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IDEAS: Could Dayton be the answer?

The city of Dayton skyline. TY GREENLEES/STAFF PHOTO.
The city of Dayton skyline. TY GREENLEES/STAFF PHOTO.

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: this commentary appeared on the Dayton Daily News Ideas and Voice page Thursday, July 2.    

Will McKelvey is a native Daytonian and Chaminade Julienne graduate currently working in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our faith in our safety and institutions, but it offers Dayton an opportunity.

Will McKelvey
Will McKelvey

Dayton can emerge from this crisis and grow in a way that is equitable and prosperous by continuing to invest in downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods. To maximize our potential, we must show courage in the face of uncertainty. We banded together to rebuild after the tornadoes, gathered to mourn after the Oregon District shooting, and after a vaccine is developed, the Dayton community will once again rise to the challenge. By maintaining focus on our pre-pandemic vision for Dayton, we will build a city that is equitable and ready to welcome new and returning residents looking for the perfect mix of urban and intimate.

We must build on the groundwork laid by our business community and elected officials in recent years. New housing like the Delco Lofts and Water Street Flats were developed; new bars and restaurants like Crafted and Cured and Texas Beef and Cattle Company have popped up alongside old favorites; and new office space at Tech Town and elsewhere have attracted young, engaged people to live, play, and work downtown.

In 2018, Dayton was one of only six large metro areas in the United States’ Northeast quadrant to gain population from domestic migration.

That same year, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago all lost residents to domestic outflow. Weary of the high cost of living and tight quarters that characterize megacities, people still want an urban experience. Dayton’s investments downtown and nearby will continue to attract disenchanted large-city dwellers and suburbanites looking for a change.

The pandemic may well accelerate existing demographic trends.

Millions have lost their jobs and many more have been relegated to working remotely, untethering them from any permanent physical office. Where will a young professional want to live once her $2,200/month studio in Brooklyn takes on the additional role of office?

Where will the person who temporarily fled a panic-stricken city for their childhood home find the perfect combination of urban experience and proximity to family?

Dayton can be the answer.

A young, ambitious urban professional can live in a beautiful downtown apartment with walkable bars, restaurants, and amenities but at a fraction of big-city cost. Families can afford to buy homes in South Park or Wright-Dunbar with a yard, five minutes from downtown.

Like the crises that came before, Dayton will emerge stronger when this pandemic is over. But it will take a concerted effort from every arm of our community.

Business leaders must continue to invest in the places and jobs that draw people here. Elected officials must continue to build on the foundation of partnership and engagement that has injected life into our city. And most importantly, the people of Dayton need to do what we’ve always done best: welcome others into our community with open arms.