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Published: Thursday, 12/14/2006

A visitor's telling candor

IT'S a natural reaction. When an out-of-towner criticizes Toledo, the initial response is to raise the drawbridge, pull the municipal wagons into a circle - to mix our metaphors - and bluster about how the naysayer has no clue what he's talking about.

That was the expected response from some local political and business leaders after David Gergen, former consultant to four U.S. presidents and currently a professor at Harvard University, commented on our city.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he talked about the impact of globalization on northern Ohio, and said: "I was in Toledo 10 days ago, and it's like, 'Whoa, it looks like a war zone.' "

The comment by Mr. Gergen, who was here to speak at the Authors!Authors! series, was a generalization, of course. There are parts of our city, thanks to the efforts of successive administrations in city hall, of businesses, and of residents, that can stand with any town in terms of architecture, public spaces, or public art.

But there's the other Toledo, too. The vacant, glass- and debris-strewn lots, the dilapidated buildings, the vacant industrial sites.

While we laud the construction of the magnificent new Jeep plant and the Museum of Art's Glass Pavilion, we need to recognize blight elsewhere. Unless we face the reality of today's challenges and failings, Toledo cannot move forward.

Thirty years ago Toledo was prosperous. Downtown bustled. Our manufacturing economy was humming. But as the economic landscape changed, Toledo failed to change with it. The city retained a faith in industrial jobs, the good-paying jobs that had supported families for generations.

It was, of course, a false hope.

Smokestacks fell and Toledo was slow to pursue tech-based companies for a new century. The city did not diversify its economy. As a result it fell behind other communities more nimble and better able to adapt. So we are left with barren open spaces and abandoned manufacturing plants.

We don't like folks from elsewhere pointing out our faults. But that shouldn't blind us to the truth they sometimes tell.



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