GARY │ Graduate students from Chicago, local residents, city workers and technology from Detroit were part of an effort Saturday to revitalize Gary.
The city partnered last fall with the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago so students, as part of a practicum course, will help Gary's revitalization efforts.
Students helped catalog abandoned buildings on Saturday in what will be a summerlong project of reviewing every property in the city. Most of them began the process May 4 and covered slightly more than 4,000 parcels in three hours. They were joined by local volunteers and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who returned Saturday.
“This is an exciting project,” she said. “The purpose is not just to collect the data so it will go on a shelf or in a garage. This is really to inform how we deploy our services and how we make decisions as we work to rebuild Gary.”
The mayor met with the students and volunteers downtown before they split up into different teams with an application loaded on their smartphones enabling them to catalog the condition of properties.
Known as LocalData, the digital toolkit to collect parcel-level information was developed for use in Detroit and was given to Gary at no charge.
“The idea is for us to get baseline data and information on every parcel of property in the entire city of Gary – all 57 square miles,” Zoning Administrator Joe Van Dyk said.
Van Dyk said the process will help the city better utilize its resources and see where its biggest problems are in terms of vacancies and know how to best attack the problem.
University of Chicago student Katie Buitrago has a professional background working on foreclosure issues and vacant buildings. She seized the opportunity to do ground work and see the impact vacancy has on a city like Gary.
“University of Chicago is a very theoretical school. It’s a unique opportunity got get out there and partner with the city government,” she said.
Fellow student Jocelyn Hare said it was fantastic to see everyone working together.
“People are committed and excited,” she said. “It’s a great partnership. I love it.”
Volunteers include Gary Chief Technology Officer Michael Berry, who was also out on May 4.
“For me this is the city I live in and chose to work for,” he said. “If this is what it takes to make it better, let’s get to work.”
Among the residents of Gary who came out to help was Carol Smith, who said it’s critically important to get a handle on abandoned buildings and houses.
“It’s fantastic that the University of Chicago Harris School is helping,” she said.
Freeman-Wilson told the group before they parted on their tasks that they’re helping establish a ground level.
“So when you see Gary return, you’ll know you have had a role in the beginning,” she said.