Did you catch Bill Pote’s post on the Palladium Boot video series, Detroit Lives? It’s fascinating, isn’t it? And it feels good to say that it’s no longer morbidly fascinating but rather, it’s exciting to see the sparks of energy emanating once again from the Rust Belt, and I see them here in Dayton, don’t you?
Oh, I know. If you left in the 70’s or 80’s, you’ll trip over each other to tsk tsk and tell us how sad and forlorn Dayton looks today. Yawn. Not a very original thought at this point in time, but here’s the thing: If that’s all you see, then you haven’t been looking in the right places because there are neighborhoods and pockets within neighborhoods where you can find vibrancy returning, and while it might be an unglamorous and gritty kind of life, it’s here. Hopes and dreams are being created one piece of real estate at a time.
My favorite line in the Detroit Lives series is from the 24 year old who has helped create an artistic center. He’s clearly doing what he loves, living a life that he loves and has carved something out of nothing- the American dream in a hipster hat and glasses. His excitement is palpable, “I’m 24 and I have a 9 story building at my disposal!” Wow. Consider the possibilities for this young adult and his future.
A couple of decades ago our cities were built from the top down. Industry and industry leaders made decisions for us: Decisions about real estate, about development, about commerce, about life in our Rust Belt cities. The government officials were there to see that things went along with these plans, and yes I’m simplifying. I’m sure there was more to this story, but the end result is that when these leaders left, they took plans and decisions with them and that’s what we’ve been living through for the past couple of decades. The needs of the people who live in the city haven’t changed; we still need food, clothing, shelter, goods and services, but methods of procuring these necessities have changed drastically. As Detroit Lives shows us, however, opportunities for individuals to build capital have increased, and this is creating unforeseen opportunities.
Consider: Real estate is dirt cheap here in the Rust Belt. A small business owner, entrepreneur, or artist can own property here- something they may not have been able to do 30 years ago. That’s property ownership on a small scale. Perhaps it’s only important to one person and the customers they serve, but this type of real estate capital is no less important to those lives who are affected by it, than large neighborhoods or city blocks or suburban developments.
But there are other types of capital that Daytonians can now create and enjoy on a scale unknown in decades prior- social and individual capital. A neighborhood day care, a small barber shop, or local pizzeria- real estate, buildings now have the chance to become a gathering place. This is a natural way for neighborhood support networks to be created and expanded on a very localized and organic basis. We see this type of social and individual capital in Grafton Hill and South Park and other neighborhoods in Dayton. Industrial leaders did this for our cities in the past, but the amazing thing about living in a Rust Belt city in 2010 is that here, social or individual capital is no longer the domain of the wealthy, well-connected, or politically powerful. This bottom up expansion is difficult to create in bigger urban areas, but Dayton is a nice scalable size for this type of networking, and it fills a very real need among hyper-local communities.
The generation represented in Detroit Lives is connected and networks in complex ways. They’ve see the collapse of cities, governments, corporations, unions. These entities will not be the source of solutions for this generation. These young adults are looking to themselves for answers, and that’s good for the Rust Belt. When entire buildings are wanted and can be bought inexpensively, and when these entrepreneurs can be allowed to expand on the capital they themselves can produce, we have the potential to see an increase in the type of capital that was once only the domain of the well-connected. This is a huge shift in attitude around the Rust Belt.
This is the place where incubation, experimentation, being free to fail and try again is inexpensive; we need to encourage growing individual and social capital. This micro-development can begin to bring life back to our city. I’m not romanticizing this. This requires tremendous hard work, tenacity, and focus, but more important for our future here in Dayton, it also represents the ability to get things done in a way that couldn’t happen in an, okay let’s say it, a thriving city. It’s the same thing happening with the refugees who are settling into Twin Towers. The sentiment is the same- “I own this one precious life. It’s mine. I’m going after my dream.” That ownership of your life, that ability to see, plan, realize a dream of your own is powerful stuff and I believe it might only be possible for the people who are now in an unprecedented position to enjoy it, because of the unique opportunities that living in the Rust Belt has presented to us.
If you want to make a difference in both your life and the lives of those around you, Dayton Ohio, circa 2010, is a prime piece of real estate.
Photo credit: TLussier