“While we agree that urban sprawl has many downsides, we do not believe it is a death knell for center cities and their surrounding suburbs.” Who does this sound like? A homebuilder? A highway contractor? A Reason Foundation policy analyst? None of the above. Those words were written by Rhine McLin, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, and four city commissioners in a letter-to-the-editor in the Dayton Daily News. The fact the letter comes from Dayton, Ohio is significant. The city has experienced some of the steepest declines in population and employment. A center for manufacturing and innovation in the early 20th century (hometown of the Wright Brothers and headquarters to Fortune 1000 companies NCR Corporation, Standard Register, and Reynolds and Reynolds), it’s role in the economic region has diminished considerably. Some national analysts have even said it is “beyond the point of return”. This decline was the focus of a report on the “state of the region” published by the Dayton Daily News, prompting several letters critical of the city. But local officials are no longer willing to blame their problems on someone else. “Despite the letter writer’s dismal view that vacant land within urban areas is unattractive and undevelopable in today’s world,” their letter continued, “we have found the opposite to be true. In fact, in Dayton we used a combination of city resources, federal and state dollars, and private investment to create and attract new housing markets as well as new business ventures.” Now, if the city can just turn the schools around….
Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.