Initiative seeks to rebuild neighborhoodsWritten by Michael Driehorst | | firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a scheduled five-part series about the New Schools, New Neighborhoods coalition: A mostly volunteer, private- and public-sector effort to revitalize the city of Toledo by focusing on the neighborhoods impacted by Toledo Public Schools’ Building For Success construction. From the initial overview story through a detailed look at the first four schools and neighborhoods on which the NSNN is focusing, Toledo Free Press will review progress made since late 2002 when the effort began, and report on the coalition’s next steps.
There’s an oft-quoted saying from Confucius that states, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
The same goes with revitalizing a city. It can’t be done all at once.
That’s the approach of the New Schools, New Neighborhoods (NSNN) initiative, which involves more than three dozen Toledo private- and public-sector organizations. NSNN was formed shortly after the November 2002 election when Toledo voters approved the Toledo Public Schools’ 4.99-mill Building For Success levy.
Many business and community leaders saw the TPS project as an opportunity to “leverage the investment in the school to the surrounding communities,” said Tom Manahan Jr., president of the Lathrop Company, a member of the NSNN coalition.
“We’ve wanted to use the schools as a catalyst for investment in the neighborhoods,” added Mark Luetke, president of FLS Marketing, another member of the NSNN coalition.
Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark V’Soske added, “You can’t rebuild the city as a whole, so we picked select neighborhoods that were neither bad so we’d never have a chance of having an impact, nor were they doing really fine.”
Toledo Public Schools Board President Steven Steel said the NSNN group was a welcomed addition to the Building For Success project.
“Schools don’t develop all alone in a neighborhood. Community involvement increases the likelihood of success in improving areas like transiency,” said Steel, who is a member of the NSNN Executive Committee.
When the TPS Building For Success construction started, NSNN targeted three schools that were in the early construction phases, and two years ago added a fourth:
1. Chase STEM Academy, 600 Bassett St. (NorthRiver CDC)
2. Sherman Elementary School, 817 Sherman St. (Lagrange Development Corp.)
3. Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls, 707 Avondale Ave. (ONYX CDC)
4. Garfield Elementary School, 1103 N. Ravine Parkway; (Neighborhood House Services CDC)
The school-neighborhood combinations were selected, in part, because those schools were included in the early Building For Success phases, they had existing vacant or damaged houses and other buildings, and they are in neighborhoods with existing community development corporations in place to take a local leadership role.
“We’re not a development company, but we are trying to pull together resources to find sources of assets of dollars or influence to get projects in these neighborhoods moving,” V’Soske said.
“We’re not supplanting the CDCs. They were directly involved with us all the way through. We are trying to be a resource to them to collaborate with what they need to in those communities as well as provide other sources of information,” V’Soske said.
A 12- to 15-member executive committee meets monthly to fine tune the NSNN strategy and see how it can better connect existing community and city organizations. Manahan is chairman of the executive committee.
Of NSNN’s initial $95,000 funding, $20,000 was from the UT Urban Affairs Center; $25,000 came from the Toledo Community Foundation, and $50,000 came in federal funds obtained by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur. The bulk of the work is done through volunteers from the various coalition members.
The group’s programming funding is sourced from NiSource’s $20,000 Victory Grants to Neighborhoods. NiSource consists of various natural gas and electric distribution companies, including Columbia Gas of Ohio.
NSNN also is hoping to coordinate and channel $1 million in City of Toledo Capital Improvement Program and another $5 million in loans from area banks and Toledo Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) groups in those neighborhoods that want to play a role in the revitalization.
During its first few years, as the NSNN developed its strategic vision, it also looked at another LISC effort in Richmond, Va., that began in 1999. Richmond’s Neighborhoods in Bloom effort used public and private funds to improve, develop and spur change within the city by focusing on six to 12 block neighborhoods.
One clear result of the NSNN’s efforts is the 2006 groundbreaking of the 10-acre, 28-home Edison Place Subdivision, where half of its streets are paved and curbed, and a model home has been built. The subdivision is being built with private money.
Another indication of the “ripple effect” the NSNN seeks to create is at Sherman Elementary School, said Hugh Grefe, LISC senior executive director. There, the Boys & Girls Club of Toledo is working with the school for after-school programs such as homework assistance.
Steel said developing strong links between schools and their neighborhoods results in “great ideas” like the Sherman-Boys & Girls Club program.
“The most important involvement is right at the school level. In working with New Schools, New Neighborhoods, we’re trying to institutionalize strong relationships between schools and their communities so those relationships become part of the mission and function of the schools,” Steel said.
Like many families and businesses, however, the economy has had an impact on NSNN’s plans.
“The playing field is dramatically different now with the economy than when we started,” Manahan said. “We intended to go on the offensive in these neighborhoods with new housing and new improvements.
“The reality check is that we have to start playing defense to keep people from moving out of these neighborhoods, while we’re simultaneously playing offense to bring new development in.”
One example of NSNN’s defensive efforts is offering $4,000 grants from NiSource to each of the four schools to help the community become more engaged with the schools through various existing organizations and new efforts. One example of how the schools are using the money is at Sherman School, where a portion of the funds were used to make and purchase yards signs promoting school pride.
While some of the NSNN’s efforts are bearing fruit, the coalition will be using 2009 to see how far it’s come and assess where it’s going.
“We have to determine if we are actually making progress,” Grefe said. “We also have to look at the degree of commitment from the four groups, who if anyone is doing anything. To really make this program effective, there has to be neighborhood-based leaders who have to leverage their human capital.”
While NSNN has no set timetable of when it will move on to the next school and neighborhood, it does want to see momentum.
Manahan added, “There’s no set date. We want to see that there’s been enough impact, enough momentum created in a given neighborhood to say that we can move resources to another neighborhood and create another version of the same model.”