Nestor: Toledo’s size offers ‘social sweet spot’Written by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
By Sean Nestor, Guest Author
I recently heard from another friend who moved out to California who is now set on moving back to Toledo. This is, I think, the fourth person to go through this change in the last couple years, and it’s something I think is worth musing upon.
When I asked these people what Toledo has to offer that sunny California doesn’t, the response is always some variant on “community.” It’s the people that they miss being around.
Think about that for a second. The people of Toledo were perceived to be of such high quality that they were worth moving across the country for.
I tend to agree. It’s a little-known fact that I was intent on moving out of Toledo in early 2011, only to stick around to see through what I thought would be a one-off race for city council. Then Occupy Toledo happened, a lot of new friendships were made and I’ve since settled on staying here. The quality of those relationships was what made the economic difficulties of living in Toledo worthwhile. So I can speak from personal experience about the pull our people have.
One consideration here might be that, as adults, we naturally have a harder time making friends, particularly in new places. Maybe these folks just had a hard time adjusting to the culture, and wanted to move back to be near people they were comfortable with. It’s possible.
But I have noticed, in my travels, that the people of Toledo are different. We have a very distinct culture, though it manifests itself in unique ways. It’s not so much about our businesses, or our art, or our ethnic heritage, or our food — although those things are certainly noteworthy. It’s more in our attitudes, our way of relating to each other and our view of the world. This is what sets us apart.
The people of Toledo have been confronting harsh economic realities for some time. This has left us with little room for pretentiousness, arrogance or delusion. It also means that we’ve had to work harder to locate and develop sources of comfort.
Troubled groups throughout history have learned to depend on each other as a means of survival. Toledoans are no different. We’ve learned to rely on each other — for humor, for fun, for support — and it shows in our character. We’ve had to learn love the hard way — and we don’t take for granted what it means to care.
My friend Nic observed something else about Toledo: our population size actually puts us in a sort of social “sweet spot.” We’re big enough to have genuine diversity among the population, but small enough that you feel intimately involved when something big happens. I think this is a facet of our town that often goes unheralded — that there is so much about the city to explore, but you don’t have to be a fly on the wall if you don’t want to be.
In Toledo, it’s much easier to step up and make a difference than it is in towns where the machinations of society have all but completely stratified the decision-making into “doers” and “observers.” Because we lack those barriers, an individual with the right enthusiasm can go a lot further in Toledo than they could in a bigger city, making it fertile ground for new ideas.
It’s not so hard, when you think about it, to understand why some people will call Toledo home no matter what. The work of creating a more livable city remains to be done, but the opportunity is there, for those who have the will to take it. Maybe together we can create a new kind of city — one that will be known for the traits that our expatriates have come to admire so well.