One of my tasks in this job is to listen. Just listen to people in the city — from barber shops, to YMCAs, to UT seminars, to public forums.
One thing I hear: An almost constant discussion about what we need.
What do we need psychologically in Toledo? What do we need economically?
More self-confidence? The arts? Another big factory? A smoother way for Ma and Pa small businesses? Better branding? Immigrants? Better hotels? More organizational cooperation and collaboration?
Sure. All of the above.
But what if the big turnaround so many people in Toledo are looking for has already been made? What if we have what we need and we simply have to recognize this and build on it?
I was at the Valentine to see a movie a few nights ago. The place was packed. I was at our magnificent Toledo Museum of Art on the last day of the sublime Japanese print exhibit. It was the first of the recent “snowmageddon” days. The parking lot was full and so were the exhibit rooms. Interestingly, many of the folks present had already seen the exhibit and were just taking a last look before the exhibit moves on.
Bad weather was no biggie.
Finally, we have a youth culture in this town. For real. It centers around coffee shops, bars, and the electronic media. These young people have created SMASH Toledo — an Internet showcase for food and drink — and they have revived a good, old slogan: “You will do better in Toledo.” It is a fledgling, but strong, movement and there is no reason it can’t grow. They don’t need a grant. They just need the city to say, “yes” and get out of the way.
Now we have Aspire, a coalition of big business executives who care about poverty and failing schools in Lucas County and social service providers who understand these problems. Their first two projects: Getting more Lucas County kids ready to learn by kindergarten and increasing high school graduation rates.
What I am saying, in the words of the old Steven Stills song, is that “something’s happening here.” Toledoans are noted for saying other Toledoans just don’t care, that they are apathetic and negative. But maybe that’s changing — both the indictment and the self-fulfillment.
I have been writing about a fairly wide variety of topics since the mayor’s race ended. The two topics that have generated the most mail?
Downtown economic development and saving the Spitzer building.
The people of this city care passionately about their heritage and hopes.
The Spitzer can be saved if city officials stay on it and we stay on them.
We still need to do that, and to create housing in the business end of downtown — and more business, more work.
But, meanwhile, Promenade Park is being remade and expanded and the Mud Hens part of town — Mudville — is going to the next level. It will grow in size and scope. Residential and commercial development will expand with it. People want to live downtown. Never bet against Joe Napoli. He is both a pragmatist and a visionary, which is rare, and he has a proven track record.
Toledo has, I think, more than its share of pragmatic visionaries.
Dan Rogers, who heads the Cherry Street Mission is one. Without a cent of government money he runs a mission with the lowest possible entry threshold — a place where anyone can go and everyone can get better.
He has now begun to build a new mission (physically) which could well make it the state of the art homeless shelter in the nation. If you are empowering people, he says, that means they depend on you to be powerful. The question is how people can empower themselves, from within.
Brian Kennedy, head of the Toledo Museum of Art is another pragmatic visionary. He runs one of the finest and best used museums of art in the world, and the preeminent artistic institution in this city. But he is not content with that. He wants to teach more Toledoans, especially the young, how to see — really see — great art. Visual literacy, he calls it. We live in a, mostly, visually illiterate age.
Mr. Kennedy is out to change that. I spent some time with him at the museum this week. And it was great fun to be able to be shown works of art, ancient and modern, in new ways. Mr. Kennedy is a teacher, and the whole city is his classroom.
Or, let’s talk economic development. Minutes after taking office, Mayor Mike Collins and his new economic development director brought City Council a deal that could mean an eventual 150 new manufacturing jobs in Toledo. Council unanimously said yes.
The air feels fresh and clear these days. Maybe the future we all seek is already unfolding. Maybe the change has already begun.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.