Toledo’s blight problems did not arise overnight: They grew over the past five or six decades, following the flight of population and capital from the nation’s central cities. Every Toledo mayor of the past 50 years owns a piece of the city’s decline, but now it’s Mayor D. Michael Collins’ job to do something about it.
Fixing a systemic and long-standing problem won’t happen overnight either. It will take years of work and a comprehensive plan to create a smaller, greener, and more sustainable city. Government can provide resources and some leadership, but it can’t do the job alone.
In a meeting Thursday with Blade editors and reporters, Mayor Collins prudently called for help. He believes a modest initiative that brings police officers, city inspectors, and neighborhood residents together could help build the community support that any city needs to tackle festering urban problems.
Neighborhood watch groups formed to prevent crime should expand their mission to keeping their blocks clean. Mr. Collins has increased the number of police community service officers who work with such groups from three to nine.
Police officers are teaming with city inspectors to organize neighborhood meetings, alert residents of “zero tolerance” policies, and when necessary cite property owners for code and blight violations.
Improving neighborhoods, the mayor said, will take “sweat equity” from residents who care enough about their blocks to report illegal dumping, trash, and other violations — whether or not they own the homes they live in.
Mr. Collins pledged aggressively to pursue landlords who hold blighted and abandoned property. “We need to find out who owns it and tell them: ‘You take it down or we will — and you’re going to pay for it,’” he said.
He also plans to talk to Toledo Municipal Court officials about how they can work better with his administration to fight blight. These are not sweeping or ground-breaking initiatives, but they represent a start of what must become a sustained and concerted effort to manage blight and population loss — while there’s still time to do it.
Toledo is fortunate that its problems remain manageable. It has fared better than many other large industrial cities.
Without corrective action, however, blight will continue to grow, sinking property values, accelerating an exodus to the suburbs, and eroding the city’s tax base. How Toledo looks in 10 years will depend largely on what the people who live here do now.