SCHERERVILLE │ The new director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission discussed sustaining a regional vision during Friday’s monthly Lake County Advancement Committee meeting at Teibel’s Restaurant.
Ty Warner, NIRPC's fourth executive director in its 47-year history, talked about implementing the commission’s 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan and compared it to Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Chicago Plan.
Warner said there are lessons to be learned in Northwestern Indiana regarding Burnham’s plan in that it was driven “by folks just like you sitting here right now.”
“They were people who were competitors amongst themselves but realized for the good of the Chicago region that they all had to work together to increase all of their opportunities,” he said.
As former planning director for Will County, Ill., Warner is familiar with there being conflict amongst neighboring communities. Usually there is one big threat to bring people together, and in Will County it was the prospect of a south suburban airport.
The airport brought them to the table where they drafted a legislation plan in advance, and if the airport ever came to fruition, they would share the revenue.
“Once partnership gets going, the value of it keeps growing,” he said. “I think we’ve seen that in Northwestern Indiana.”
Warner said there are two big aspects of the 2040 plan, one of which is an emphasis on reinvestment in the core urban areas of Northwest Indiana – Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and Michigan City – and the importance in recognizing that if those don’t survive, than the region is at risk.
“We all float together,” he said.
Another emphasis of the plan is on livable centers, Warner said. Areas that are walkable, where people can get around in their downtown areas, to “celebrate what makes those communities unique and special.”
“To capitalize on that kind of identity as the region continues to grow and prosper,” he said.
Teresa Torres, executive director for the disability rights group Everybody Counts, raised concern to Warner about the distribution of transportation dollars as they come to NIRPC.
“Our experience has been that it’s actually NIRPC, and a committee at NIRPC, which is largely made up of those who have received funds, who are making the funding decisions,” she said.
Torres said NIRPC seems to continue to support south county transportation efforts rather than building the largest and most effective transit system in Northwest Indiana.
Warner said within the 2040 plan there is a specific part on how to connect across regional transit systems. He said the NIRPC board makes those decisions where those dollars and investments are going to go.
Warner said he doesn’t see a conflict with those who receive the funds deciding “how the pie gets split.”
“That’s the way the federal government sets up MPOs (metropolitan planning organizations) is with representation and NIRPC has a higher representation than any board that I’ve seen,” he said.