How do you overcome the perception – and reality- of a central city neighborhood in a Rust Belt city that is losing population? That’s Terry Glazer and United North’s challenge.
Glazer leads the Lagrange Development Corporation, a community development group that works to improve housing, jobs, economic opportunities, and the neighborhood in general in North Toledo.
The area encompasses the Vistula Historic District, which is adjacent to downtown; the Polish Village, a historically Polish area along Lagrange Street; and other parts of North Toledo. This portion of the city has struggled with the foreclosures, loss of population, and crime that have plagued the rest of Toledo. It has also had an even more serious image problem to overcome after rioting broke out in October 2005 because of a visit by a group of Neo-Nazis.
Lagrange Development Corp. is one of the most active CDCs in Toledo – regularly tackling lots of development projects, as well as being able to turn out hundreds of residents to neighborhood meetings. The group recently partnered with a neighboring CDC, North River, to form United North. The combined group joined forces for a bigger staff, more expertise, and more community organizing power.
Past successes include the Heritage Village development, a group of new, suburban-style homes on Bancroft Street in central Toledo; working with the schools and other neighborhood advocates to have a Boys and Girls Club included in the new Sherman Elementary School; the Shoppes on Lagrinka, a group of retail stores on Lagrange Street in the heart of the area’s business district; and community organizing around absentee landlord and blight issues.
Glazer describes the group as very grassroots-oriented. Residents in North Toledo, working with United North, recently completed a quality of life plan for the neighborhood. Plans are in the works for murals and other youth projects, “curb appeal” projects to improve housing around new schools in the area, sprucing up parks, and more.
What’s next for the busy group? They’re hoping to work with the United Way to expand a senior center in the neighborhood to a family center with a focus on economic stability. And as part of the New Schools, New Neighborhoods initiative, United North is trying to concentrate resources and improvements into several key tipping point areas, and is trying to build on the investment made by Toledo Public Schools’ new buildings.
“We decided, if we’re going to have an impact, we have to have targeted areas,” Glazer said. They have focused on development around the new Chase Elementary School and Sherman Elementary School. The group also wants the city to concentrate demolitions and other public funds, following a model used in Richmond, Virginia.
Additionally, “We want to re-brand the neighborhood,” Glazer said. “North Toledo is identified with all kinds of problems.”
Glazer acknowledges his group faces many challenges – the economy, the region’s loss of population, the perception and reality of the neighborhood, Toledo’s schools, crime and the perception of crime.
But there’s a lot that’s right about Toledo, Glazer is quick to point out.
“It’s a lot easier to make an impact in this town than in New York City,” said the native New Yorker. “If you think of an idea and have a little persistence, you can get things done.”