For a city that's been losing population for 30 years now, some might view news that Toledo's population decline has slowed somewhat in the last decade as a positive. But it is hard to find anything good in the 2000 census for the city.
Let's be clear about one thing: It is head-in-the-sand naivete to suggest that despite Toledo's loss of just under 20,000 residents since the 1990 count, we're doing OK as a region.
The metropolitan area continues to undergo a population shift from urban Toledo to suburban Lucas County, northern Wood County, and Monroe County townships and communities across the state line in Michigan. But a population shift is, most emphatically, not growth.
Lucas County's drop of 1.6 percent over the same period is much smaller than Toledo's and illustrates what is happening. Fulton County is up 9.3 percent over the last 10 years. Wood County is up 6.9 percent. Ottawa County population gained 2.4 percent. But even when expected gains in Bedford Township are added as more figures become available, the region has only slightly higher numbers than a decade ago.
The people have simply relocated.
What are the byproducts of relocation? Urban infrastructure that is already in place is often simply abandoned and replicated, at great expense, someplace else.
And as the wealthy move to places like Stone Oak, and the middle class move into the homes left behind by the wealthy, eventually the housing stock at the low end of the chain is left empty and decaying.
That's not progress. Neither is building new suburban high schools while buildings like the old DeVilbiss High School are figuratively cast aside.
Neither is the undeniable effect of “brain drain,” which robs the city of many of its best and brightest young people who leave the area for good.
And neither is watching Ohio lose yet another congressional seat.
The results of the 2000 census give local-government leaders in the Toledo area a grand opportunity to review and reorder policies that govern development. As part of this effort, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments will be convening these leaders in late summer to look at land-use planning on a regional basis.
David Gedeon, acting manager of growth strategies for TMACOG, says the group will look at the “big picture” of preserving open spaces, community preferences for residential, commercial, and industrial development, and how individual communities' land-use plans can be coordinated so they work “consistently and intelligently for the region.”
A key consideration, Mr. Gedeon says, is that “a strong region will tend to have a positive impact on the urban core,” and vice versa. In other words, population shifts notwithstanding, Toledo will remain the heart of northwest Ohio and it must thrive for the region to thrive.
Toledo is not likely to soon repeat the kind of growth that led to its pinnacle of nearly 400,000 population in 1970. But cooperative, coordinated regional planning that accentuates the strengths of both city and suburbs can ensure that this is the kind of place a lot of people will want to call home far into the future.
Toledo must find a legitimate growth engine, because it does the region no good at all if the city at its core cannot reverse its population decline.