Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wright-Patt Commuters: Leaving the City.

The orgins of Dayton's urban crisis? Or one of the orgins?

Losing the middle class to suburbia. One big component was base personnel leaving the city. So lets see how that happened and where they first went.

This fascinating map from a late 1940s traffic study was part of my "Roads to Wright-Patterson" post, showing how traffice planners used concentrations of base personnel living in the city, particularly in Northwest Dayton and North Dayton, to justify the Route 4 expressway. It appears the highest concentrations were in Five Oaks, Grafton Hill, the better parts of Dayton View, and Robert Boulevard neighborhood.

It should be noted that this map also shows the old black ghetto of Innerwest Dayton and the better areas out Germantown Street as concentrations, indicating there was a sizeable black workforce out at the base even in the 1940s. In fact more blacks were working at Wright-Patterson than whites in next-door Westwood.

A later traffic study included in the Harland Bartholomew master plan actually shows traffic volumes all the way out to Fairborn. What makes this interesting is that one can see how multiple routes were used, including up Valley Street, then across Huffman Dam.

What the above map also shows is that a lot of traffic was coming up Smithville Road, then turning down Airway Road. This indicates, already in the 1952, a suburban trend for the base workforce. Daytonology will take a closer look at that later.

The 1950s ODOT Study: Leaving the City

Using the same ODOT study I used to study Fairborn commuting, one can track traffic flow from the base to all the traffic count zones in the urbanized area of 1957. The data actually permits a look at both the Wright and Patterson sides of the base, but I combine them for the sake of simplicity to show the parts of town that had the most interaction with the base as a whole.

Rank ordering traffic count zones by number of trips in a 24 hour day certain zones cluster at the top. The very top zones for trips is downtown (which is interesting) and the Page Manor/Beverly Gardens Wherry Housing area.

Below certain zones cluster in a group of very high numbers of trips. These are the old emergency housing areas, areas close to the base, and Gentile Air Station in Kettering, which was an Air Force supply point.

Below that I group zones with above median trips by natural breaks......

...then map them all out.

A facinating geography as Vandalia is an unexpected concentration. What is noticeable is that east Dayton and Robert Boulevard are no longer big trip generators, and Northwest Dayton still has a lot of trips to and from the base. The Germantown/Lakeview areas in West Dayton also show as having a lot of trips, probably indicating commuting from the black workforce.

Looking at the map a different way, I outline areas with over 100 trips per day with Wright-Patterson, then overlay a map showing development in the late 1940s and 1957, and include shopping areas as possible generators. One can see the trend to the east/southeast, but also some concentrations at early shopping centers (indicating destinations for the military personnel who live on base?).

What one can see is losses in NW Dayton, particularly in Grafton Hill and Five Oaks. One can infer this was part of a stream of personell chosing to move closer to the base, especially after infrastructure was laid in to permit development of suburban areas.

Yet if there was a trend to the eastern and southern suburbs, what backfills the northwest Dayton real estate market?

The following diagram shows a notional "systems" concept of interlocking real estate submarkets during the 1950s. Start with step 1 and work you way backwards (click on the chart and it will enlarge):

There are some steps missing, that occured in the 1940s, I think, which was the removal of most of the black neighborhoods on the east side and their residents ending up in West Dayton and the change of Edgemont from white to black (not sure about that chronology, though). There is also the phenomenon of "internal suburanization" on vacant land in the city.

Yet it's interesting how this might have workded. I say "notional", but I've read enough in the Urban League files and in a masters theses on racial change in Westwood in the 1950s to say some of the migrations I note here did indeed happen during this period. This is all subject for some future posts on racial change in Dayton from the 1930s to the 1970s.

The Socioeconomic Status Angle

Another approach to this shift is "where do white collar workers live?"

Wright-Patterson, as a research and command base had (and still has) an certain professional/managerial aspect to it, which may have been reinforced when Fairfield Air Depot closed in 1945, removing a substantial part of the blue-collar workforce.

Since northwest Dayton was the white collar part of the city in the 1930s and probably into the 1940s, this would have been a logical residential location for professionals and managers hired to work at the base, especially if there was a track record of prior residence of Wright Field research staff (and I have anecdotal evidence that it was). Why there and not Oakwood? Due to Wright-Field predecessor McCook Field being just across the river from Northwest Dayton.

So the legacy of McCook might have been that northwest Dayton remained a favored location for R&D personell into the war years and even after the war. But they were already leaving by the late 1950s.

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