Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dayton Beyond the Point of (Almost) No Return

Before Richard Florida there was David Rusk.

Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque, was the urban affairs analyst who came to Dayton back in the 1990s, on the strength of his 1993 urban policy book, Cities Without Suburbs. Like Florida he spoke a Wright State, giving a presentation on how the Dayton region was doing.

And it wasn't doing too good.

Rusk identified a collection of cities that he identified as "beyond the point of no return". Dayton was on this list.

Cities beyond the point of no return met the following criteria

  • Major population loss since peak (20% or more)
  • Disporportionate minority population (3 to 5 times or more than the metro average)
  • Average income levels 70% or less than the suburban levels
Rusk called this the point of no return because no city on the list had ever closed the income gap with the suburbs "by so much as a single percentage point" (through the 1990 census)

However, Rusk, in the revised edition of his book, notes that as of the 2000 census Dayton did close the income gap:

1990: City as a % of Suburban Income= 64.1%
2000: City as a % of Suburban Income= 66.3%

...yet Dayton continued to lose population and become more minority.

Rusk did note that the 2000 census measured things at the top of an economic boom, so may overstate gains. And given the economic decline since 2000 one can wonder if the suburban income levels are also dropping.

Perhaps the city as a % of suburban income number will drop again in 2010, but due to an overall economic decline actings as an equalizing effect, plus some gentrification action in the inner city.

One also wonders though if the incomes improvement that would accrue due to downtown and historic district gentrification would be cancelled out by overall decline in the outer neighborhoods of the city.

Or, alternatively, Daytons numbers might improve due to abandonmnet, as the city becomes less poor, but less populated, too.

1 comment:

Hilary said...

Two things.
1) Census data is notoriously unreliable when it comes to analyzing income inequality. Census data tends to mask both good and bad economic developments. I don't care for Rusk's work (too many complaints to go into detail here), but I think that his tabulation of the "threshold" is a very poor statistical indicator.
2) How are you defining gentrification? Generally, gentrification would refer to an area that was historically impoverished, then redeveloped and repopulated with the middle class and above. I'm not sure that many of Dayton's historic districts count as truly gentrified areas (except maybe Wright Dunbar). A) Many of the historic districts would have housed middle class to upper middle class individuals originally; lower classes repopulated the areas as home values decreased with sprawl. These areas are then reclaimed and populated with the original target population. B) Generally gentrification occurs when the upper classes identify the land or location as desirable for development, regardless of current settlement. Historic districts are different in that it is generally the buildings or an event that make the area distinct.