The Redevelopment of a Small Industrial-Based city in the midwest

For the past two years I have been undertaking an effort to redevelop a small city in the midwest, Salem, Ohio. The effort was driven by the decline of the city both fiscally and the loss of significant architecture and business, particularly retail, in the downtown district.

Salem is a small city of twelve thousand residents. The city is located about midway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It has significant architectural value with 1900 era buildings and has a rich history which includes the Underground Railroad and Women’s suffrage movements. John F. Kennedy spoke in Salem during his campaign in 1960. In 1850 the second Womens rights convention was held in Salem. Many of the structures are directly associated with these historical events. I like to call Salem the “Forest Gump” of cities, because of its inadvertent touches with history.

The negative issues that this city faces:

With the loss of the industrial base of the Industrial Revolution, there was a significant decline in employment and quality of employment during the period of 1950 to the present. The city declined from financial prominence to a polarity of wealth with a small percentage of the populous controlling a large segment of wealth. Employment within the immediate area of the city offered only $ 44,000 income per annum per family. Exacerbating this polarity was the declining industrial base rewarding those who refused active investment and chose passive investment.

The result of the aforementioned issues is a community of wealth and poverty. Because of the need for the good people of this area to show compassion, there have been many non-profits and well-meaning organizations and individuals who have offered assistance in the form of food, clothing, money, and shelter. The result has been to create a haven for the needy. Reviewing newspaper articles shows the city soliciting low-income housing as early as the 1960’s. The result is, of course, an imbalance of those taking services and those participating in the support of those services.

These mis-actions by the local government have created the current issues that the community must overcome. These issues are the inequity of income, the general low income of the middle class, and the imbalance of the distribution of wealth in the population. Results of this are an increase of drug use and an increase in crime.

Reality of fiscal local politics are that the current income, resulting from a 1% income tax has declined from a gross income of 1.3 million per annum to a a current level of three hundred fifty thousand per annum in the past couple of decades. The response to this spiral of failure has been to curtail spending and the offering of services. This has, of course, created a lessening of the income driving the services, etc.

Further amplifying the negative aspects of this failure, like parasites on a sickened animal, are the corrupt, who flock to any significant source of income. In a challenged environment, such as this, their interference is significant in the evolution of the declining fiscal environment.

Positive attributes of Salem, Ohio:

The people of this area are unique. They are strong, hard-working, good people with a strong work ethic. They are loyal and reliable. They are very special as a people and as a workforce. Many middle-class families enjoy one of both parents employed in two or three jobs to offset the meager incomes provided by the current environment.

The aforementioned issues have resulted in a deficit of opportunities for the people of this city and surrounding areas. Also, it has created a magnificent opportunity for the correct employer. Salem and surrounding areas have a strong, willing, and hard-working workforce. Unemployment and underemployment have produced a dormant workforce that is immediately available. Midwestern values, patriotism, honor, dedication, and loyalty are the hallmark of the people of this area.

The cost of living is necessarily low. A fine home can be purchased for under one hundred thousand dollars. A magnificent home can be purchased for two hundred fifty thousand. DInner costs from seven to twenty dollars in a medium grade restaurant. An executive making one hundred thousand dollars per annum can live like a king in this area.

The city of Salem is architecturally and societally beautiful. Tree-lined streets connect this completely walkable city. The image is accurately that of a Norman Rockwell painting. The beauty of the area, the vegetation, the finely groomed lawns and plantings, and the finish of the city itself is magnificent. The community is one of welcoming openness and accepting.

Personal safety is great and crime is not significant. There are drug issues, but they are small and are being immediately addressed and overcome.

The work required to make the needed repairs:

A Technical Advisory Committee was formed and one hundred forty participants addressed the downtown, (the most significant issue from an income perspective). They made recommendations in a seventy page report, which I authored, suggesting the needed ratios of occupancies, green space, and parking. They suggested altered traffic patterns to increase flow of traffic through the city. They addressed the maintenance of the building inventory and supplied the existing methodologies, through the law to address these issues. Repairs of the issues of the downtown will eventually result in an increase of the downtown tax base of 500%

Salem needs to address the insufficient income of the middle class. This will be accomplished by drawing sophisticated industries to this beautiful city and to employ the capable workforce to its potential. The redevelopment of the downtown is a necessary predecessor of the industrial development effort.

Finally, the issue of corruption must be addressed. I have addressed this by regulatory effort. New procurement regulations are being considered and changes to ordinances are being made to assure open honest procurement. Other efforts are underway to stop unfair practices. This is not a punitive effort, it is one of recognition and repair of the things that have been allowed to exist which are detrimental to the city as a whole.

It has now been almost two years since the results of the TAC have been made public. We have enjoyed significant success and, of course, we have suffered substantial resistance to the recommended change. Statistics prove success of the evolution to date, but we are not beyond the tipping point that we once faced as a city. I believe that over the coming three years we will have positive results with the lagging indicators of family income and individual income. Currently commercial and residential real estate have turned a corner and are appreciating significantly. It is now dependent on efforts of revitalization and industrial development to cement the improvements achieved.


Scott Cahill

The Death of a Small Midwestern City (Salem Ohio) told as a Medieval Tale

It sat in the green fields of home. The stars in the sky were bright and the grass smelled clean and lush under the blue sky of childhood.

I was a warrior, I rode a valiant steed. His tack was new and the fittings polished. From my belt hanged a broad sword. It was heavy and sharp it came from the scabbard at a whim and the blade reflected the sun.

The time came and I mounted the hill. There I looked back at the little city. It was clean and white. The castle was crisp, the gilding shone like a promise on the deep green sea of the fields of plenty. The subjects were fat, but the coffers were full. This was no place for a young man to make his mark, nor his fortune.

Time marched on as time is apt to do and this warrior grew older. Once quick hands of youth were now slow from battle wounds and crushing blows. The sword grew heavy and it cleared the scabbard slowly.

This old warrior, aching wounds, and bones that hurt, lay under the stars, my head on a rock and dreamed of my home. I dreamed of clearing the hill and smelling the green grass of the open fields and to see, again, the gilded castle. I would ride in to cheers, the colorful flags flapping in the breeze, and walk into the castle. I would cast before the king a part of my prize and the king would see what I had become.

My sword would rest by the fire side. My horse, at last would run free, unencumbered by battle dress. I would find peace. At last, I would find acceptance.

One day I mounted my old horse, cinched up the worn saddle and let him run as he had wanted to do for so long to the north. The trip was hard, but he was determined. He, too remembered the green fields, the open sky, the beauty of our “Valhalla”.

At last we mounted that hill and looked down upon Salem. The fields were barren, salted and dry. The gilding had been stripped from the castle and the walls were broken and falling. The guards were gone. There was nothing to guard. The merchants were gone from the square, the commerce broken.

I entered the great hall through an open door and a shaft of light fell to the floor from a hole in the roof far above. Only the jesters remained of the court, turning cartwheels and somersaults before the great throne.

There, in the throne sat the king. His eyes were clouded like those of a dead man. He read from the scroll the laws one after another in his faltering voice, but there was no one to hear but the pigeons, who flew up to the rafters as the jesters ran and jumped, their little bells jingling from worn out clothes.

I cast my prize before him and he looked down at it and, with a hand waved me aside. A thief sneaked from behind, dagger in hand, to take the crown, but he gave it to him. He took out a broken sword and knighted him as he motioned me to leave.

The merchants who remained now hoarded pennies, left by the plunderers as too heavy for their worth. They coveted them and held them, stealing from each other and trading them for things dear. They would hide in the night and count, their gleeful laughs ringing out of the broken doorways and echoing down the great hall, out into the streets of a city once paved with gold.


Scott Cahill