The Dayton region’s leaders and residents must work to overcome disparities so that more people can live happy, fulfilled lives, according to residents who attended a series of Your Voice Ohio forums held last week.
“We don’t want to just survive,” said Arlene Jones of Dayton. “We want to thrive.”
The Your Voice Ohio forums held in Dayton, Kettering and Trotwood last week are part of an ongoing effort by Ohio news organizations to spark public conversations on solutions to the state’s problems.
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“The Dayton area meetings illustrate a common theme heard in all (Your Voice Ohio) sessions: People are desperate for a place they can call safe, where they have relationships and a feeling of respect,” said Doug Oplinger, project manager
He said the forums revealed “overwhelming concerns for other basic needs: food, shelter, transportation and safety” in the state’s hard-hit industrial cities.
In the past two years the forums have included more than 1,200 Ohioans in more than 30 communities discussing issues like addiction and economic disparities. This round of community forums is intended to start conversations about community needs ahead of the November elections.
In the forums this week participants were asked what the community would look like if everyone lived happy and fulfilled lives and how to reach that goal.
Participants said that the Dayton region has many strengths, which could be building blocks to overcome economic and educational disparities and racial inequity.
Among the strengths: a history of innovation and creativity, affordable living, a thriving arts scene, a plentiful water supply, a lack of traffic gridlock, multiple colleges and universities, stellar parks, libraries and research facilities, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
A brighter future for Dayton is a more collaborative one, said forum participants at the Dayton Metro Library downtown on Monday.
Among the ideas:
• Take more regional approaches to government, including having countywide schools.
• Get more engaged neighborhoods with consistent leadership, active public spaces and civic responsibility for all.
• Improve equity across the city.
• Focus media on local issues and develop a new model of funding media as a public trust.
Matt Ouren, 22 of Miamisburg, recently moved to the area and said he was impressed by how much people care about the future of the community here.
“It’s really exciting,” he said. “I learned a lot about the community and challenges people face.”
The group also discussed changing Dayton’s leadership structure so that city commissioners would represent specific wards, rather than being elected at-large.
Some suggested investing in fiber optics so a group of the best teachers could teach at multiple schools.
And participants also said they would like to see the success of downtown’s redevelopment duplicated in the city’s neighborhoods.
Thursday’s session at the White House Event Center in downtown Dayton focused a lot on measuring the community’s well-being versus economic success in terms of job numbers.
Participants also developed action plans to address low voter turnout and food deserts.
Voting ideas included increasing civic education in pre-kindergarten through college, making election day a paid holiday, and making it easier for high school students to register to vote at school.
To fight food deserts, the group suggested targeting areas of the city with only dollar stores and offer low interest loans to open full-service grocery stores.
Community problems can be tackled by people working together, but success requires leadership and follow-up, residents said during the forum held at the Kettering-Moraine branch of the Dayton Metro Library.
Problems identified by the group included hunger, addiction, racism, lack of economic opportunity, lack of transportation and the need for affordable housing.
Jones suggested the “collective impact” model of problem solving, where two strong individuals in a community each find two more people to help and those people each find two more people. The effort then grows and no one person or group has to take on the whole job, she said.
It is always a challenge to get people to show up for meetings and commit to tasks, said Patricia Cavanaugh, a Kettering resident who is running for city council against incumbent Councilman Bruce Duke. She said people need to get organized, present ideas to leaders and ask them to act.
People will organize around something they care about, said Duke, using as an example the successful effort by Kettering residents to keep the Ridgeway Avenue bridge, which the city had considered closing due to the cost of repairs. Funding was obtained and the bridge will now be repaired.
He also cited the drive to put a community-owned grocery store on Salem Avenue in an area of Dayton that had none.
“That’s a perfect example of that one: How do you get rid of a food desert?” Duke said. “You could do that with education. You could do that with housing. You could do that with crime.”
Participants in the forum held at the Trotwood Community and Cultural Arts Center said the city’s success depends on improvements in the quality of Trotwood-Madison Schools.
“The Trotwood Board of Education is struggling and not succeeding,” said Trotwood resident Marshall Stearns, who argued that the city needs to step in to improve the schools.
Deputy City Manager Stephanie Kellum pointed out that the city has no authority over schools.
“I’m telling you from a city perspective you’re not going to improve education if you don’t improve income. You’re not going to improve income if you don’t get jobs. You’re not going to get jobs if you don’t have amenities,” Kellum said. “It’s a downward spiral.”
School district officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Trotwood-Madison High School teacher Alicia Pagan called for more mentoring of students as well as internships and other ways of showing them the opportunities available to them.
Participants talked about the need for more economic diversity in the city, which would attract businesses such as grocery stores, and help the city and schools with their finances.
“We’ve attracted so many families that are on the poorer end of the spectrum,” said former councilman Bruce Kettelle. “That concentration makes it more challenging.”
Your Voice Ohio forums are free and open to the public. Two more are scheduled:
Lebanon: Sunday, Oct. 6, Countryside YMCA, 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Springboro: Monday, Oct. 7, YMCA of Greater Dayton – Coffman Family Branch, 6-8 p.m.
Visit YourVoiceOhio.org for more information.
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