When it comes to reinventing and revitalizing itself as an attractive place to live, work, and raise a family, Toledo would do well to look for inspiration to a midwestern American city that has emerged from a decades-long period of deindustrialization with a fresh breath of energy and renewed confidence in itself.
That would be Chicago, which has scraped off its rust and relentlessly polished its strengths to prove that geography is not necessarily destiny, that an urban center in the United States does not have to rest on one coast or the other of the continent to be considered a comfortable living environment.
A number of observations that might be harnessed to guide Toledo's renewal are buttressed by a survey of Chicago in the current issue of the thoughtful British journal, The Economist. Toledo isn't mentioned, but, like missing the forest for the trees, it sometimes takes outside eyes to put new perspective on the possibilities in front of us.
Progress in Toledo, many of its citizens would openly admit, has long suffered from a collective inferiority complex, even though it has economic and cultural assets that many cities envy. In contrast, such municipal doubt seldom has been expressed in Chicago, poet Carl Sandburg's "city of the big shoulders."
It was rebuilt after the catastrophic 1871 fire and, in 1909, when a civic group commissioned an architect for a plan to make Chicago "one of the great cities of the world," city fathers were challenged to "make no little plans. They have no power to stir men's blood."
Both Toledo and Chicago were carved out of swamps, and both stand at the foot of one of the Great Lakes, giving each an important, centralized geographical advantage.
Both cities were populated by immigrants who brought all manner of creeds, colors, languages, and foods. Both remain centers of rail transportation, crucial to serve the rich agricultural areas nearby.
Both cities are ringed by busy suburban enclaves that are both wary and resentful of their larger neighbor.
Toledo still builds a lot of Jeeps but no longer is the teeming industrial center it once was. Neither is Chicago, which also has lost its inelegant reputation as "hog butcher for the world."
Both cities have world-class art museums. Both are legendary for their jazz and blues, a musical heritage that exudes a certain cool energy infectious in people of all ages.
The list of similarities and contrasts could continue, but the point is unmistakable.
We do not suggest that Toledo can literally be Chicago, but we believe that our town can improve itself by capitalizing carefully on its existing strengths and not minding its weaknesses so much.
If Toledoans can, as Norman Vincent Peale put it, "image positively" a vision of Toledo as an exciting, prosperous city in the future, then that vision has a better than even chance of becoming reality.
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