Wednesday, Jul 26, 2017
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David Kushma

It takes ONE Village to help rebuild the city

One-Village

Site supervisor Brian Ellis, right, watches as Willy Share builds one of two large fish tanks for a tilapia farm at Oneida Greenhouse last August.

THE BLADE
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On a bleak, frigid afternoon last week, it was all too easy to despair of spring ever arriving. But the hours I spent driving along North Toledo's snow-covered streets with Terry Glazer made me a lot more confident that a season of renewal is coming to our city.

Mr. Glazer is chief executive officer of United North, the agency that arose from the merger of the Lagrange and NorthRiver community development corporations. United North operates in ONE (short for Olde North End) Village, a community of 30,000 North Toledo residents near downtown.

Mr. Glazer wanted to show me the many things United North is doing in ONE Village. I wish that every cynic who is ready to pronounce Toledo dead could have joined us.

"There's a lot going on here," Mr. Glazer says of ONE Village, a triangular area bounded roughly by Cherry Street, the Maumee River, Manhattan Boulevard, and I-75. "I get very excited, because neighborhoods are the key to bringing cities back."

First stop: the Oneida Greenhouse on Oneida Street. As the name suggests, you'll find plants, organic vegetables, and herbs cultivated there. But the project also raises chickens, turkeys, and bees, maintains an aquapond (tilapia, with shrimp soon to follow), and runs a training center that teaches carpentry and other skills.

The greenhouse largely is staffed by young people from the neighborhood, along with others referred by Lucas County's juvenile justice system. It's an example of the partnerships Mr. Glazer and Toledo North pursue with other community institutions and leaders, in this case county officials and Toledo GROWs, an outreach program of Toledo Botanical Gardens.

In the neighborhood that includes the greenhouse, Mr. Glazer points out several new, attractive single-family houses that United North has built. They're among 48 new homes that the agency has opened in ONE Village in the past two years, along with 156 renovated apartments for elderly and special-needs tenants.

United North also renovates houses to rescue them from blight and demolition. It helps homeowners get down payments and loans for repairs. Its property management arm oversees a variety of home and apartment developments. The agency is anything but an absentee landlord, Mr. Glazer notes.

"We're here every day," he says. "We can screen people, make sure they pay their rent and maintain their properties."

We drop by Toledo North's new Financial Opportunity Center on Lagrange. Mr. Glazer calls it a "one-stop shop" for neighborhood residents to get vital services: job coaching, credit counseling, tax preparation, prevention of home foreclosures, help with searches for college financial aid. On this day, Fifth Third Bank, which opened a branch in the neighborhood last year, is conducting a financial literacy course.

Shaulonda Jones, a financial coach at the center, says that sometimes she and her colleagues even get involved in clients' family crises. But the goal, she says, is to encourage residents to set and achieve their own goals, rather than expect the center to do things for them.

"Whatever resources they need, we'll empower them," she says. "We'll give them the tools. But they have to do it."

After we leave the center, we visit Lagrange Street's business district. Mr. Glazer points out decorative lighting and sidewalks that United North has installed. The agency promotes other business districts in ONE Village, including the Vistula Historic District and the Galena "Main Street" district.

Along Lagrange is the Ohio Theatre, which opened 90 years ago tomorrow. Toledo North bought the historic theater and is renovating it to restore its role as a neighborhood institution. The fenced-in site includes a mural created by local young adults, depicting ONE Village landmarks.

A former president of the Toledo Board of Education, Mr. Glazer understands the importance of schools as community anchors. Several of the ONE Village neighborhoods that United North is targeting for special attention are named for city schools: Sherman School, Chase School, Woodward High School.

United North is taking part in a public-private initiative called "New Schools/New Neighborhoods." Mr. Glazer explains: "There's an obvious connection between good schools and neighborhoods. They're our partners."

United North's best-known activity is the Lagrange Street Polish Festival, which attracts tens of thousands of people to Polish Village every summer. You still hear references to "Lagrinka," reflecting the neighborhood's heritage. But it's called Polish International Village now, to promote its increasing ethnic diversity.

The quality-of-life blueprint that is United North's foundation also makes public safety a priority. Neighborhood and business-district patrols by off-duty police officers and an extensive community watch program help battle crime, drug trafficking, and prostitution in ONE Village.

Big economic projects such as Toledo's new casino, and big deals such as the sale of The Docks, get most of the attention. But the patient, one-piece-at-a-time work done by United North and other neighborhood groups across Toledo will rebuild the city.

"If we're positive and persistent, if we use a targeted strategy, if we use neighborhood people as decision makers, it's amazing what we can achieve," Mr. Glazer says. "It's not, 'what are we going to do for you?' It's what we're going to do together to build a community. This changes people's lives."

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: dkushma@theblade.com

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