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Tuesday, November 25, 2014
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Published: Friday, 8/9/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Commentary

What’s Grand Rapids got that we haven’t?

BY KEITH BURRIS
ASSOCIATE BLADE EDITOR

I walked into a video store on Central Avenue. I was glad to see it. In the town I moved from, all the video stores had closed.

I took my movies to the counter. A nice young woman looked at my ID and we had a conversation:

“You from Connecticut?”

“Yeah, I just moved here.”

“What made you come to this terrible place?”

Memo to the mayoral candidates: Toledo, we have a problem.

My friend Gary, a Toledo native, moved back here after 20-odd years in D.C. He said, “I went to three great festivals in this town in one weekend, and very few people were at any of them. I see a world-class museum, a beautiful public library, a symphony, a ballet — I see a vibrant community. And a community that shrugs.”

Maybe this is the biggest elephant of all the elephants in the room: The city’s image of itself.

Councilman D. Michael Collins thinks so. He recounts recent conversations with a professional who moved here reluctantly and a scientist and his wife who moved here from Boston. They all have told him Toledo is great — a wonderful surprise on virtually every front.

Spread the word among the lifers.

Maybe you have to come from the outside for this perspective, like Gary.

I too have returned here, after a quarter of a century in Connecticut.

Now there is a great state that does not do midsized cities well. Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport are all disasters.

Any of those cities would kill to have the key assets Toledo has — livable neighborhoods, well-functioning public institutions, and citizen involvement.

People still care about each other. That’s an asset.

Example: The other day, pulling out of the parking lot of Schorling’s market, I saw a bicyclist coming toward me. I backed my car up to clear the sidewalk for him. I expected a courtesy wave, that’s Toledo protocol. But this rider, an older gent, went beyond that. He called out, “thank-you sir.”

As they say in the commercial: priceless.

Many people say we have all the ingredients in place to be a great city, a city that can attract new people and business, yet we seem to be less than the sum of our parts. Why is that?

Mr. Collins claims the key is two-pronged: confidence in government and outstanding public schools.

He’s running for mayor to address the first. He’d also like to start a program in which, under one roof, the academically best kids in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades mentor the most at-risk kids in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades. That’s a great idea. And maybe that’s the key to a positive self-image for a city: willingness to entertain innovative ideas.

My friend Gary took a drive to Grand Rapids, Mich. He found it very similar to Toledo in assets, resources (such as its riverfront), and problems.

Yet it has a cool vibe. It’s fun, hip, and elegant, if you will. What’s the difference? Self confidence and willingness to experiment.

Are we at least as good as Grand Rapids? Maybe instead of an Eeyore shrug and a “probably not” we should answer “hell, yes” and roll up our sleeves. Maybe we could do this at the next mayoral debate.

Keith C. Burris is associate editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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