Within weeks of arriving in the Northwest region as chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College Northwest, the University Park project in Gary was brought to my attention. The project has a transformative vision relative to revitalizing a neighborhood and the community.
I have had similar meetings with leaders in Hammond, East Chicago, Michigan City and LaPorte, and it is clear from these meetings there is no better way to foster positive development in Northwest Indiana than through the building and strengthening of neighborhoods.
In fact, the quality of social interactions, community engagement and economic development in neighborhoods provides the context for understanding people, health, culture, transportation needs, public safety, environmental concerns and housing, or lack thereof, in a community and in the region.
Of particular concern for Northwest Indiana is the status of housing, a quality of life indicator, and its role in addressing vitality in our neighborhoods.
I am pleased that higher education partners with local governments and businesses to support a positive living transition in Northwest Indiana.
We still struggle with abandoned properties, segregation, lack of adaptive housing, affordability of housing (with owners and renters dedicating well over 30 percent of their income — the conventional threshold of affordability) — and very low median home prices within metropolitan areas. Abandoned or unkempt properties can decrease property values and breed crime.
What is important to keep in mind are the concerted efforts to enhance safety and access to services and employment, and, in many cases, bring some neighborhoods back to life.
We continue to work together to find solutions that can help produce supportive infrastructure for sustainable neighborhoods. Education and training are certainly key elements.
As a case in point, Gary has received federal recognition as a Strong City-Strong Community. This merges federal and local resources to strengthen neighborhoods, and under Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s leadership, the initiative pulls together key partners to seek solutions and direct resources that can revitalize communities in Gary.
The shared project University Park project underway between Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech Community College will align with and benefit from collaborations with SC2 resources.
The $45 million building will include more than 160,000 square feet at Broadway and 35th Avenue. Programs related to the arts (including a performing arts center), communication and health sciences will be in the building.
The project will also be an important beacon of neighborhood development in the University Park corridor. Education and culture, both drivers in establishing and assessing quality of life, are focal points in this collaboration between IUN and Ivy Tech.
A related initiative is the mayor’s neighborhood revitalization with the Dollar Home Project. With this program, residents can achieve their dream of home ownership through the acquisition of abandoned housing. This project will reduce the number of abandoned houses, which reached an alarming 24.6 percent in Gary in 2006.
The SC2 initiative and the projects targeted in University Park will serve as examples where we can focus our community efforts and resources to create a resurgence of housing for residents, students, staff members, and visitors. This resurgence will hopefully stir growth in retail and other business ventures in the University Park corridor.
In general, cooperative efforts among community partners are critical to demonstrating how together we can transform a neighborhood and, in turn, improve the quality of life in Northwest Indiana.