When “your government” says no

I just returned from a meeting of our neighborhood association, Historic South Park, Inc., where we discussed next actions of the neighborhood in relation to two different upcoming developments along Brown/Warren Street. The first, was the proposed new development between Burns Ave. and Kline St. which was being called “MidPark” and I wrote about here: MidPark? Part of someone’s plan. and then the follow-up plan to close off streets and possibly build new connections into the neighborhood.

Both of these meetings were presented supposedly as an opportunity to gather community input, but neither seemed to be based on actually sitting down and asking us what our concerns were, especially the second part with the street closings.

As some of the youngsters on our neighborhood board spoke about these projects, it was clear that they felt that the city and the developers were working within a set of rules that are in place that create a take-it-or-leave-it option for the community. An example was that ODOT funds for the reconfiguration of Warren Street can only be expended if intersections are at least X feet apart, or the money won’t be available were spoken as if God himself had handed down the rules from the temple mount and they were chiseled in stone. It was also made clear that the developer of “MidPark” was using private money- and as long as it lined up with zoning code they could do as they please (never mind the site was bought from the former Greater Dayton Metropolitan Housing Authority which owned the real estate with public money- and Citywide- which now “owns the property” is a quasi-public slush fund for your tax dollars).

It’s this kind of thinking that kills creativity- and great ideas faster than anything else. Government dollars are our dollars- not the “state’s” or the “feds’ ” or even the “City of Dayton’s money”- it’s our money, and it’s our city and we have a right to be involved in projects that do use our money, and oftentimes, the people who live there understand things like traffic patterns better than any “traffic engineer” no matter how many studies they do.

If you think a dog park is a great idea, or a skateboard park, or a roller hockey rink, or a community garden, it’s up to you to rally your neighbors and see what kind of plan you can come up with, because you get the city that you work for- that you dream of, and that you want- only if you ask for it.

The whole concept of the city of neighbors, the priority board system, the citizen participation that Dayton has been known for depends on citizens asking hard questions, wondering where their money is being spent and why. To sit back and just let organizations like Miami Valley Hospital, or Citywide or the city make plans without citizen participation when public infrastructure is involved (like closing streets) is an abdication of your rights and responsibilities as a taxpayer.

When GE comes to town and says, we’ll build new offices here, but only if you don’t make us fund your schools- the correct answer is, if GE doesn’t help fund our schools, GE won’t be able to hire our citizens anyway, so you can take your offices and put them somewhere else. In fact, since a ton of the business GE does is with the federal government, if you don’t pay your taxes, you shouldn’t receive them back in government contracts- and if you pay your CEO $20 million a year, you can afford to help us pay our teachers.

It’s when citizens sit back and think they can’t ask city hall for what they want- that we have problems in America, and when things like “The death of a good idea” happen, because we’re not paying attention and asking hard questions.

Historic and non-historic South Park have seen two new developments that are welcome in our neighborhood over the last few years in Jimmie’s Ladder 11 and Coco’s Bistro, but already, both have had issues with parking. Jimmie’s, which moved across the street under the direction of MVH, could have had a much bigger parking lot, but instead MVH “saved” a piece of land bordering Brown for a development that could never happen, because there isn’t space for parking. Had the neighborhood been involved, we might have asked why? Because now it’s obvious that not only does Jimmie’s need more parking, but that having the parking lot entrances in the back hasn’t been good for the neighborhood.

You can forget that we are our government and let faceless people control your future, or you can stand up and ask questions and propose new ideas, because, ultimately, it’s our country and we shouldn’t ever forget it.

One other funny thing in Ohio- and most states, we have laws called sunshine laws, that are supposed to make sure that changes in our community are made out in the open, in the sunshine, so that everyone can see, discuss, contribute. Everyone should have a chance to express their views, push for their ideas and challenge the status quo- because otherwise we’ll just rot in the dark, never knowing what could have been.

At the very end of the meeting, which was running long, where I was accused by some of “being negative” and running people out of the meeting by pressing for a comprehensive traffic plan for our neighborhood, I finally got the chance to officially start the discussion in South Park about things we could do to improve traffic flow and accessibility in our neighborhood. So, on top of my campaign for commission, I’ve just accepted another responsibility to try to move our community forward – or at least to think of what could be, if we only stop accepting what we have as “good enough” or “what we’ve always had” as the status quo- as opposed to what we could have. Wish me luck.

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