Tale of two citiesWritten by Karl Rundgren | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo is teetering on a tightrope between two futures.
Where do you see Toledo and Northwest Ohio in 25 years? Some envision a former rust belt community that has found new life and new hope. Houses are once again full of people, and businesses expand and thrive. More companies want to come here, lured by our desirable lakeside life and a new energy that hums through everything. People walk around with the contented look that comes after a great meal, knowing that their home is safe and has a future.
Others see a far bleaker scene. Whole neighborhoods are crumbling, with streets full of abandoned homes, creating shelter for growing crews of criminals. Police don’t dare go in. Most of the big businesses have moved away, including the ones that had previously escaped to the ’burbs. Unemployment is rampant, and even people with jobs are resentful, feeling trapped in a rotting husk. As for the people, they have the vacant, glazed-over look of having grown accustomed to loss.
These are extreme examples, to be sure, but neither is impossible: The dream and the nightmare. Both share one similarity — they began at the start of the 21st century.
I thought of this when I watched Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner accept our third-place LivCom award in London. Clearly he sees the dream, and that dream is exactly what he showed the panel of judges. Overseas, he outlined “Toledo Pride” and showed a community that works to preserve its heritage, fosters a more environmentally friendly existence and promotes healthier lifestyles. While that’s what the judges saw, many people who live in this area are more inclined to see the nightmare.
Which is why they were flabbergasted to see Toledo win.
Some tried to diminish the significance of the award, focusing on the fact that we never would have won if the judges had come to the Glass City in person. Others said that, because we’ll never know how many people entered the competition, we’ll never truly know how many communities we defeated.
From there it’s easy to point to Toledo’s unemployment (the worst in Ohio) and its soaring foreclosure rates (20th in the nation) and see a community that is already spiraling toward its grim ending.
There’s another community that once found itself balancing on that tightrope, staring at a dream and a nightmare. They, too, had around 300,000 people and a long, proud industrial history. They had shipyards that cranked out vessels, some of the busiest in the world, and a strong, determined work force. But then the economy gutted the community, and the shipyards closed. Unemployment soared, and many middle class residents moved out of town, settling in the outlying suburbs. There they would heave a sigh of relief, grateful they got out before things really fell apart.
The city was Malmö, Sweden — the same city that won first place at the LivCom awards.
Back in the 1990s, Malmö, the most industrialized in the country, realized that it was dying and had to take drastic measures to revive. They took the old seafront, much of it abandoned and decaying, and converted it into apartment buildings and villas, luring some middle class people back to the city. They began working more with neighboring Denmark, finding new economic opportunities across borders. They also embraced diversity and attracted workers from countless countries.
It’s not paradise. Unemployment is still a problem, and there are still many cultural divides, but this is a community on the mend.
It’s an example that Toledo leaders could learn from, and Mayor Finkbeiner says he has.
“The time we spent in London,” he said, “was listening to other cities talk about how they are bridging from the industrial past to the more technologically inspired future and creating healthy, green environments for their people to live in.”
If that’s true, and if this trip to London spurs new ideas and resolve when it comes to saving this city, then the LivCom award will serve as a defining moment in Toledo’s history. If our city finds sure footing, we’ll be able to look back at this award and see exactly what those judges in London saw.
If not, in a short time no one will remember we were the “Most Liveable Community in North America,”
because no one will live here at all.
Karl Rundgren is managing editor and co-anchor of FOX Toledo News.