In midsize American cities, the problems are still manageable.
We have blight and high unemployment here, but nothing like what Detroit faces.
We have gangs and heroin here. But the shootings in Chicago threaten to bring the Windy City to its knees.
But, in dealing with our problems, we are going to have to be smart.
I had a cup of coffee with Pete Culp this week. Mr. Culp is one of the wise old heads in this town. He was a star athlete in high school and college and went on to a distinguished career in Toledo city government. You could also call him a civil rights leader, like his brother the Rev. Robert Culp. Dan Rogers, at the Cherry Street Mission, calls Robert Culp “pastor of the city.”
Most of all, Pete Culp is a concerned Toledoan, with specific interest in two things: Housing was his field of expertise when in government. Education, and youth, is where he started.
“Two things I know,” he says about what we could and should do for central-city youth: “We have to be together, and we have to be creative.”
He also says we have to think bigger. We should be thinking of how to create hundreds of summer jobs — “meaningful jobs,” he says.
Like training young black and Hispanic men to work on upgrading and refurbishing homes. Start with paint. Anyone can paint. And a lot of homeowners in the central city would welcome help with painting.
When the city paid attention to beautification — flowers, plantings, and the like — it helped. How about beautifying homes?
Hey, says Mr. Culp, a job is the first step toward responsibility and “acting like a real man.” Want to combat the gangster culture? Start with jobs, he says.
But it will take money.
Mr. Culp then asks the $65,000 question: Why do so many cities, including Toledo, regard housing and youth programs as a problem mostly for federal dollars to address? Why shouldn’t substantial money from the general fund go to a youth program?
Mr. Culp likes practical ideas. He persuaded fellow members of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board to fund driver’s education for urban youth.
He thinks some of the same kids could be trained as security guards for public housing. Something like this is being done in Chicago, to the tune of $1 million.
He says it is necessary to understand what the lives of urban kids are actually like, which is not so easy for those with little exposure. He tells me a story about a boy he coached and taught many years ago. The boy was suspended from school for not attending gym. But he was the best athlete in the school. What was going on? Was the kid just surly? Pete tracked him down in his ’hood, and eventually the boy confessed his problem: He had no decent underwear and was too embarrassed to undress in the locker room. Solution: The teacher bought the student some underwear and had a talk with the principal, who reinstated the boy.
Mr. Culp is most excited, as virtually everyone I talk to is, about Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant’s idea to build a new trades and vocational school — a new Macomber High.
Think big, work together, be pragmatic and creative — Pete Culp has written the prescription for us.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.