A Conversation on the Warehouse District – Nexspanse

As part of a dialogue with the Toledo Design Collective, the Collaborative, Midstory coordinated with architect TJ Marston’s design studio, “Revival in the Glass City” this past spring semester 2019. Three teams were selected out of the studio cohort to tell their story and design perspective on revisioning the Warehouse District in Toledo, Ohio. Pursuing their master’s degrees at the Florida International University’s the Landscape Architecture + Environment and Urban Design department, these students offer three distinct and unique takes on Toledo’s legacy, history, and issues at hand and grapple with the urban challenges and specificities of our postindustrial city.

When we first arrived in Toledo we were amazed by the extreme weather difference; flying from sunny Miami into the Polar Vortex is about as abrupt a transition as you can imagine. But following a warm welcome from locals we immediately recognized the community effort to revitalize and connect the district to the surrounding communities. The Swan Creek became the initial inspiration for our project, being the only body of water within our site. Currently, the creek divides the district, but we took advantage of this challenge and turned it into the epicenter of our design development.

This proposal, Nexspanse, is focused on the Warehouse District in Toledo, Ohio, a historic, industrial city that is experiencing a number of struggling revitalization efforts, all of which are entirely market-driven and occurring in a piecemeal fashion neither without an all- encompassing planning guidance nor under a concerted effort. Planning documents have been prepared, however they each are focused on fragmented components of the built environment and never truly strategize on how to capitalize on all the available assets to re- invent and re-brand Toledo’s downtown. The goal for the project is to rethink how development can occur to revitalize the District in a manner that takes into account the values of open space as economic drivers and community-builders and to strategize methods of parcels’ developments and aggregation so that they in turn support those efforts. The strategy that underpins our plan is to utilize the existing Swan Creek that bisects the Warehouse District as an integral spine to the plan, built on the precedents of waterfront utilization as a tourism and economic driver in cities like San Antonio and Chattanooga. This then underpins a larger urban strategy of establishing destination and vertically-integrated mixed-use districts, organized around a series of open, sequenced spaces as an opportunity to increase appeal to a growing influx of Millennials and new green-industry workers to the general Downtown area and thereby injecting an increase in the tax base of the area. Layered within this strategy are two integrated, key elements.

First is the integration of a landscape performative quality of the streets, plazas and parks whereby they, through the use of Low Impact Development strategies and green infrastructure, contribute to the storm water management and pollution control that flow to the Swan Creek. This includes a reconfiguration of the edge of the Creek, once carved and dredged during the industrial heyday of the City, back to a gradually sloped wetland littoral edge capable of sustaining habitat, aiding in controlling and in the storage of flood waters and filtering sediments and chemical pollutants, serving as the final threshold of pollution control. 

Second is the networking of underutilized surface parking lots, in-between and residual spaces to operate as flexible-use spaces intended on facilitating outdoor utilization of these spaces for events, festivals and the general spill-out of neighboring and pop-up commercial uses. This is focused on establishing a strategy for social animation of the public realm. An important consideration of this plan is to look beyond the confines of the immediate project area and to inclusively rethink the social relationship that redevelopment has with various populations currently living in the vicinity of Downtown. Immediately abutting the project area are several low-income communities that dramatically need ease of connectivity and access to service-level work opportunities. The strategy of increasing opportunities for redevelopment, in a manner that creates attractive opportunities for the food, beverage and entertainment industries, and supporting that with actual physical, walkable and bike-able connections to the communities in need, will provide mechanisms to help support and provide employment opportunities to the adjacent populations. Additionally, by intentionally aligning those inter- and intra-connective networks with key components of the landscape, the proposals is able to use these intersections as opportunities to provide education about the value of urban landscapes, their economic values and how they visibly are capable of reshaping and blurring the boundaries between communities. 

The plan recognizes that the rich history and character of Toledo is inextricably tied to its manufacturing, supported by bygone glass, steel and automotive industries. This has resulted in a generational transfer of metal-working and glass-working skills handed down to a now vibrant community of young creative, artistic ‘makers’ that utilize metal and glass as an expressive medium. Coupled with that cultural capital, Toledo is slowly seeing a resurgence in population (1/3rd of which was lost in the late 70’s and early 80’s) due to the introduction of a large manufacturing plant for the production of solar panels and solar cell technologies. As the birthplace of the iconoclastic Jeep and once the location of one of the largest steel plants in the Midwest, today Toledo is an amalgamation of potentials and opportunities. The suggested hypothesis is that through the integration of landscape strategies as a driver to the visioning, the role of landscape architecture as a custodian of that rich history and as a vehicle through which a new identity can be forged with the influx of new economic opportunities and technologies, while celebrating the past history and qualities that shaped its character and established the cornerstones of the community.

The Team

Alain Carrazana 

Alain is 40 years old, and was born in Cuba. He joined the US. Navy in 1999 as a hospital corpsman, and his naval career taught him to understand the power of teamwork. By becoming a landscape architect, he wants to take part in the reshaping of our land by being conscious of the ever evolving environment and our role in it.

Mairin Subervi 

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic with an architecture background, Mairin is currently a masters degree candidate at Florida International University. The idea of being able to connect people and communities through design, and to create sustainable places for living in the future are what drove Mairin to study landscape architecture.

William Callaham 

William Callahan is in his third year of the three year track for the Landscape Architecture and Environmental and Urban Design Masters program at FIU. He has an undergraduate degree from LSU in Plant and Soil sciences. He has a passion for plants and design and wants to bring a greater nature to the built environment.


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