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Dayton's Visionary
This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on March 2, 1996

by Roz Young
            At a banquet for leading Dayton citizens given in 1896 during Centennial Week, John H. Patterson was the principal speaker. His assigned subject was "Dayton of the Future." Now in our 200th year we could learn a few things from that long-ago speech.
            To become a great city, Patterson said, Dayton must first build a great school system. He envisioned school buildings built on hygienic principals (he was great for hygiene) where boys and girls would study surrounded by beautiful pictures and statuary and where the state would furnish schoolbooks.
            "In the Dayton of the future," he continued, "the city proper will be given up to business life while our homes will be situated in beautiful suburbs." He foretold the shortening of the work day, necessitating the employment of more workers.
            He believed that employers should become social missionaries, teaching the workers methods of earning and saving money so they could get the largest amount of happiness out of life.
            In the new Dayton, he said, all wires and all pipes would be carried under the streets in large sewers so that repairs could be made without tearing up the streets. The city would sell franchises for all private enterprises which in any way use the streets. Franchises would be sold every 25 years to the highest bidder and from this source the city would gain a large income which would be used to beautify the streets.
            The new Dayton would have not one library but many libraries scattered throughout the city. "Our children will read good books because they are accessible. We will have a free conservatory of music, a free art school and art gallery and those who own valuable collections will get up loan exhibitions where even the poorest can enjoy these treasures at certain times during the year. Free lecture courses will also be given."
            He called for a competent board of health to attend to our sanitary conditions, guest houses where families could stay in case they had to be removed from their homes for disinfecting purposes, the cleaning of streets at nights, and the disinfecting of all back yards and cellars.
            Lavatories and water closets should be provided free, as well as public baths. "In 50 years," he said, "the changed condition of things will so lessen the work and worry of life that, with improved sanitary cooking and careful instruction in health given in the schools, the demand for medicines will be lighter. In a thousand years, there will be no deaths except from accident and old age."
            Improvement associations will flourish in 20th-century Dayton, he said, and a desire for home and landscape adornment will be encouraged. Ornamental trees, vines and fountains will grace our city. Sidewalks on Main Street will be narrowed and a park of flowers and trees carried through the center, as was intended by Dayton's founders. He foresaw more parks on all sides of the city.
            "A forester will be placed in charge to encourage care of the trees and public grounds. The Miami River will form a lake and the banks will be turned into parks. We shall have a zoological and a botanical garden and free concerts will be given by the city on Saturday afternoons during the summer."
            He called for turning all vacant lots into children's playgrounds or flower gardens or free space for people to cultivate vegetable gardens.
            He believed that all dogs, cats and horses should be found only in museums because they spread disease. Horses and mules should not be allowed in the fairgrounds. He asked for all fences around the fairgrounds to be torn down so that the people could enjoy their own property.
            He called for better street lighting in all parts of the city, churches to give up their old-fogy ideas, and drama to be elevating instead of demoralizing.
            How will we get the money to bring about all these changes, he asked. He called for ousting the political bosses then governing the city and establishing an able and honest, self-dependent council of the people, a monitor system.
            "The monitors should be a self-appointed body of men who have sufficient ability and integrity to inspire the people with confidence. Five good, active men ought to accept this trust. The majority of this committee should rule, and they should rotate the chairmanship. Each of these men should act as the chairman of a subcommittee composed of himself and four other members appointed by him. There should also be a large number of associate members, both men and women . . .
            "City government should be placed on a strict business basis and directed not by partisans, either Republican or Democrat, but by men who are skilled in business management and social science who would treat our people's money as a trust fund to be expended wisely and economically, without waste and for the benefit of all citizens.
            "Large amounts of money should not be spent for any purpose until the amount and manner of expenditure had been previously announced through the press or in some other public manner, and those who take public contracts should not be allowed to sublet them. . . . With the political boss a thing of the past, with good schools and a government of the people, we shall make the future of Dayton a glorious one."
            Some of his prophecies been realized in the 100 years since he spoke.
            Some will never be and could never be.
            Patterson was, as most of us remember, the moving force in establishing Dayton's city manager government shortly after the flood. I do not need to mention that the present embroilment between members of the city commission and the fired city manager would not have developed if political partisanship had been kept out of city government as he envisioned.
            Well, as Eeyore said, we can't all and some of us don't.