Filmmaker Nick Corbin does not mince words when discussing his previous pessimism about his hometown: “I never really hung out in downtown Toledo. I kind of avoided it. When I was growing up, downtown was nothing— there was absolutely nothing there, it was just some place you didn’t go.”
But after a year and a half of filming and working on “Reclaiming Spaces,” a project commissioned by the Toledo Design Center, Corbin has transformed into an ambassador for downtown.
Adjusting the lens
“Reclaiming Spaces” is a documentary series created by Corbin and his creative partner Kim Sanchez. The first episode was shown at a local conference for the American Planning Association.
Corbin describes the initial idea for the project as somewhere between “a chamber of commerce video and a Michael Moore documentary,” landing closer to the Moore side of the spectrum. The darker tone, that he expected to carry with him, dissolved once he actually went downtown and started talking to business owners and residents who are working hard to reinvent the area.
“About a month into filming, the people that I was meeting downtown changed my tone. It would have been a much darker documentary if not for the people themselves.”
Filmed by Nick Corbin, the series tracks Toledo’s rust belt development.
Arms against apathy
“Reclaiming Spaces” highlights the excitement and growth of downtown Toledo in 24 minutes. Corbin explained that since filming began just over a year and a half ago, so many new businesses and projects have started that the footage regularly falls out of date.
Hesitant to become too excited, Corbin notes that previous attempts at a downtown Toledo renaissance have fallen flat. The new Mud Hens stadium downtown was originally hailed as a catalyst for development, crawled forward, until recently. One of the biggest obstacles to true, sustained urban revitalization is “the apathetic nature of rustbelt towns.” He says, “The difficult thing is getting people to care. It’s very fragile downtown. It’s a small candle— not like a roaring fire, and we have to protect that flame.”
Since the first viewing of “Reclaiming Spaces” late last year, downtown development is moving steadily, but not always welcomed. The decision to allow Promedica to revamp the area around Promenade Park, for example, has met criticism. Corbin’s perspective is one of cautious optimism: “A lot of times corporate investment is spooky, but I think it’s going to be interesting to see how Promedica changes the landscape and the culture downtown.”
Three more episodes are planned in the “Reclaiming Spaces” series. Episode two, focusing on Toledo’s arts and culture, is currently being filmed. Corbin plans to also highlight residences and small businesses. The first episode will be screened free of charge.