Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Third & Main Problem

The threatening problem @ Third & Main, that everyone is talking about. What is it?

Concisely stated the problem is "Too many blacks!". Specfically too many rowdy black teenagers congregating at the bus stop here. Even if they weren't rowdy (and not all of them are), or even teenagers, the fact that they and the majority of people waiting for the bus here black plays into white fears about black crime

Daytonology addressed almost a year ago in Fear of a Black Dayton (a post that got no responses, perhaps indicating a willingness to avoid the subject), and about how media reports color racial stereotypes (which would have a direct effect on crime perceptions downtown) in Racial Stereotyping and the Evening News (another post that got no replys).

This is not to say there aren't incidents going on downtown (which could escalate into a minor civil disturbance like there was two years ago or so), but that a lot of this is perceptual, driven by racial stereotyping by whites. And it's nearly impossible to conciously change this due to the social segregation between the races.

The RTA Transit Center & Inner City Retail

RTA's moving of bus loading from curbside to a mid-block loading/unloading platform (replacing Mall Park and the old Admiral Benbow) will solve this "too many black faces" problem by moving waiting and boarding off the street into the transit hub buildings and loading area. It will also allow RTA to ban troublemakers from the waiting areas, so the crowds won't be getting stirred up by fights and other things. Bold


Problem solved. But is a high concentration of black folks down really a problem or is it an opportunity?

One suspects that the concentration of blacks coming downtown at this location generates enough potential foot traffic for this to be the last block on Main with real honest-to-goodness sidewalk retail. And this retail appears directed toward the black market.

Starting from 4th, Grace Beauty Supply, which moved across the street from the Kuhns Building.

Next, the "Hair Plaza", which sounds like a wig shop, but is also a variety store.

Then, TNT Fashions, which has this sidewalk sale thing going on . Which is pretty cool as it reminds me of downtown LA a bit (which functions as a big Mexican shopping center, especially on Sundays).

And next door to that Honey Be, which is a young womens/girls clothing store.

All this is on the east side of Main. Across the street there is a Subway and Suney's, which says its a Beauty supply place, but is really a variety store, having a bit of the dollar store or 5 & 10 to it. This is actually a good place to pick up quick notions and things; yer humble host bought some socks here once.

Sunys store window, with more Obama-wear.
Continuing down the street there is one of the few restaurants open downtown on Saturday, this cafeteria-style Chinese place (which also has a back entrance from the bus waiting room)

...which is this nice interior space. The door at the end opens onto Third Street, which also is a popular waiting spot. Note the stores at the end an fast food places on the left wall.

I count about four retail spaces, three of which are occupied. Here are three micro-retail spots (two occupied with the one vacancy in-between)
And a fourth, a sort of snack shop/magazine stand type of place.

Since Third is pretty busy too, there is this walk-up lottery window from one of the shops. With the re-orientation of foot traffic and waiting into the hub area this window will probably stay shut.

Putting it all together, and showing the to RAL places (which are also a form of consumer services) one can see this block to be, instead of a problem, one of the healthier ones downtown. But there needs to be more on the west side of the street.

If one looks at this as a market, one can count how many people are coming through downtown by bus and say this is the market. And one can look at what census tracts most bus riders originate and use these tracts as the feeder neighborhoods for a transit-based retail district.

Such an strategy would be a new twist on the Social Compact approach to showing that underserved inner city areas really have more economic potential if one looks very close, closer than the census, at the population and economic activity of the inner city neighborhoods.

Developing....or really expanding.... a transit retail district, which would cater to a predominantly black market (but also to poorer whites), would be anathema to the vision of a "family friendly" (i.e. less intimidating to whites) and yuppified downtown. But how realistic is this vision given the entrenched racial stereotypes and the difficulties of growing downtown housing for yuppies?

Transit retail would aknowledge socioeconomic realities and use them to build and grow a downtown for the people who actually use the place.


Anonymous said...

I guess someone needs to comment (too bad you can't comment on it at the more trafficked Dayton OS site). As Attorney General Holder noted, race is a subject that Americans are afraid to talk about, in part because of its land mine qualities. However given the many retail business closings we are seeing in the black communities like the West Dayton Krogers and Rite Aids, the idea of growing a small business economy for black entrepreneurs is interesting, and this might be a location to do it. Such businesses may also be more able to survive economic downturns brought in from the larger (white dominated) economy. You do mention the prevalent idea to make downtown a place that is friendly to whites with things like the Schuster, Riverscape and the Victoria, as well as some noontime events at Courthouse Square. Most of these are not active when there is lots of bus traffic at W Third St. But, as you point, out urban legends of black violence live long and die hard. A concerned black citizen addressed the County Commissioners a week or so ago about the congregation of youth on Third and Main, and was more concerned with having activities for these youths than intimidating and punishing them. Maybe something like that could be done downtown (how about that Arcade property that no one knows what to do with?) And of course it would be nice to do something about Fear of a Black Planet. Perhaps we should commission the Dayton Dialogue on Race Relations, National Conference on Community and Justice and the Peace Museum to run some reconciliatory programs on the site.

Mike Bock said...

I love your photos and diagrams. Thanks for the great information. This article deserves a wide discussion. I'm wondering how our current city commissioners and mayor might respond to the points raised in this article? It seems to me that the substance of this article should discussed by candidates in the current City of Dayton primary election.

Jefferey said...

To Anonymous: Good call on the Arcade. From what I gather this was traditionally popular with teens, so that entertainment center that is being proposed might work better than we think. But that won't happen.

I don't have a problem with RTA enforcing certain standards of behavior at its hub, but the fact there is such a concentration of folks coming downtown makes this a good opportunity rather than a problem...especially considering there is already a little concentration of retail on the block without much planning for it or marketing it.

To Mike Bock: The valuable bit of info in this blog post is the Social Compact link. The research by this group helped justify an urban shopping center in Cleveland, Steelyard Commons. So I can see their methodology being used here in Dayton to help demonstrate there is more of a market than is visible.

The race angle is there, and I think the stuff in the two other linked blog posts talk about it. But I get tired of hearing about the "3rd & Main Problem", when this is a fairly active block when it comes to retail...isnt that what people want? Sidewalk retail and a lot of people on the street?

Anonymous said...

As an occasional bus rider, I am looking forward to the new bus hub if it makes the transfer process easier and more comfortable. Right now its hard to know what corner your transfer bus will use and in the winter, it is pretty cold and wet waiting outside.