American Consequences - June 2019

born in Adrian, Michigan – as far as the 1835 Erie & Kalamazoo Railroad ever got.

By 1972, Toledo had 34 miles of expressways leading to a downtown where no one went anymore. Downtown retail sales declined 35% between 1958 and 1972. By 1980, 40 suburban shopping centers accounted for 90% of shopping. To build the expressway system, 4,000 houses and stores were torn down and 25,000 Toledoans were displaced. They were probably going to move to the suburbs anyway... Toledo’s largest theater, the Paramount, was razed in 1965 to make way for a parking lot... Just in time for empty parking spaces on downtown streets. A new civic auditorium was built in the ‘burbs. The downtown cafeteria that had been the city’s most popular restaurant for 35 years closed in 1971. So did Toledo’s last burlesque house. Then came a failure beyond what even 140 years of living in Toledo would lead you to expect. The 1970s “stagflation” recession wasn’t caused by the government monkeying around with our money. Although the government certainly was doing that, abolishing dollar convertibility into gold and running the Bureau of Engraving printing presses night and day. But now the government was monkeying around with everything – wage and price freezes, import surtaxes, and gas shortages. The industrial Midwest lost the adjective “industrial” forever. Between 1973 and 1975, 2.3 million jobs disappeared. It seemed to Toledoans that all 2.3 million had disappeared from Toledo. In 1976, Toledo’s public schools closed briefly for lack of funds. A teachers’ strike followed.


What happened to Toledo in the 1950s and 1960s was another sort of success-in-failure. Toledo prospered well enough. Weekly wages in manufacturing jobs were among the highest... in American cities relying on manufacturing, of which there weren’t as many as there had been. Toledo’s per capita income was among the highest... in Ohio. The St. Lawrence Seaway was completed in 1959, opening Toledo’s freighter traffic to the world... except when the St. Lawrence River froze. However, as with most American metropolises, the city – as a city – began to dematerialize. People moved into the “suburban sprawl” that is an anathema to city planners. The planners see suburbia as a human weakness for too many nice homes and good places to work and shop. The planners lament the loss of a countryside full of birds that crap on our cars and raccoons that get into our garbage. And sprawl simply sprawls. There’s nothing for planners to plan. They kept planning anyway. In 1969, roughly 12 acres of Toledo’s old downtown, including more than 20 handsome and substantial late-19th-century buildings, were leveled. The “urban renewal” was done with 1960’s box-it- came-in architecture rather than the Geddes kind – jetsam, not Jetsons .


June 2019

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