Some of the best years of my life was spent in graduate school. Thanks to a stellar undergraduate career, I was able to snag a graduate assistantship, which put a few extra shekels in my pocket, while paying for the master’s degree.
As a graduate assistant, I had the chance to attend meetings. A lot of meetings. Many with local business owners, political leaders and neighborhood champions throughout the Miami Valley.
I remember having a small conversation with a business leader in manufacturing before one of those meetings. I asked him what the most credentials he looks for in a potential employee. I was certainly expecting an answer like a college degree or maybe even a high school diploma. I was a bit surprised with the answer I got: a valid driver’s license.
The business leader stated that if the employees can’t get to the workplace on time and ready to roll when the whistle blows, it creates all sort of problems. Productivity suffers. Profits shrink. Problems arise.
This conversation took place 20 years ago and in some ways it is interesting that the challenges that were seen in a more urbanized community like Dayton are migrating their way to less urbanized areas. It should also be noted that these transportation issues are also more intense in less urbanized areas. People and places in suburban and rural areas are more spread out and there are fewer options for public transportation.
Over the last few months, I have been parts of many conversations with families in poverty and with other human service agencies providers and transportation is the most prevalent issue that people are talking about.
One of the largest struggles we see is that in our built environment, we are building fewer, but bigger places to congregate on the fringes of our existing community.
If people want to do any general shopping, where do they go? Probably to the outskirts of town. In Troy, that is generally west of Interstate 75. If you are in Piqua, it’s on the east side of the Interstate or out on the west side of town on Covington Avenue. If you live in Covington, or Pleasant Hill, or Tipp City, there aren’t many options in those communities and you may have to go outside of your community.
Even large employers are going to the outskirts of town. In the past, it was commonplace to have large factories built right in the middle of town. The Shawnee neighborhood in Piqua has Crane Pumps still going strong and there is Spinnaker Coating nestled along the Great Miami River in Troy.
But more and more, the neighborhood factory is more the exception than the rule. Land use and zoning laws designed to protect property values and community health have put large industrial shops out in the periphery of town. These areas have cheaper land and easier access to the Interstate, so it makes business sense to locate out on the fringes.
Want to go to a house of worship? Sure there are older churches inside all our communities, but if a new church is building from the ground up, odds are, they are looking for land where it is plentiful and cheap – the outskirts of town.
Through all of this, there are scores of potential employees, customers and congregants that have found themselves cut off from those essential services that they need for their physical, emotional and spiritual health. Sadly, it hits the aged and those in poverty, particularly hard. Many older residents may want to age in place in their homes, but as they get older, their driving skills may cause them to lose their ability to drive. Those in poverty, may not be able to afford to repair a broken down vehicle. Even citizens that have had driving privileges revoked also face challenges to accessing employment.
What’s the answer? I’ll be honest. I am not sure. But I do know that it will take a community approach with people from all sectors, private, public and nonprofit, to come together to start creating systems in which we can start getting people to the places they need to be so they can start taking responsibility for their own lives.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.