Toledo's Model Block program has a new name in hopes of giving many neighbors a new start in one of Toledo's oldest neighborhoods.
A crowd of city officials and neighbors gathered around the corner of Locust and Michigan streets yesterday morning as Mayor Jack Ford introduced the "Toledo Signature Neighborhoods" initiative, described as a partnership between the city and neighbors in the area.
But Antone Luster and several other young men sitting at the corner across the street, mostly dressed in T-shirts and shorts, snickered as Mr. Ford challenged neighbors to be part of the cleanup of crime, vacant houses, and debris.
Mr. Ford described the retooled Model Block program as extending the positive effects of increased city services - including police presence - in the neighborhood.
"They will be here for a month, and then they will be gone," said Luster, 33, who recently released from prison after serving 10 years on a rape charge. "Have they ever talked to these kids out here? Do they know what going on? They will leave, and it's going to be right back to the way it was."
Mr. Ford said that's exactly what he doesn't want to happen in the Toledo Signature Neighborhoods program. He said the city will tear down about 10 homes, remove abandoned vehicles, and spruce up the neighborhood known as a hub for young drug dealers and users.
It will receive additional attention from police, including the presence of the department's mobile substation. Mr. Ford said he wants neighbors to clean their yards, paint and repair homes, and aggressively report criminal activity.
Armonte Darrington, left, Dajuan Smith, and Melia Darrington watch a bulldozer finish work on the Locust Street house.
He said organizations like the NorthRiver Development Corp. and the Economic Opportunity Planning Association will be able to provide help for those struggling financially to do those things. Mr. Ford said he wants to see a lasting change for the better.
"It's going to be up to the neighbors to take control," Mr. Ford said. "You need to keep the pressure on to slow down criminal activity."
Luster said cleaner streets and trimmed trees will only make for a nicer place to sell drugs for some of the young adults. Many are trapped in a cycle of poor education and lack of opportunities, he said.
"What they need are programs to show these dudes what to do," Luster said. "Some of these dudes can't fill out job applications. What are they supposed to do other than what they're doing now? There are some good people in this neighborhood, but they just need something to do."
Mary Williams, 84, who has lived in the 800 block of Locust most of her life, applauded the work as city crews tore down a vacant structure. Ms. Williams said she has noticed a decrease in crime in the last year and believes the efforts will pay off.
"It's already better than what it was last summer," Ms. Williams said. "The attitude of the young people is always that the police will go away. They don't believe they will be out here. As long as there is any kind of authority out here, they will run and hide."
Maxine Darrington, 52, who had lived with her daughter, Latonia McCann, 35, in the 800 block of Locust, said the neighborhood has improved, but is a long way from being comfortable.
Earl Reid, executive director of NorthRiver Development Corp., credited community organizer Ramon Perez with bringing neighbors together. Mr. Perez, the Lagrange Development Corp. community organizer, was hired by NorthRiver through a grant.
Mr. Perez's work helped develop the neighborhood group the Greenbelt Vistula Heritage Council. The council worked with the city to develop its first Toledo Signature Neighborhood, bordering Cherry, Summit and Lagrange streets and Greenbelt Parkway.
"This is something that is neighborhood-driven," Mr. Reid said. "It's very pleasing. The city can come here to tear down the houses, but it's the residents who will have to keep the partnership going."
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