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PoliticsOhio: Commissioner Matt Joseph on Revitalizing Dayton Neighborhoods

This week WYSO has reported on how hard the city of Dayton was hit when the mortgage crisis and great recession began more than five years ago. The resulting federal funds made available to cities like Dayton to stabilize neighborhoods, and how those funds are running out. In this week's Politics Ohio we continue our look at neighborhood stabilization; we spoke with Dayton City commissioner Matt Joseph about what other steps the city is taking to revitalize neighborhoods.

Joseph: What we're trying to do is find a successful institution in an area and then link development to that institution. So whether that's University of Dayton and Miami Valley Hospital in the Southern part of the city, or a different hospital or a different school or a big successful business or whatever that might be in a neighborhood, we try to build off that and make sure people are connected in the neighborhood, they realize what resources are there, and when you have somebody that's the 800-pound gorilla in the neighborhood anyways, if we can engage them and make sure they're connected to the neighborhood activists, make sure they know what the local folks and businesses are, then that's good for everybody.

Kenney: Give me an idea of some successful examples of what you're talking about - certainly University of Dayton as you mentioned and Miami Valley Hospital.

Joseph: But there are others too - we have a partnership with Children's Hospital, a partnership with Good Sam that has just transformed that area. That's one that you can drive by now and see the difference from a year ago, or heck, even six months ago. There's a new road, a bunch of old and abandoned houses that are now knocked down, good Sam has a new addition. So there are all kinds of things that are happening there, to take the Brown Street example that we just used, a lot of the properties people see being knocked down on both sides of Brown Street - old abandoned businesses or houses - the Miami Valley Hospital, or UD, or one of the local owners are doing this of their own volition because it makes sense to have a good looking corridor, a good looking entrance to your business, and they'll do that in cooperation with the neighborhood association.

Kenney: With Miami Valley Hospital and their expansion, there's been a little bit of push back on that.

Joseph: Oh definitely, that's where it's good to make sure there's good communication between whatever institution that is, and the city, and residents. They talked it through, and as I remember, not everybody was happy, but I think people were sort of resigned to the fact that they had made an effort to get along with the neighbors, and the neighbors understood what the needs of the hospital were. So yes, of course, whenever you have that sometimes toxic mix of city and business and residents all together in the conversation, it's important to have communication to figure out how to make sure people's real needs are met without infringing on somebody else's

Kenney: The city of Dayton has been looked at as almost a divided city - East and West - and I want to know how the city addresses that and what other efforts are being made to bring portions of the city together, whether it's East-West, North-South as well.

Joseph: Dayton has historically been - especially the last 30-40 years - very divided. I'm happy to report that that's lessening quite a bit now. The racial division that saw East and West, even ten years ago when I started as a commissioner, has lessened quite a bit. Part of that is due to people moving to different places in the city, and hopefully not seeing racism, or not feeling pressure to move to a certain side of the city. And the second part is that we've had an influx of immigrants, who are living everywhere. Those sorts of things tend to break down the old established order, and that's a great thing. I'm glad that diversity is happening and hopefully it will speed up. Our government structure really does promote a broad view instead of a very parochial view. We five - my fellow commissioners, the mayor and myself - we all represent the city at large. We don't have districts - we don't represent one half or a quarter of the city. So we're expected to be out and about in the whole city. So we see everything, we see everybody, we go to all the neighborhoods, we shake everybody's hand. The whole city is all of our responsibility. So I think that is a very good thing and I think it was with some foresight a hundred years ago that the city fathers created it that way, because it really makes us accountable to the whole city. So I think the long-term trends are good, obviously there are still problems, but I think we're on the right track.

Kenney: Do you feel the revitalization efforts are spread throughout the city?

Joseph: They are. We never have enough money to do everything anybody wants, but we do some things East,we do some things West. We put a brand new rec center a couple years ago in the West. We revitalized (lower rec center?) East. Downtown right in the middle we do what we can. South, we revitalized Brown Street; we put a little money into the road and the private industry took off there. If you set up the system right, people get jobs, they buy new houses, new construction, things get knocked down when they should be knocked down, buildings are filled with the right uses, seniors have homes, and all kinds of good things. It's a virtuous cycle that we're long overdue for, and I think we're finally entering.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.