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Published: Saturday, 4/15/2006

Toledo s future is linked to its neighborhoods

BY HUGH GREFE

THE Blade s April 3 editorial, Our Kind of Town, encouraged Toledoans to look to Chicago for example and inspiration that rust-belt cities can indeed renew themselves.

It s a recommendation well made; anyone who visits Chicago today can t help but be impressed with its pervasive vitality.

Energized and undaunted, Chicago has scraped off its rust and relentlessly polished its strengths to be sure. It has done so in large part by avoiding the temptation to put its faith in a few large silver bullet projects that are somehow expected to bring community-wide salvation.

In 2001, noted urban observer and co-author of the book Comeback Cities, Tony Proscio, wrote an assessment of Toledo s state of revitalization at the invitation of Toledo Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC).

Cities prosper in large part because they are desirable places to live, he said, not only in wealthier neighborhoods and new apartments downtown, but also in the poorer and working-class neighborhoods of the historic urban core. In those neighborhoods lie some of the greatest opportunities and challenges facing Toledo in the next several years.

Chicago s block by block renaissance is vibrant proof that Mr. Proscio is right about the connection between a city s future and the future of its neighborhoods.

And just up the Lake Michigan shore, Milwaukee s renewal thrives with its well known focus on neighborhoods begun under former Mayor John Norquist, now a prominent advocate of new urbanism. Today, residents in Milwaukee routinely speak with pride of living in a named neighborhood rather than simply saying that they live in the north end or west side.

Toledo s propensity for self-criticism has not completely dulled our senses nor constrained our imagination.

Consider the community enthusiasm on display at Fifth Third Field, the Toledo Museum of Art, or an Under the Stars concert at the zoo. Consider too, the stubborn optimism and imagination of neighborhood groups as they work to build homes, businesses, parks, and community centers in the heart of our metropolitan area.

Since 1990, Toledo s community development corporations have produced nearly 1,500 new and renovated homes and a half million square feet of commercial space in areas where development is difficult.

They have worked with government, banks, Toledo LISC, and others to attract resources and build healthier communities. Collectively, they have created homes and commercial real estate development worth more than $120 million, including $69 million in funds brought to Toledo by LISC.

Several new efforts promise to bring even more energy and capital to our neighborhoods.

Along with CDCs, Toledo LISC, and local government, business leaders at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce intend to catalyze new learning neighborhoods in connection with the new public schools now under construction. Three pilot projects are under way as part of the New Schools New Neighborhoods Coalition, with more to come.

So too, prominent neighborhood-based institutions, including St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, the Toledo Hospital, the University of Toledo, and the Toledo Museum of Art recognize that their campus investments can leverage additional improvements in adjacent neighborhoods to the benefit of everyone.

Toledo certainly has strengths to polish in its new schools, major institutions willing to reinvest in the community, and visionary neighborhood organizations.

When neighborhoods at the center of metropolitan areas flourish, everyone benefits.

The former mayor of Indianapolis, Richard Hudnut, now serves suburban Chevy Chase, Md., as its mayor. Mr. Hudnut, author of a new book entitled Halfway to Everywhere: A Portrait of America s First-Tier Suburbs, believes the connection between the health of neighborhoods the heart of metropolitan regions and regional prosperity is undeniable.

You can t be a suburb of nothing, he has bluntly observed at recent national urban growth and development conferences.

It is true that we must shake off our tendency to doubt ourselves and denigrate our community.

Fortunately, there are many promising collaborations of Toledo people including businesses, organizations, and neighbors who are simply unwilling to accept the status quo.

Like people in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis, they are resolutely working together to assure the most robust local rebirth. And like community leaders in those great examples of midwestern metropolitan regeneration, the intrepid Toledo visionaries know that by building urban neighborhoods of choice they are getting to the heart of the matter.

After all, no one really wants to live and work in a suburb of nothing.

Hugh Grefe is Senior Program Director for Toledo Local Initiative Support Corp.



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