What makes you notice a community? What makes you stop and get out of the car or climb off the bicycle?
These just a few of the questions that Northwest Indiana community leaders ask themselves every day. If you have grown up in Griffith, Highland, Munster and Hammond, you know all the little nooks and crannies of the parks and shopping districts.
This familiarity breeds a certain amount of pride and the desire to show it off to the rest of the world. In Griffith, the little town by the railroad tracks, there is a movement afoot to get people to pull off of Broad Street and stroll downtown.
On a recent summer afternoon, I had the chance to do just that, looking into shop windows and enjoying a beautiful breeze. What I discovered, to my surprise was the newest addition to the downtown - public art. Griffith’s version of public art is uniquely decorated bicycles.
This is ironic, I suppose, since about seven years ago the town sponsored railroad engines as public art. With the consolidation of the rail lines, we can move the public art to the much more leisurely pace of a bicycle.
The idea is to situate the bicycles along the main throughways much like parked bicycles waiting for someone to stop and hop aboard.
I walked past bikes in front of town hall, the Masonic Temple and near the northwest corner of Broad and Main streets. Each was unique and brought the artist’s rendering to reality on a canvas that can be both challenging and fun at the same time.
The group sponsoring the display is Imagine Griffith, a small, but vocal, group of community volunteers. Their goal is to address two vexing questions. How do we bring people downtown and how do we get them to slow down and walk through?
The Rock and Rail Festival and St. Mary Parish Western Days certainly bring bodies into the downtown district. What makes a truly vibrant town is what happens after the tents are put away and the rides are stored for the year.
Imagine Griffith appeals to that segment of the population that likes to take in the details and texture of a town center. In Griffith, we have two bookends that constitute the walls for our own art museum. On the south end, you have the train depot and the old Griffith State Bank building. On the north end, you have the Griffith Masonic Temple and the old Franklin Elementary School, now the YMCA.
Between that is a downtown that, in many ways, is a canvas waiting to be filled with the sort of art that gets you to slow down and take in the sights.
No matter how you arrive, be sure to stop by. It is nice to take the time and inclination to put the kickstand down and walk for a little while. You will even find a nice little coffee shop on the southwest corner of Broad and Columbia streets.
If you are interested in the work of Imagine Griffith, be sure to come to one of their meetings - 6:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month - at the Franklin Center.
Imagining requires ideas, and the committee is seeking them to get people to stop and take a stroll.