The path that brought us to Toledo was a winding one. Our search for a new city unfolded in a counterclockwise pattern. Ultimately, our search would find us venturing as far east as Detroit, as far north as Lansing, as far west as Jackson, and as far south as Toledo.
Pound for pound, Toledo provided us with the best cost of living. But there were a few mental hurdles to be jumped to really buy into the idea of becoming Toledoans.
The first hurdle was accepting the commute.
Since I would still be working in Ann Arbor, it would more than triple my drive from less than 15 minutes one-way to greater than 45 minutes.
It was hard to completely walk away from Ann Arbor’s stronger economy, greater diversity of job opportunities and higher wages.
The commute would suck, but in Toledo we could actually afford to become first-time homeowners for significantly less than we were paying as renters in Ann Arbor.
There was clearly a tradeoff, but for us, it was worth it.
The second hurdle was psychologically getting used to splitting my life between two states, living in one and working in another. It sounds silly, but I had never lived in a border town.
Where does a person whose days are split between two states truly “live”?
It would take months of crossing in and out of Ohio and Michigan to get used to it.
It’s like I expected some transformation to take place each time I crossed the border, and each time nothing changed but the speed limit.
The final hurdle was overcoming Toledo’s narrative. You don’t have to do much digging to find that Toledo is a shrinking Rust Belt city. But is that all it is?
Toledo is not one of the cities that my co-workers mentioned when I asked for recommendations for where to move.
More often than not, I received winces and quizzical comments when I discussed the thought.
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Nobody moves across the country to take a job in Ann Arbor to live in Toledo.”
Toledoans themselves were incredulous.
After confirming that we had no prior ties to the city, familial or otherwise, most seemed content to let sleeping dogs lie.
After booking a moving truck, the company called back days later convinced that they had gotten the direction of the move incorrect: “You meant Toledo to Ann Arbor, right? Because people in Ann Arbor don’t move to Toledo. I wish I could move to Ann Arbor!”
Yet, that is exactly what we were doing, moving from one of the best ranked cities in the nation to one of the hardest hit by Rust Belt decline, a city struggling with tracts of concentrated poverty.
And Toledo didn’t possess the narrative of a Detroit.
A narrative of a city fallen from grace, a city where glory awaited would-be restorers.
Toledo was just Toledo, and moving there was seen as odd at best.
We didn’t select Toledo sight unseen; we gained a taste of life in Toledo before deciding to move there.
This may sound like it should go without saying, but there is an increasing trend towards doing exactly that—selecting a place to live without ever having seen it in person, without ever having walked down the street of a neighborhood, without ever having breathed in the air or listened to the kinds of conversations that residents are having at grocery stores or parks.
Over the course of two months, we would drive from Ann Arbor and spend our Saturdays in Toledo. During these visits, we found ourselves in a church, absorbing the pain and grasping for answers of parents who had lost their children during a spate of early autumn youth homicides.
At various city Metroparks taking in the changing of the season.
Inside the Toledo Museum of Art, wowed that such a hidden gem existed in the city.
Slowly learning Toledo’s geography and discovering the economic disparities between various neighborhoods.
Toledo has its scars and its bright spots, living evidence of the social, economic and demographic factors that have shaped not only the city, but the country.
Juxtaposing the two cities, Ann Arbor and Toledo, caused two powerful questions to bubble up to the surface.
One, can what is scarred still be beautiful?
And two, what actually constitutes a city?
I would soon discover that dedicated civil servants were putting together a city-sponsored program that would assist me and others in beginning to answer these questions for ourselves. This experience would serve as the tipping point in our decision to become Toledoans.