‘Vision’ creators doubt goals will be realized anytime soon

By Joshua Benton and Vanessa Gezari
Blade Staff Writers

Page 6

City and University of Toledo officials presented their abstract vision for Toledo’s future yesterday, a dreamy image of efficient robots and healthy children, a bustling economy and an artistic renaissance.

But leaders acknowledged that they have no plans to make their vision a reality.

“No one in this room will live to see this vision actually come to fruition,” UT Provost Henry Moon told an audience at the Erie Street Market. “We won’t make it that far.”

The ideal, entitled Vision 2000, is less a plan than a projection of what life might be like in northwest Ohio 25 years from now. It is the product of the Toledo Millennium Partnership, an informal collaboration begun in April between the city and the university to plan Toledo’s future.

But Dr. Moon and Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said they want the 10-page document they’ve produced to become a centerpiece of public discussion and political debate.

In the coming months, Mr. Finkbeiner and Dr. Moon will make presentations to various community groups on the concept, including a town-hall discussion March 29 at the university. The mayor hopes that 3,000 Toledoans will learn about their ideas between all the presentations and meetings.

“We wanted to paint the vision of hope for the region,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.

But some area leaders questioned the value of the document, considering it is simply the vision of a few volunteers, without specifics or money to pay for implementation.

“I think it’s much more idealistic than realistic,” said Sandy Isenberg, president of the Lucas County commissioners and a contributor to the report. “It’s a wonderful American dream – the perfect city. But then reality sets in, and somebody has to pay for it. You can talk about all this other stuff, [but]show me the money, because it’s going to take a lot. I wish them the best if they get it done.”

The report divides its vision into six areas: business and industry; education and learning; the arts and culture; globalization; health and quality of life; and government organization. Each section was written by a separate committee of between six and 12 volunteers chosen last spring by the mayor and Dr. Moon. Each committee has met several times over the last year to detail their visions.

The sections vary widely in content and style. The business and industry section simply presents six specific goals for attainment, while the education section is written as if the author were living in the year 2025 after Toledo has become a world-renowned “dynamic community of learners.”

The document’s recommendations range from increasing adult learning to making Toledo more competitive in a global economy. It suggests the creation of an arts district on Monroe Street between downtown and the Toledo Museum of Art.

Some of the jargon-laced language is so vague that it might be difficult to determine if the vision is ever achieved. For example, one section says, “The city of Toledo will become a healthy community through broad-based involvement in an evolving process that is always changing, yet is always directed at improving the quality of life for its citizens.”

But without a firm plan to make the various visions reality, some people involved in their creation aren’t sure it will be useful.

Bob Savage, Jr., the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commissions member who led one of the committees, said that he questions the value of Vision 2000 on its own.

“Our group expressed some reluctance with just figuring out what things are supposed to look like 10 or 20 years from now,” Mr. Savage said. “Obviously, you could have the best vision in the world, but someone needs to spend some time figuring out how to get it done.”

Mr. Savage criticized the commitment of some of the volunteers who were supposed to work on the project. He said that, of the approximately 20 people who were supposed to be on his committee, only eight attended a single meeting.

Ms. Isenberg, who was on Vision 2000’s globalization committee, said the vision’s creators have good motives.

“I thought that they were very dedicated people, very interested,” she said. “My greater concern is [that] once this is all put together and everybody says, ‘Yeah, that’s great,’ that it isn’t just put on a shelf.”

She said not enough resources may be available to achieve the goals laid out in the document.

While they don’t have a plan to make their vision reality, Dr. Moon and Mr. Finkbeiner did say how they want to keep their document in the public eye.

Dr. Moon said he wants area media and civic groups like the League of Women Voters to demand that candidates for public office talk about where they stand on the sometimes vague ideas presented in Vision 2000. “We want to make this into a campaign issue for elections for mayor and city council,” he said.

That political commitment is important, Dr. Moon said, because only later generations will be able to enact the vision they’ve set forward. “People who want to run for office will have to pay attention to our agenda, not their own,” Dr. Moon said. “We see the role of our successors as implementing these dreams.”

Dr. Moon said that, while the group will seek public input on the document they’ve created, the vision it puts forth will not change, even if citizens present good suggestions. “It’s done,” he said.

While there was no formal public input in the creation of the document, Dr. Moon said that he took into account suggestions he had heard in his work on the Toledo 20/20 Comprehensive Plan, a two-year study that will revise the city’s comprehensive land-use plan for the next 20 years.

But Toledo city council members said they are concerned that the new vision might conflict with 20/20, which has cost the city $275,000 to assemble and which has involved public input at more than a dozen meetings.

“It would be a major tragedy if [Vision 2000] and 20/20, which had thousands of people involved in it and a six-figure cost, if these things were to develop on different tracks,” Council President Peter Ujvagi said.

But Steve Herwat, executive director of the plan commissions, said he is not concerned that the vision will contradict the comprehensive plan.

“I see it as being complementary to the 20/20 plan,” he said. “We focused on land use. The Millennium Partnership, they made a special effort to concentrate on other issues. The best thing that comes out of the Millennium Partnership is it forges a stronger bond between the city and the university.”

The final 20/20 plan is expected to be submitted to council by late March or early April, Mr. Herwat said.

But Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said citizens who participated in the 20/20 process still might feel left out by the city-university vision.

“My worry is that citizens are going to react with suspicion [because] no one asked for their input, and the politicians swooped in and made a decision,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “For any of this project to work, we have to have the involvement of the citizens. It only means something if the people believe in it.”

Mark V’Soske, president of the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce and chair of one of the committees, said he was instructed to focus on “a vision of the future, not necessarily how to implement that vision.” He said he hopes the document “can spark something in someone in the community into doing something good for Toledo they wouldn’t have otherwise done.”

The mayor said that while the vision may not persuade skeptics, it will be compelling for those who are open to it.

“If you believe in hope and you believe in opportunity … this document offers hope and opportunity,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “Of course, it’s just a vision.” But he added: “The only thing that will stop the vision from becoming a reality is a lack of industry and commitment on our part.”

The group invited more than 100 people to participate in the project, according to Joseph LaCava, one of the project’s coordinators. But fewer than 60 people ended up participating, most of them city or university employees.

The low level of participation led to some unusual absences on several committees. For example, the committee analyzing the area’s economic future had no labor representatives. The education and learning committee included no representatives from the Toledo Public Schools or Toledo Federation of Teachers, and the health committee had no one from either ProMedica or Mercy Health Systems, who between them own most of the area’s health-care facilities.

Merrill Grant, the superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, said that the education committee should have included someone who works in K-12 education. Instead, the committee included people whose work does not involve education, like city utilities director Don Moline, farmworker president Baldemar Velasquez, and Toledo Journal editor Myron Stewart.

Dr. Grant said that the education committee’s report fits in well with the efforts of Toledo schools. “The vision for the educated city complements the goals TPS has been working on for the past four years,” he said. “The overhaul has already begun.”

Blade staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this article.