Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dayton, it's time to love yourself

From the energy in the crowd at the UD Arena tonight, you'd have thought it was the championship game instead of the first round. As Tennessee and Iowa faced off in the final game of the First Four bracket, no one in the building was embarrassed to be there. It was a no-holds-barred all-out fight for the honor and glory of a win in the NCAA tournament, and the crowd took it seriously, with huge representation from both team's fans, many of whom came in from out of town to support their team.

My view during over time after my friend Mark and I helped ourselves to a seating upgrade.

As someone with no personal stake in the winner, I rode the crowd's energy to a huge high, and got way more out of my Wednesday evening than I'd expected.

The whole experience made me wish that Dayton as a whole would take itself as seriously every day as it does during March Madness.

Follow me here. For the last 13 years Dayton has done a fantastic job of welcoming in often unknown teams and providing a world-class environment for them to prove themselves, and has filled the stands with locals just tickled pink to see some action even when they have no connection to the teams. And when they do, man, it's electric!

Dayton's not trying to make these games out to be as life changing as the Final Four. But it's also not making any apologies for being the First Four either, because a game between two well-matched 11 seeds can be just as riveting as the championship game, if you let it.

And that's why Dayton needs to love itself, the way it loves its precious First Four. Because life in a small city that loves itself can be just as exciting as life in a big city, if you let it. If you stop looking at newcomers to your city like they're crazy for moving here.

Do you think any Dayton natives in the arena tonight stared at the Tennessee fans in their crazy orange and white checkered overalls with out-of-town license plates and said, bewildered, "What made you come to Dayton?" No! Because tonight, it was patently obvious that Dayton was the place to be.

So stop apologizing for yourself, Dayton! You have so much to offer, as a small city, if you'll only take a minute to understand what your potential truly is. You're not Cincinnati, you're not Columbus, and you never need to be. Right now you're a small, tight-knit community of passionate people, but you're pulling in 100 different directions to become the next Midwest boom town -- to follow my analogy, to be the next host of the Final Four. But is that what you really want? How many Daytonians could afford tickets to the Final Four if it was held here? How many Daytonians could afford to live in the charming historic neighborhoods they live in now if Dayton struck gold in the next boom industry and became the next Nashville, or heaven forbid, San Francisco?

Dayton will never be a big city. But it can sure be an awesome small city if it recognizes the resources it has (coughRIVERcough) and unites those 100 creative minds around simple, attainable goals of creating awesome spaces to gather as a community and enjoy Dayton.

I have a lot of thoughts on this so stayed tuned for more as I explore what people really want out of a city experience, and why Dayton doesn't need to wait for an economic boom to be its savior.

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