Saving and Destroying Downtown all at once

September 12, 2006 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

How do wealthy, well meaning, and educated downtown revivalists accidentally destroy cities?Not every failure of America's urban core's were created with sinister intent. In fact, most were likely created by people with good intentions of revitalizing their downtown. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions...Jeff Bruce of the Dayton Daily News (, the local paper in Dayton, Ohio, recently interviewed Dr. Benjamin Schuster.Dr. Schuster is determined to be an integral part of the revitalization of downtown Dayton. His commitment to his city's downtown became clear when he spearheaded the fundraising of $8 million for the performing arts center that now bears his name. After that, he relocated, with his wife, to live in downtown Dayton.

Among his views about the problems facing downtown Dayton:

We have too many abandoned and dilapidated structures downtown. We need to rebuild.
•Civic and governmental leadership has been lethargic in responding to the city's needs.
•Our model of government in Dayton no longer works. We should look at progressive cities, such as Louisville, for solutions that incorporate more regional cooperation.

These are all logical, yet somewhat obvious, problems that most American cities are facing.

He goes on to say:

There's an old saying in medicine: Before you can cure the disease, you have to make a diagnosis. That's the first step. I don't think anyone has really set a tone for making the proper diagnosis — what needs to be done in Dayton. I think it not only behooves the city government but also the Chamber of Commerce, which has been somewhat lethargic and perhaps satisfied with the status quo. I don't know, they may be working behind the scenes doing things that I don't know about. I don't see that the city council has taken very many proper steps to change the scenery downtown. We have industry leaving, we have people leaving. There isn't very much in the way of decent restaurants downtown ... I think we also need the county commission to look at that and work in concert with the city to do something about what's happening to downtown Dayton.

Clearly, this is a man that truly wants to see downtown revitalized. He may even be downtown Dayton's leading proponent, but a problem arises; suddenly we have bad ideas mixed in with the good. How does one tell them apart?

We have so many empty buildings that really need to be torn down. We need to offer tax abatements and incentives to people who are willing to build new structures downtown and to entice businesses to move downtown. I may be lofty in my thinking, but I have the feeling that if we had worked hard enough, we could have gotten The Greene shopping center downtown. We could devastate four blocks of buildings and give them adequate parking, because what is The Greene? It's primarily for eating, primarily for entertainment. I'm really not a politician and I'm not in the city or county government, but this is the viewpoint of the layperson who now lives downtown and as he drives along the street, he sees all these decaying buildings absolutely empty.

What about parking?

That's a big item. We need to make adequate parking. If you tear down buildings ... there should be adequate parking space.

Dayton: We have a problem. 

If you are a regular reader of this site, you should realize by now that tearing down buildings to make way for parking lots, or simply because the buildings are empty, will accomplish the exact opposite of Dr. Schuster's goals. If you are a new reader and you would like proof of this, look no further than LaVilla, or any part of Jacksonville's downtown, all of which has undergone extensive "revitalization" over the past 50 years.

This article clearly demonstrates that people with good intentions; educated people; people that don't just talk about bringing their downtown back from the dead, but take action to make it happen, have largely and unknowingly worked to accomplish the exact opposite of their goals. They have failed to realize the consequences of leveling block after city block of buildings in order to create room to park their cars. They have failed to realize that demolition is not the only solution to an empty building. Without buildings, a city is nothing more than a parking lot. 

Dr Schuster's efforts should not be minimized. He is doing more than most, and admits he is only a layman on the subject. But why is downtown revitalization left to the well meaning?

Several good points were made, but most people, including Schuster himself, can not distinguish the good ideas from the bad, leaving Dayton to potentially suffer the same fate as LaVilla.

Take note: Jacksonville needs new ideas to bring this city up to its full potential. The revitalization strategies employed here have been allowed to fail for generations. It is time to rethink everything and to take action.

For the original article posted in the Dayton Daily News.