Peace & Healing Reimagining the Toledo Spain Plaza

A retired local attorney who practiced for over 40 years, Thomas Douglas is shepherding a project to create a new vision for the Toledo Spain Plaza. With the backing of his recently formed 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Peace & Healing, LLC, Douglas hopes this project will help to eradicate, or at least reduce, violence in Toledo.  The Commons is a private ‘partnership’ endeavor of companies, groups, and individuals coordinated through Peace & Healing, LLC, supported by the City of Toledo,” Douglas said.

While serving on the Human Relations Commission for the City of Toledo, Douglas became the liaison for the gun violence committee. “[While] working with that committee I had the idea that there should be a place where people can go in the city… people who’ve been victims of crime and violence,” he said. Originally, an idea was considered to have various groups paint murals on the sides of buildings, but then he realized something long-lasting and unable to be easily knocked down or painted over was needed to get this message across.

Where to Build?

With the assistance of David Ross, who Douglas describes as a fabulous artist, the coordinator of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, the pair began considering locations in the City to create a place of safety and healing when they discovered the Toledo Spain Plaza, bordered by Collingwood, Jefferson and 23rd near downtown. 

Douglas reached out to his good friend and president of Sister Cities International, Jim Hartung, to collaborate and to see if they could lease the plaza. With the hopes to also teach Toledoans about the 92-year-old sister-city connection, which some consider to be the longest standing in the world, the non-profit leased the plaza for the next 25 years.

Envisioning Peace

In March, 2021 the first vision meeting was held to gauge community input. Led by the locally based architectural firm, The Collaborative, the goal was to determine what the space would look like. That meeting had, among the attendees, various representatives from Toledo’s gangs, in the same room, providing insight on how local violence could not only be prevented but healed. The members became very engaged in the idea, and Douglas plans to hold another meeting this year before construction begins in 2023.

The Commons

The Peace & Healing Commons will still be the Toledo Spain Plaza, with additional and enhanced aspects of art, flowing water and places to rest or gather. Though the initial goal is to reduce gun violence and create an opportunity for peace and healing for victims, another major goal is to encourage at-risk youth to learn trades by giving them purpose. Douglas recognizes that violence doesn’t begin when a person becomes an adult, explaining that with grants and funding from the City, he has found a way to involve youth.

“We’ve partnered with the Lucas County Juvenile Court; I’ve met with the judges and their probation department. Some of the kids will be recommended to assist with the construction and then maintaining the project, as well as different programs associated with the Commons to be offered for at-risk youth and gang members. We’ve already partnered with the City of Toledo and received a grant…for us to hire and pay these young people, to give them some purpose,” he said. 

“That can happen with kids throughout their teens, if they really don’t have a purpose, that’s how they end up becoming part of a gang. So, we’re going to pay them and they will work alongside the contractors to learn a trade: laying a sidewalk, landscaping, irrigation, electrical, those kinds of things, so that they also feel some ownership in this. In building it, it becomes part of them, part of theirs. And hopefully, we can create a situation where the gangs are working together instead of against each other.”

Future Plans

“[The Peace and Healing Commons at Toledo Spain Plaza] will be a permanent monument. Our future plan is that this will be the central Commons, and we will then have satellite Commons in North Toledo, South Toledo, East Toledo, and West Toledo that will also be managed and maintained by those communities. It’s a community project; that’s what we really want it to be. And to have Toledo become known as a peace and healing community.”