Dayton 2030: What’s in store for the Gem City?

Dayton is going to change in the next decade, but whether it gets better or worse depends largely on the people who today live, work, play and invest in the city.

Their decisions will help shape Dayton’s future, and movers and shakers from across the area spent Tuesday discussing what defines the community today and what kind of community they want it to be in 2030.

This is an opportune time to have this forward-thinking conversation because a series of tragedies this year rocked the community, tested its strength and ultimately brought people together to try to heal, rebuild and move forward, according to some local leaders and facilitators.

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“I think in that trauma for a community, the community finds its character,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who helped organize Tuesday’s workshop. “I have been really impressed with the character of this community — the grit and resilience of it.”

About 100 community members gathered at Top of the Market to discuss what Dayton could look like in 2030 and what they want it to be.

Workshop participants broke out into about a dozen groups focused on specific topics, including education, race relations, transportation, infrastructure, mental health, socioeconomic justice, entrepreneurship and the economy. Attendees included representatives from the business community, nonprofits, education, government, the arts community and developers.

Whaley organized the event, which was paid for by several sponsors, including Cincinnati Bell.

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The workshop had been scheduled for months — before a hate group came to town, tornadoes destroyed a number of properties and a gunman killed nine people in the Oregon District.

But after hardship and tragedy, this is the perfect time for a conversation about community values, priorities and what kind of place Dayton can and should be 10 years from now, said Whaley.

Participants talked about inspirational goals. Members of one group said they would like to see the day when the zip code where someone is born does not determine his or her quality of life.

The best future version of Dayton would be more equal, fair, inclusive, prosperous and less segregated, according to some participants.

Participants discussed some “myths” about Dayton.

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Some people think Dayton is dead or dying. They believe the city is unsafe and that it has few good jobs. Dayton derisively has been called “little Detroit.”

But Dayton is growing, has plenty of opportunity and is progressive and inclusive, said Bryan Stewart, director of workforce development with Learn to Earn Dayton, summarizing his group’s discussion.

Whaley said she was impressed by the diversity of workshop participants because different voices and ideas were at the same tables.

“We aren’t getting what we call ‘the usual suspects,’” Whaley said.

The recent shooting and devastating tornadoes definitely shaped discussions.

Mental health is and will be important in coming years because many citizens have experienced significant trauma, and hopefully the community will be able to reduce the stigma of mental illness and crisis and will give people opportunities to comfortably talk about their struggles, Whaley said.

There are challenges related to transit and transportation, including the question of how to get people to the available jobs, she said. Retail is being disrupted by e-commerce, and people who do not have reliable Internet access have some disadvantages related to shopping options, she said.

The hosts of the workshop were from out of town. They said Dayton stands out for a couple of reasons.

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Dayton’s readiness and willingness to have a conversation about its future just weeks after a terrible and unforeseeable tragedy is noteworthy, said Stuart Candy, one of the workshop’s leaders. He’s the director of the Situation Lab and an associate professor in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University.

“There is a recognition not just in spite of — but partly because of — the challenges and the tragedies of the last several months, there needs to be another level of conversation in there that is more aspirational, that’s bigger picture, that’s longer term,” Candy said.

The workshop hopefully gave participants a chance to think creatively and systematically about how they would like to see things change in Dayton, he said.

The workshop uses exercises and other prompts to provide participants with language and concepts that are helpful when thinking about the future, said Jake Dunagun, who runs the governance futures lab at the Institute for the Future.

“We provide basic literacy for future thinking,” he said.

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