Other than the fact that one is in South Carolina and the other is in Ohio, Dayton and Greenville are very similar, yet also very different. Having spent a lot of time in both areas I have seen and experienced both the similarities and differences.
First, let me point out the similarities. Both metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) have approximately 850,000 people as of 2010. Both have an international airport within a 30 minute drive of their downtown area. Both have a private, 4 year university located in their city limits; Furman University in Greenville and the University of Dayton in Dayton. Both cities are also near much larger research universities; Clemson University is 45 minutes from Greenville and Dayton is similarly close to the University of Cincinnati, as well as Miami University and Wright State University. Each city also has several community/technical colleges nearby; Greenville Technical College and Tri County Technical College for Greenville and Sinclair Community College for Dayton.
Each city also has a large automotive presence. Dayton was the birthplace of Delco Electronics, later a subsidiary of General Motors, the company that made the first practical automobile self starter. Delco operated several manufacturing plants making various automobile parts in and around Dayton. The Dayton MSA also had a large General Motors plant located in Moraine, OH.
The Greenville MSA is home to a large BMW plant as well as the North American headquarters of the tire company Michelin. Clemson University also has a large automotive research center located in Greenville.
Both cities are built on a river that flows through their downtown. The Reedy River flows through Greenville and the Great Miami River flows through Dayton. Each city has a Class A minor league baseball team with a downtown stadium. The Dayton Dragons play in Fifth Third Field in Dayton while the Greenville Drive play in Fluor Field in downtown Greenville.
Each city has other popular amenities as well. Greenville has an arena for conferences, concerts, and athletic events called the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Dayton has UD Arena located near downtown. Each city also has a performing arts venue for off-Broadway plays, symphonies, and smaller concerts. Greenville's is called the Peace Center and is located downtown while Dayton's is called the Schuster Center and is also located downtown.
Despite all of these similarities, a walk through the downtown of each city reveals some striking differences. Greenville's Main St. is full of shops and restaurants. On the weekends people are everywhere; walking dogs, meeting for meals, hanging out at Falls Park, or going to or from a baseball game. The sidewalks are wide and pedestrians feel safe walking along Main St. and the popular side streets well into the evening. Greenville's downtown walk score from walkscore.com is a 77 and it is classified as very walkable, meaning most errands can be done on foot.
The scene in Dayton is quite different. The main downtown is still largely unused on the weekends, especially along the river. There are very few shops, bars and restaurants except for those around the University of Dayton and a small section of the city known as the Oregon District. After a baseball game most fans simply return home since the area around the stadium lacks bars and restaurants to congregate at, either to celebrate a win or mourn a loss. Dayton's downtown walk score is an 81 and is also classified as very walkable. This is evidence that the infrastructure is in place for Dayton to be as vibrant as Greeville but for several reasons it has not lived up to its potential.
I plan on conducting an economic analysis comparing and contrasting Dayton and Greenville and the graph below reveals the trend that got me interested in doing so. It also confirmed what I have seen with my own eyes.
As the chart shows, both the Greenville and Dayton MSA now have approximately the same amount of people. But they have arrived at their present populations by very different paths. Greenville has been growing consistently since 1950 while Dayton has stagnated since 1970. Surely this cannot only be due to the weather differences between the two MSAs. I plan on analyzing the causes more over the next few months and I will post my results as I find them.