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The Ten Living Cities

9:44 PM, Posted by Brian, No Comment

I was not able to attend the symposium from August 8th which was organized in order to allow cities on the 10 quickest dying cities in America that was published by Forbes earlier this year to communicate ideas about how to not only change the negative perception of their cities, but what actions are being taken to actually shift the climate of their cities to draw people and businesses back to them. My friend was able to go and I asked if he would write some of his opinions about what he thought the representatives brought and his reactions to what they were saying. Here is his post:

The symposium was an opportunity for representatives from each of the top ten cities listed in Forbes magazine for the fastest dying cities of 2008 to come together to prove that Forbes' perception was not truly accurate. The event was organized by two Dayton natives Peter Benkendorf of Involvement Advocacy and Mike Elsass owner of the Color of Energy Gallery, both of whom spoke during the opening remarks that morning.


I had heard about the event a couple of months back online from the Dayton Daily News website, but little information about the where and when were known at that time. I had remembered reading the Forbes article back in August of 2008 and was surprised that an event like this was taking place in Dayton one year after the article hit the streets. The list of dying cities that came out of Forbes 2008 article included Dayton, Canton, Cleveland, and Youngstown OH, Buffalo NY, Charleston WV, Detroit and Flint MI, Scranton PA, and Springfield MA (In no particular order). It was particularly of interest to me because I am originally from the Cleveland area and I wanted to find out what they were doing to combat their population drop. The only two cities that were not represented at the symposium were Scranton PA and Springfield MA.


After a welcoming introduction by Mayor Rhine McLin, the author of the article, Josh Zumbrum, spoke about his efforts and the reactions from the communities listed. While many people had taken offense to the article and the ramifications they thought would happen from being listed in such a position, Mr. Zumbrum had to explain the circumstances of the article. His speech varied from topics of interest today, including the current economic crisis and governmental support programs/bailouts, to the actual article itself. When he got down to it, he had to reassure the communities that the article was not truly an opinion piece. The article spawned from actual statistics on population decline and unemployment rate information available in 2008. Josh stated that he had no intention for this article to be as popular as it was, it just turns out that the media outlets focused on this information over other good works he had created around that time. He championed the cities involved in the symposium for taking their status on this list and turning it into something positive.


With that, the event turned to presentations from each of the cities represented. I attempted to get the names of the presenters as best I could, but forgive me if their names are spelled wrong. Some searching on Google may yield better results for their credentials and information. Each representative had great ideas that can be applied to each of the cities on the list. While many of their efforts overlap, each had something refreshingly new to say.


The two morning segments were dubbed Celebration of Cities and included the following cities in this order:

Detroit, MI - Rick Greyer representing

Canton, OH - Robert Torrez representing

Youngstown, OH - Mayor Jay Williams and Community Activist Phil Kidd representing

Charleston, WV - Susie Salisbury representing

Then…

Cleveland, OH- Valerie McCall representing

Buffalo, NY - Michael Grainer representing

Dayton, OH - John Gower of Dayton’s Planning and Development representing

Flint, MI - Matt Bock, Erin Cardell, and Addie Langford representing


Just a brief rundown on each follows, from what I remember, if someone remembers differently, please let me know:


Rick Greyer spoke for Detroit about the challenge of having a large regional suburban population and the issues present for residents of the inner city. Obviously he spoke of the car economy they once had, and the shift to bring in other business. He showed the various ways the city is trying to rejuvenate its downtown amenities, to draw in new business sectors and residents. With photos of the recently installed ice-rink facility, and plans to attempt to re-use/extend an existing rail line into the city, in order to further bank on transportation as a catalyst for city growth. One of the most striking comments was that he cites these mall locations (some of which we have seen outside Cleveland and Dayton) where they are attempting to build mini-cities with a work-play atmosphere. Rick states the obvious, in that, cities already have all of this infrastructure, why would we want to build these types of fake environments outside of it? The perception needs to be changed.


Robert Torrez spoke about Canton’s struggle with a declining population. And unfortunately Canton, I must apologize, but what you spoke of at length escapes me. I believe the challenge that Canton was facing was that nearby cities were attracting their residents out to where jobs may have been more available. I unfortunately forget how they are working to combat that. If anyone else should remember, please feel free to comment.


Mayor Jay Williams of Youngstown spent a great deal of time discussing how the economic shift from a manufacturing town back in the 1970-1980s has hurt the city for about 30+ years now. He went on to say how the city came to realize that if it didn’t change it would suffer greatly and showed great advances in building business parks and re-zoning land to be more inviting to business cooperation, in that the localized area they would function in, enhances those efforts. They have a strong community involvement, where residents are actively engaged in helping to further their city’s development. Phil Kidd spent a couple of minutes highlighting these efforts and the great response they have gotten at the resident level.


Susie Salisbury spoke of the great work that Charleston WY was doing. They are the center of business for the state and showed how their business week population of 200,000+ offsets their current population by almost three times the number of residents. They highlight their natural resources as a tourism draw. Their residents enjoy the mountainous trails, and numerous recreation activities of the area. Susie’s speech was very inspiring and enthusiastic. They have made great strides in promoting public green space and new signs that poke fun at park rules and government workers. They have taken a negative and turned it positive in order to have fun and to help others enjoy their public spaces. They list the numerous businesses that call downtown their home. They also, as many of the other speakers did, highlight their business groups and after-hours activities, festivals, and civic engagement activities.


After the break, it was noticeable that Dayton’s mayor McLin had other priorities and popped in and out of the future presentations.


Valerie McCall spoke briefly about as much as she could with her limited time about the things Cleveland was engaged in. She made a very good point in that, “Our city’s river burned 30 years ago, let it go and see what greatness we have created”(Citing the environmental protection act). Of note from this observers perspective was that she refused to admit that Cleveland was a dying city, even though population numbers indicated it was. She spoke briefly about the recycling of abandoned homes in the many neighborhoods of Cleveland, rather letting Mike from Buffalo explain how they were also engaged in that activity. Cleveland spoke about their great number of resources, including Lake Erie, the medical centers of excellence, the creation of a medical mart expo center for year round instructing of current research/advancements/trends.


Michael Grainer, a very enthusiastic activist and citizen of Buffalo, spoke a great deal about the numerous grass-roots efforts their citizens are undertaking in order to really re-use the existing infrastructure that has been put to waste by their enormous population decline. He stated that in recent years, the population of Buffalo has decreased some 50%. He spoke about the tremendous efforts underway in recycling abandoned homes and buildings and turning the materials into usable consumer goods that they then resell. Working in conjunction with Cleveland, they have taken a great deal of blighted properties and turned them into useable commodities. Their community involvement is like no other. Engaging youth at such high levels that community parks, community farms, education from these efforts, artists, etc. have all made huge differences in the look and the ownership of areas with large numbers of vacant buildings. Mike was very passionate about his city and the residents who have take ownership of making their city better, which was truly inspiring to people in the audience.


John Gower speaking on Dayton’s behalf attempted to speed through his slides that just had too much information to get through. He highlighted several of the projects including how Dayton plans to reduce the number of vacant properties in order to stabilize neighborhoods in the area. He even admitted to something I have notice in moving to this area, that in the past the population has taken more land than its increase in population needed to take. (Almost on the order of 50 times more). Now they are working to try and stabilize the challenges that a decreasing population is having on unused properties. Being that Dayton is a host city, they had prepared a very good movie regarding all of the proposed work that is going to be happening in the future to attract businesses and residents back to the Downtown core. He also made mention and thank you to Wright Patterson Air Force base for their continual contributions to being the number one employer in the city.


Finally Flit, MI had three representatives come to the table. Two, Erin Cardell, and Addie Langford, represented the large arts culture that is happening in Flint. They highlighted how their communities are benefiting from drawing in artists from surrounding areas and how the residents are ultimately benefiting from this form of entertainment and education. All of the representatives spoke on how their city has transformed themselves from a manufacturing center to an education center, listing a college population of 30,000+ students. Then Matt Bock, working with their center of tourism, made great comments regarding how image can make or break a city. He said that by talking up a city rather than focusing on it challenges and downfalls, really has a huge effect on citizen engagement, attitude, and resourcefulness in helping to promote rather than take down their city’s image. He spoke about how Flint becomes the butt of everyone’s jokes regarding down in the dumps economic conditions, but then how he reacts by instigating educational awareness about why those perceptions are wrong. He made very good points to the power that perception has to do with a city’s well being. Matt told the audience how one blog at a time, he is challenging people’s perceptions by waking them up to the reality of what is really happening in their city. His message is one that can be taken to all the cities, in that, image/perception really can make or break you and make or break your citizen’s pride in your city. He also encouraged everyone in attendance to defend each of the cities and educate people to what is really happening in each of our cities.


There were several activities in the afternoon after lunch that I did not partake in. One forum called Restoration of Cities did not start on time, but was meant to be an open conversation between participants about the “possibilities that will move our communities to become more viable and vibrant cities through the passion we all bring to this gathering.”


Then Public Square was to take place in order to link participants together in order to form committees that would help lead the cities into partaking in the challenging changes that would need to occur in order for them to advance their civic engagement and resident participation.


Activists and regional groups came out to recruit and to inform others about what was going on in their communities:


-The Dayton International Peace Museum www.daytonpeacemuseum.org.

-A Peace Museum spin off called Peacekeeper, who seeks to get Dayton renamed to the “City of Peace and Prosperity”. www.DaytonCityOfPeace.org

-Numerous pamphlets for the City of Dayton and organizations working in the city to make it a better place, including information on Dayton’s 2nd Annual Neighborhood Conference with a theme of Original People, Places & Dreams to be held at the convention center on Saturday September 12, 2009 from 7:30am to 3pm. Information can be found at City of Dayton Department of Planning and Community Development.

-The Charleston Area Alliance for Charleston WV. www.CharlestonAreaAlliance.org

-The Dayton Arcade renovation group Friends of the Dayton Arcade www.daytonarcade.wetpaint.com, which will have an open house for the Arcade on Urban Nights in Sept. like they did for the one this past May.

-The Kettering Foundation and its numerous publications. www.kettering.org

-PowerNet of Dayton. www.powernetofdayton.org A community outreach program to support neighborhoods.

-Repower America. www.repoweramerica.org for the advancement of green business and development. Become a member online.

-Garden Station, downtown Dayton’s community garden sponsored by Five Rivers Metroparks and the Dayton Circus. http://www.daytoncircus.org/?q=node/2204 or check them out on Facebook or Yahoo.

-Generation Dayton. www.generationdayton.org A group trying to network and retain Dayton’s young professionals.


There was an opportunity for feedback from the participants. One questionnaire asked “What declaration of ‘possibility’ can you make that has the power to transform your community AND inspire you?” Then it asked “What commitment are you prepared to make, to see this ‘possibility’ become reality?” The other questionnaire asked the participants to take a few minutes to list what was good about today’s event and what they might like to see at future events. Answers could be emailed to possibilities@tenlivingcities.org.


So in some manner of speaking, I can attribute this event being held to people’s misconception about the source of the article. What people in these cities thought was that this article was an attack on their communities, when it was actually simply based on public statistics, a fact that these communities needed to understand and accept. This forum turned out to be more of a show-and-tell event and public relations session including some tourism bragging rights. I wanted to speak a great deal about what was said at this meeting, because I feel that it was underplayed in the Dayton community. The event had numerous cameras and photographers snapping shots of the speakers and spectators throughout the morning sessions. What disappointed me the most was that I have seen none of these were used in Dayton. They may have been from outside cities, because the only news information that came out of the weekends’ events were a collection of pictures of people enjoying First Friday in the Oregon District and a one page article from Dayton Daily News that only reported that the event happened, not what happened at the event. I would have expected more interest in the event given that Dayton had been working hard in recent years to promote itself in a new light and because of how many people in each of these cities had taken offense to the facts presented in the article. The turn out was so-so. I would estimate somewhere in the 200-300 people in attendance, but I could be wrong. They hopefully will continue with their goal of making this an annual event, to which I hope that more participation and media coverage would be given to make residents aware. The comments made and the efforts already underway in these “Living” cities are great and inspirational. One young lady got up to make a comment at the end that she, like many other young people, want to help and make a difference, but don’t necessarily know where to go to get in contact with areas where they could help. The panel on stage encouraged her to seek out community notifications, and city websites for listings of community programs. The event was very inspirational, but the attendance low, which doesn’t go far unless we spread the word.

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