Conditionally Yours

Gentle Toledo,

I’ve been thinking a lot about unconditional love lately. You know, the kind only a mother has for her child. Or, what Browns fans refer to as “unshakable resolve.” It’s a rare state of the heart that allows a person to continue to offer love during the worst of circumstances—with little chance of reciprocation. To expose yourself in this way, to be this vulnerable, you have to recognize that disappointment is inherently likely.

It ain’t easy.

This is the relationship I have with you, Toledo. It’s predicated on conditions.

Gosh, I’m glad we’re finally having this talk. It’s cathartic. You know I love lists. That said, allow me to offer a few conditions that will help ensure my devotion to you for as long as they’re met:

1. Fix your politics. Sweet Fancy Moses, where do I begin? Politics, as a rule, suck in the U.S., but they’re particularly lousy here. If your elected officials don’t embrace servant leadership, customer service, financial fiduciary duty, common decency, business friendliness and some empathy for the environment, then you’ll never dig out of the political malaise you’re in let alone fill myriad potholes you can’t afford to patch. Quit towing party lines, and elect some young, truly independent turks with big ideas who have your interests at heart. Your life depends on it.

2. Speaking of your life, you really need to take better care of yourself. It’s hard, I know. We’re all busy. But you’re nothing if you don’t have your health. You need some quality sleep, a little exercise and a healthier diet. Vitamins help. You know what else helps? Working on your appearance. Look better, feel better. For example, clean up the trash that blows through our neighborhoods and gets stuck in highway fencing every winter. That’ll keep you stylin’. Transforming your riverfront would put a nice spring in your step—great cardio!. And doing anything—and I mean anything—to stop the flow of human and drug traffic along your highways would extend your life expectancy by, oh, centuries probably. Tip: try a green smoothie. No, not THAT green smoothie.

3. Welcome change. We all get set in our ways after a certain age. For example, I just discovered I have a favorite chair. But, c’mon, you’re not that old (183?! Pffft.). Your sister city in Spain is over 2,000 years old, and they’ve just invented the world’s first poop powered home. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement of our rapidly-changing world, I don’t know what is. Change happens (so does poop which can now be used to power your Roomba apparently). Turn and face it.

4. Quit complaining. This goes hand in hand with welcoming change. Whether it’s good news or bad, you invariably find something to complain about. I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode titled, “The Marine Biologist.” I’ll paraphrase one of its best one-liners : “Toledo was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli!” Stop it. It’s not doing you a bit of good (remember your health!). Road construction? You should be used to it by now. An airport without a major carrier? It’s ok, really. Fashionable camo? Embrace it. The Hens without Hessman? Hmmm…

5. Lastly, Hustle. Yes, with a capital-H. Hustle. You’ve got to pick up the pace on everything. Every deal. Every project. Every investment. Every decision. Every handshake. While you’re endlessly debating the health of your lakeshore, or wringing your hands over speed cameras, or decrying the use of tax payer dollars being used to revitalize your downtown, a hundred other cities of equal size are innovating, investing, and attracting young talent in droves. Bottom line: You’re either in the audience or you’re in the show. I prefer the latter, don’t you?

Some will call this a Tough Love Letter. It is and it isn’t. Tough Love implies that you’ll meet me at least half way—potentially—if offered a stick versus a carrot. I’m offering neither. I fight with and for you every goddamned day, and will continue to do so until I’m forced to give up on you, or you elect to give up on me. Or both. Probably both. I won’t cajole or coerce. I will, however, walk beside you and show you paths that we can take together. We don’t need to meet in the same place as long as we agree to beat the plague of inertia that ails you. Really, a walk would do you good, and it’ll improve the strides you’ve already made (which are remarkable, by the way).

I’m reminded of the Toledo Loves Love mural in Uptown. It’s true. Yours are a loving people. But, like me, they have conditions. Their love isn’t limitless. The question is, can you offer me, them, everyone, opportunities to act with love—to build with love? Will you work with us, walk with us, listen to us, join hands with us, and allow us to teach you a thing or two along the way?

Will you love us?

I hope so. I like it here, and I’m trying hard to make this relationship work.

Now, move.

Yours conditionally,



Originally hailing from Findlay, Ohio, Gene Powell is President of Toledo-based Spoke, co-founder of Toledo-based Seed Coworking, and co-founder of Toledo-based StartUp Toledo. As you can see, he’s invested in Toledo and loves his city. With conditions, of course. Here he is pictured at Seed Coworking in the heart of the warehouse district. Not pictured: Kelli, Ally, Logan & Johnny—his real unconditional loves.