Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Design is everywhere: community input makes a neighborhood work

The Toledo Design Collective is helping Toledo residents advocate for better neighborhoods

“I don’t think people understand that design is literally everywhere.” So says Elizabeth Ellis, Studio Director of the Toledo Design Collective. “If you walk in the Old West End, you are extremely comfortable, and that’s on purpose – it’s because it has trees so you’re not overheating on a sunny day and accessible sidewalks that anyone can use. In some of our more disinvested communities, you don’t have that.”

Ellis and the Toledo Design Collective provide urban design and planning services so that those seeking to improve their neighborhood can be armed with the tools they need to be effective. As they see it, every neighborhood deserves to be built around the needs and preferences of those who reside there.

Planning & Design

If you aren’t familiar with what planning for a neighborhood looks like, you’re not alone. When asked to explain what the purpose of planning is, Ellis explained: “If you wanted to build a house, you could go out and start building without plans, but you’re not going to get a result that ends up in a really good house. Urban planning is just a bigger scale version of that.”

When developers come to a city and seek to build something – housing, retail stores, factories – plans help them know where that development will be welcomed and where it will not. “You want to be able to direct developers, saying ‘This is where we think you could plug in a really effective way.’  Otherwise, you just start getting a hodgepodge of things coming in that maybe people don’t want, don’t need, or never asked for,” says Ellis.

While planning is used to determine what kind of properties go into (and stay out of) a neighborhood, design shapes where those properties go and how people access them. This can include reconfigurations of streets, sidewalks, and traffic lights, informing the work not just of interested developers, but of municipal governments as well.

Neighborhood Allies

TDC was founded by two retired architects, Dick Meyers and Robert Seyfang, who wanted to make a difference in Toledo. Budgetary restrictions had kept the Toledo Plan Commission, a government body, from offering any planning service to residents since 1989, leaving a large unmet need in the area. Seeing an opportunity to fill the vacuum left by the Plan Commission, Meyers and Seyfang incorporated what was then known as the Toledo Design Center as a nonprofit in 2001.

Though initially focused on downtown, TDC has since shifted its focus to aiding Toledo’s neighborhoods. In the spirit of centering the interests of residents, TDC doesn’t enter communities offering them assistance; rather, it responds to requests from neighborhood groups seeking their services.

In recent years, they’ve helped organizations in the Junction, Old South End, Monroe/Auburn, Vistula, Warehouse District, Englewood, UpTown, Garfield, and Ironwood neighborhoods develop plans. They’ve also provided studies for various community projects, including the Broadway Mile, Navarre Park, and the repurposing of St. Anthony’s Church.

Those they’ve helped have offered us glowing reviews of their service. One such testimonial comes from Eunice Glover, Housing Director for the Junction Coalition: “The Toledo Design Collective is a community-minded organization. They’ve provided excellent technical assistance with respect to street design, lighting, and housing design, as well as expertise and support to our Housing Committee and partners.”

If you and your neighbors are interested in conducting a study or developing a master plan, consider reaching out to the Toledo Design Collective.

To learn more, visit Toledo Design Collective or its Facebook page.

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