use an analogy: Dayton as a restaurant.

At one time- we made a lot of different dishes (manufacturing) and we were very good at it. We had good servers (public services) and a great clientele (population). The population came here because we were a good value: low cost of living, reliable work force, strong business leaders. Translated- the dishes we made were reasonably priced, the servers showed up and the people in the kitchen made sure the dishes came on time.

First problem was when tastes started changing- and we weren’t willing to change the menu. NCR missed the rise of the electronic cash register, GM missed small cars and Frigidaire – well- I’m not sure why we stopped making refrigerators- other than they could probably be made more cheaply elsewhere. Our unions had gotten a bit fat and lazy over the years- and seemed to forget that there were other people on the planet who could do what they did. The days of never changing the menu were over- people wanted different, they wanted just in time, they wanted higher quality at a lower price.

Second problem- when we started telling our customers whom they were going to sit with to eat. The devastating impact of school busing for “integration” was one of the major engines to build the suburbs. The customers who didn’t like sitting with strangers- picked up and left. The restaurant lost 25% of its business almost overnight. What’s worse- it lost most of the customers who bought steak- and tipped well- yet management didn’t change anything for years. Even 30 years later- the realization that this policy was a failure never really hit home. We tried turning the restaurant into a food court- with a little something for everyone- (magnet schools) and never really understood that people still wanted the high end steak dishes- while we were trying to sell them fast food. We still had the same number of seats and employees in the restaurant – although our customers had stopped coming.

Then we tried to go into the manufacturing business ourselves. We’re restaurateurs- we’re supposed to be a service industry- but- we thought we’d try our hand at building offices for new customers- hoping they’d come to our restaurant- the one that can’t make or deliver the meal the customers want. We failed miserably. Building buildings and huge “silver bullet” projects like the Arcade, the Arcade tower, Riverscape, Tool Town etc. weren’t what we were supposed to be doing- but we did, because handing our customers’ money over to our rich builder friends kept getting the management re-elected. Look at the growth of the campaign donations and who paid the tab. These people weren’t eating at our restaurant- they were just talking about it like they still did.

What we needed to do was to learn to refine our menu, keep the best servers, shrink the dining room, concentrate on the finest ingredients we could afford- yet we were still thinking we could run our place like we always had- ignoring the competition.

If we’d concentrated on basic services- good schools, safe neighborhoods, clean streets- and not gone off in a million directions- we’d still have a restaurant. Now, we’re thinking that by destroying tables (taking houses out of the inventory) somehow we’ll be able to bring people back to our restaurant. Again- we’re not concentrating on delivering the best service- or using our limited resources to create a restaurant people want to eat in- we’re just getting rid of tables and chairs.

But, if we’d wake up and look around- we have all the things people could want- we have safe neighborhoods, we have good servers, we have great intimate booths- and stages for performance, and good schools- the works- it’s in a place the world knows as Dayton- but we know as Oakwood, Centerville, Kettering, Beavercreek- etc. If we could only stop drawing lines on a map that slice and dice this into fiefdoms- we’d start looking a lot better.

Why can’t we have a regional school system? Why is it OK to have Sinclair Community College- for the whole of the area- but not a Dayton Public Schools for the whole? Why is it OK to have county commissioners who do almost nothing- and get paid the most of locally elected officials- for full-time work- while the cities have part-timers? Why do we still have townships – in an urban area? Why do we insist on so many elected people- for an area that hasn’t grown all that much in the last 40 years- when we’ve cut back on so many other things that we actually need- like police officers?

We need new management of this restaurant- from top to bottom. We need a new focus on delivering fine food- with the best possible servers- in the restaurant we have- with one management team, one top chef- and hold them accountable. We need to market our place to the world- as one that you want to come to eat, to stick around for a show- and decide this is a great place to hang out.

It’s time for a vision- and leadership of one city, ready to compete on a global scale, with real leaders, paid real money- held accountable by the public to take us where we want to be. The truth is we don’t have a choice. Without rebuilding our customer base- we can’t keep serving the same dreck with new menus forever.

What would we have if we paid our mayor $250K, and, had one sheriff, one fire chief, one inspector gotcha, one prosecutor, one auditor, one chief ethics officer- and all of them made $200K a year? We’d actually have huge cost savings- and a team of people that could be held accountable.

Maybe we’d even have a place people would recognize as a real city- instead of the clusterduck we have now.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be recognized as a leader again? Then maybe, people would actually want to come buy some of those houses cheap and fix them up- and eat at our restaurant again.

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17 Responses

  1. djw January 16, 2011 / 3:50 pm
    A good post overall, David, but I have to register one fairly strenuous objection:


    Second problem- when we started telling our customers whom they were going to sit with to eat. The devastating impact of school busing for “integration” was one of the major engines to build the suburbs. The customers who didn’t like sitting with strangers- picked up and left

    Brutally brunt translation: well to do White people in Dayton were too racist to handle the actual, substantive application of Brown vs. Board of Education to them.

    The way you’ve phrased this issue–utterly ignoring race and racism as a factor–reads like an attempt to whitewash history. To pretend the central objection to busing was that their kids would have to go to school with kids from other neighborhoods is an affront to common sense, as well as the consensus of recent historians on the story of white flight in American cities in the 60’s and 70’s. To be clear, I’m sure some people objected to the end of racially segregated neighborhood schools for reasons that had nothing to do with fear of class and race integration. I’m also quite confident that the objection to racial integration (and, to a lesser degree, class integration) was quite a bit more of a more significant a factor.

    Dayton as a city has made a lot of mistakes, worthy of substantial criticism. And I certainly concede that busing was largely a failure in Dayton and most cities. Even though it had significant negative side effects, I’m loathe to criticize the attempt by the city to apply basic equality–one of the great moral and political achievements of the 20th century in this country– in the city. They were trying to do something decent and morally necessary. Although it has become fashionable to pretend otherwise(especially since the Supreme Court abandoned Brown in all but name in the 70’s), but racially segregated schools by law and racially segregated schools by geography is a distinction without a difference from the perspective of the students who suffer under a world of “separate but equal” either way.

  2. David Esrati January 16, 2011 / 4:00 pm

    @djw had the busing been countywide, instead of just Dayton, it would have been a totally different story.
    Oakwood is stll lilly white.
    Hello?

  3. djw January 16, 2011 / 5:20 pm
    Oh, I agree; that’s a large part of why it was an epic failure, and the nation pretty much gave up on Brown afterwards–given the historic structure of school districts connected to cities, it was extremely hard to integrate regionally, which made white flight an effective weapon against civil rights.
    I’m not saying busing was anything but a failure, but it was a failure in the service of justice, and it failed because people were still too racist–they’d rather move than have their kids go to school with black people. I’m just opposed to classifying this as a foolish error by Dayton (it happened in almost every major urban center) and I’m especially opposed to telling the story while whitewashing the role of racism in the whole debacle. Where you use the word “strangers,” “Black people” would be far more accurate.
     
    One thing I’ve noticed in Dayton is that no one ever seems to talk about racism as a problem for the area, and doing  so seems to be almost completely beyond the pale. In such a racially divided place, with anonymous racists running wild on the comments of the local newspaper, I find this pretty frustrating.
  4. Greg Hunter January 18, 2011 / 8:31 am
    Endemic racism is Dayton’s biggest problem but most people believe all that can be done has been done.  Most white people do not even understand the inherent racism they posses.  Bob Edwards had Jane Elliot on NPR yesterday and it was fascinating.  Dayton is reaping the history it has sowed when it comes to racism.  It has no chance on capitalizing on it’s inventive past when it cannot deal with it’s racist present.  Sprawl and separation make life nice for whites and to be fair the Great Society was an ABJECT FAILURE, so I understand why most whites think “they have done enough”
  5. Jeff Dziwulski January 18, 2011 / 4:09 pm
    If you look at the experience of Louisville and countywide busing the upper middle class whites who didn’t leave the county would have  sent their kids to private school   Louisville has a higher rate of kids going to private school for the upper middle class suburbs than Dayton does, and the reason why is they’ve fled the public system to avoid bussing.    Over the past 20- 25 years the white flight to the surrounding counties around Louisville has also accelerated, and some of these new collar counties (some are the fastest growing in Kentucky) could be considered “Whitopia”..or close to it… using the definition in Richard Benjamins excellent book on this:

    http://richbenjamin.com/

    That Dayton pretty much ghettoizes the black (and poor whites, which is a bit unusual…) into the city schools and select suburban systems is actually a good thing, since it mitigates against sprawl and permits older suburban places like, say, Kettering and Oakwood and Miamisburg to hold on a bit longer against the downward trend.

    I used to think this was bad, but it turns out to maybe be a selling point for the Dayton region, if one is trying to recruit and retain a middle class and upper middle class population that values education and doesn’t want to be forced to pay for private schools for it.

    For example, if offered the choice between Louisville and Dayton to an engineer or some other white collar professional, and you tell them they could send their kids to good suburban systems or they have to send their kids to private school (and pay that tuition) you’d be making a good case for the Dayton region as a place to relocate over Louisville.  That and the two engineering schools here at UD and WSU.

    @@@

    The population issue is pretty simple.  The city has now deteriorated so much or become so undesirable that it’s losing people to the inner suburbs and  finally emptying out the way Detroit and Gary have.  Though I note that the city is trying to avoid the urban prairie fate by doing a lot of reconstruction of housing in various places (not in those  hip & trendy “historic districts” like South Park, BTW).  So maybe not quite as bleak a fate as Gary and Detroit.

     But these numbers are misleading, true.  The Dayton metropolitan area has had nearly neglible population growth overall, since 1970, partly due to weak economy meaning less in-migration, partly due to smaller family sizes, and partly due to the population growth being accounted for to some small degree in the Cincinnati metro number since some of it is happening in Warren and Butler counties.

    It would be interesting to see how the Dayton metro area ranks in the stagnation rankings vs population loss.

  6. Jeff Dziwulski January 18, 2011 / 4:37 pm
    One thing I’ve noticed in Dayton is that no one ever seems to talk about racism as a problem for the area, and doing  so seems to be almost completely beyond the pale. In such a racially divided place, with anonymous racists running wild on the comments of the local newspaper, I find this pretty frustrating.

    A truley excellent comment. Though things have become more integrated (in the sububurbs, too), over the decades, based on census data and various measure of segregation.  Dayton is probably typical for the Midwest on the racial segregation front.

  7. Lilly January 18, 2011 / 6:16 pm
    Oakwood has the best school system in the state, why would anyone want to live there?
  8. Greg Hunter January 18, 2011 / 7:25 pm

    Oakwood has the best school system in the state, why would anyone want to live there?

    That was always the plan to separate the tax base from the great unwashed….. A very caring community…It works for awhile but eventually the cancer it causes ruins a city and many in Oakwood are the very reason for the DECLINE.

  9. Jeff Dziwulski January 19, 2011 / 4:49 pm
    Just for kicks, how Dayton ranks in how segrated list.  Out of the top 100 metro areas Dayton ranks #14…it is the 14th most segregated metro area in the USA.  Ranking around the same as Philadelphia.

    An alternative measure for this is the exposure index, the likelyhood whites are likely to live next to blacks, or in the same neighborhoods as blacks, and vice versa.  Dayton again ranks #13 out of the top 100 metro areas for whites least likely to live next to blacks. 

    So I guess the reason why have such great race relations in the Dayton region is that there is minimal contact outside of the workplace.  And blacks get to claim the “hollow prize” of political control of the City of  Dayton (depending on if they vote en bloc

  10. djw January 20, 2011 / 9:37 am
    Jeff, out of curiousity, where can that list be accessed?
  11. djw January 20, 2011 / 4:12 pm
    Thanks, Jeff.
     
    Milwaukee–who knew?
  12. Mark Wasson February 26, 2011 / 7:36 pm
    DE writes:
    If you look at the Dayton Metro Area- the losses are much smaller- not worth a story- but, since we continue to believe that the health of a core isn’t that important- we keep missing opportunities.
    >>  I think it’s still a story, especially when overall population continues to rise.  When the region’s population drops, it has fewer resources to invest in itself, it makes the market less appealing to retail and employers who depend on population and population growth, population-based gov spending gets cut (on top of the general cutting era we seem to be in now, so growing areas can get a larger proportion of a shrinking pot), there is less demand for housing in the market which has a downward influence on home prices and new construction, it impacts outsiders’ perceptions of the region and not just the core city, and unless the size of the legislature increases, it dilutes the regions legislative influence.

    In today’s world it’s almost expected that the core city will lose population.  But in a lot of places the region is still growing.  The Dayton area is in competition with those regions.

    DE writes:
    Building buildings and huge “silver bullet” projects like the Arcade, the Arcade tower, Riverscape, Tool Town etc. weren’t what we were supposed to be doing

    >>  Any word on the status of the Arcade?  I think that this was the first reference to it I’ve seen in about a year now.

  13. David Esrati February 27, 2011 / 11:05 am

    @Mark W- no word on the arcade. It’s in a private developers hands- and he may be having second thoughts about his odds on a successful project after encountering local authorities.

  14. Burg dude February 26, 2012 / 8:06 pm
    The suburbs are doing just fine. Go to downtown Miamisburg. It is packed with all kinds of places to eat. Most of those have left Dayton and moved here. The mall is packed every day also. I just hope it does not go the way the Salem Mall did……… There is a new hospital in Beavercreek and the expansion of another in Centerville. The arcade debacle is a joke that is shared around the water cooler. The only good thing Dayton has going is the Dragons. But be careful, you may get run over by the people fleeing Dayton and it’s crime to get back to the safety of the burbs.

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