Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Homesteading in Dayton, Ohio

I lost my last job because of the banking crisis, but despite that week of terror, I've been largely shielded from the recession. I was beyond lucky to get offered a job after being unemployed a week. Health insurance freak-outs subsided soon after. 

All around Dayton, stimulus money has inspired tons of construction projects. There are new parks, newly paved and repaired streets and highway projects, and abandoned buildings being torn down. There are even a couple new tech buildings being built. The local university has been taking advantage of the crash to buy up property, including the enormous old NCR building, and is making the south side of the city a regular university town.

Few of these buildings are full anymore.
It's easy to ignore or simply not see other things. I visited the pharmacy downtown yesterday during my lunch break, and discovered that Chik-fil-a, and Roly Poly in courthouse square, and the Quizno's across the street, had been closed for some time. I'd known Quizno's was done for awhile, and I figured Roly Poly was coming (they have terrible service), but Chik-fil-a was a surprise.

See, the big skyscrapers downtown are far from full right now. Some of them are totally abandoned and up for auction.

I came home last night to find that the city had finally torn down the two houses due for demolition across the street from our house. This was after they'd finally gotten to the house right behind ours last week. Our neighborhood is wide-open and spacious, and it reminded me in that moment of Detroit. They've got a similar issue in many of their neighborhoods. So many houses have been torn down that they're looking for people to do something with the old lots. Abandoned lots that nobody's doing anything with aren't making the city money, and aren't inspiring people to stick around.

I remember telling J. at one point that we should totally go out and "homestead" in Detroit, where if you call the police there's a good chance they won't come and if your electricity goes off, it may not come back on again. If I didn't have to worry about where my drugs would come from, it could be fun.

Turns out, I kind of like this option better. Easier access to drugs and all. See, Dayton still functions, despite the complaints you see piling up on the City's Facebook page. Everyone I've dealt with at the City has been pleasant (even if not always competent - but that was one person out of half a dozen), and genuinely interested in helping people grab up and develop land. There is opportunity here, even if it sometimes seems like the world is dying all around you.

There are things I like here. I like that it's a bike friendly city. I like the 2nd Street Public Market that's open year round and has an awesome deli that serves lobster bisque (if I close my eyes and don't think too hard, I can pretend I'm at Pike's Place Market in Seattle). I like that we've got a bunch of rivers, and parks. I like that there's a boxing gym right downtown, even if I still haven't managed to get there. I like 5th Street's bars and restaurants and funky feel. I even like the Dayton Dragons field, even though I could give a crap about baseball. It just looks nice. I love the art institute. And the summer festivals are killer. It starts with the Strawberry Festival, then the Lebanese Festival, the Greek Festival, Octoberfest, and so many more, and as many county fairs as you'd like to go to.

Now, it's not like I'm going to write a love letter to this place. When I came home yesterday and looked at the flat, filled in lot where our haunted house used to be, I dreamed once again of spring when we would be able to start planting five million trees on our combined barren lots. I miss the mountains, and big trees, and the ocean. I miss road trips to Reno and Bend, OR and Timberline Lodge.
Taste of home: 2nd street public
market is open year round

But I'm also under no illusions about how everyone else is struggling through this recession in big cities where rent is always over $1,000 and mortgages are often over $2,000.

My quality of life out here is a lot better than it would be if I was trying to scrape together $1,200 for a two bedroom in Portland and shelling out hundreds a month to cover gas. Today, I live two miles from my job and a mile from J.'s school. The longest commute we have is J's 20 minutes to Centerville when he's working nights at one of the school's branch campuses.

With all my student loan payments, I don't know how I'd live very well at all in a big coastal city. But out here? Out here I have a house for $541 a month, a car that's paid off, and I don't generally worry about how to pay for groceries. It's not such a bad place.

Now that our prior place is all rented out, we can even afford Christmas, which was looking iffy there when we expected to be paying mortgage + rent in December. Life was not going to be fun. Now we're getting back our deposit, too, and Christmas is fun again.

There are very few places J. and I could live well on what we make (particularly with the amount of debt I've wracked up traveling and getting degrees over the years). I'm not in love with Dayton, but I like that it lets me live that hazy half-dream of The Good Life on a budget.

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