Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton, OH and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, sees smart growth strategies playing an important role in positioning the city for a new generation of economic vibrancy.
A former city commissioner, Whaley was elected mayor of Dayton in November, 2013. In her inaugural speech she was upfront about the challenges the community faces, including economic stagnation brought on by a decline in the city’s manufacturing base and reduced federal spending affecting a major nearby Air Force base.
“The Great Recession rocked our community and even before the economy crumbled in 2008, many of our neighbors had lost their jobs or were living in fear that they could lose their jobs,” said Whaley. “We are going through what is an often brutal economic transformation, and the rules for a lot of people have changed.”
But Whaley has a plan for Dayton’s economic rebound, and is looking to use smart growth strategies to make the most of the city’s assets.
“When I talk to people about what they want for Dayton, they talk about the importance of safe, attractive neighborhoods,” said Whaley in her inauguration address. ”They want to see their home values go up, not down. They say they want a busy downtown that is alive with people.” Whaley believes smart growth strategies can address all of those issues – and it can start on the local level.
One area that Whaley is particularly proud of is the city’s commitment to creating safe, accessible streets for walking and biking. In 2010, when Whaley was the chair of Dayton’s Bike Walk Committee, the city approved a Livable Streets policy to guide planning and implementation of Complete Streets strategies citywide.
So far, the effort is paying off. In 2011, the National Complete Streets Coalition recognized Dayton’s Complete Streets policy as one of the top examples in the nation. Then in 2013, Dayton was designated a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Cyclists. The region boasts an impressive 330 miles of connected trails, just completed the first comprehensive bikeway access survey in the city’s history, and aims to have a bikeshare system in place by 2015.
“For Dayton, the focus on active transportation is also a social justice issue. One in four households in Dayton do not have access to a car, so we’ve worked closely with public transportation agencies to solve that ‘last mile’ question to help connect residents with their final destinations,” said Whaley.
Whaley’s passion for how smart growth can improve the quality of life for Dayton residents goes beyond transportation. A plan to guide Dayton’s downtown development – The Greater Downtown Dayton Plan – outlines a series of goals for transforming the city’s downtown core into a thriving, economically productive place. One of those goals includes building 2,000 new downtown housing units by 2020.
“The City of Dayton has one of the lowest rates of new housing starts in the region,” said Whaley. “We’ve been really strategic about creating more affordable housing, especially focusing on walkable locations to ensure accessibility to key city locations and assets.”
Whaley is also supportive of an innovate partnership to promote and encourage urban gardening in neighborhoods and in vacant properties in the city. A partnership with the regional water utility provides free water to individuals that grow community gardens. This form of urban agriculture can be connected with schools as a learning tool, as well as provide healthy alternative food sources for neighborhood residents, according to Whaley.
“On the local level you see people really affecting change and thinking about how we live long term. It’s an exciting time to be in local government. The movement of walk ability and creating dense urban spaces is happening. Smart growth is getting a lot of attention, especially when we consider rising energy costs and other issues we are going to face over the next twenty years,” said Whaley. “I’m excited to be working with other elected officials on the Local Leaders Council that share this vision and are willing to address these challenges.”