GUEST COMMENTARY: We're different, but we must pull together

2012-10-28T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: We're different, but we must pull togetherBy James B. Dworkin nwitimes.com
October 28, 2012 12:00 am  • 

When the One Region organization recently published its 2012 analysis of 10 key indicators of the quality of life in Northwest Indiana, I joined other region residents in studying the valuable information. 

This report presents an honest analysis of where we stand as a region with an unbiased assessment of our many positive points and where we have room for improvement. It’s an ideal reference for Northwest Indiana leaders and concerned citizens to help us plan for the future.

The People chapter states, “We aspire to be a region that is diverse and values inclusion.” This chapter contains an in-depth look at the demographics of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

Our region has seen some amazing changes in the past few decades. An industrial giant for years, it has undergone countless changes as times and people changed.

Region residents moved from our urban core to the developing suburbs. As roads improved, people who no longer needed to live close to their jobs moved to spacious new suburban neighborhoods in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

Our families have changed, too. We see fewer households with married couples and more single-parent families. More people live alone.

We’re getting older. Our median age in Northwest Indiana has increased from 36.4 years in 2000 to 38.5 in 2010. This trend could have serious implications on region business, employment, health care, education and infrastructure in coming years.

However, our racial and ethnic diversity has seen little change. In 2010 whites continue to account for most of our area population,  the African-American population was about the same as it was in the 2006 report at 19 percent, and the Hispanic population grew a few percentage points to 13 percent.

The report reminds us that Northwest Indiana has an amazing diversity of races, ethnic heritage, politics, ages and incomes. A diverse population is an asset for any community.

But our regional differences cannot stand in the way of our building and maintaining a region-wide sense of attachment to our communities and our neighbors who live here.

“Communities whose residents have a strong sense of emotional attachment tend to be more prosperous and forward-looking,” states the Knight Foundation's Soul of the Community Report 2010.

As noted in the One Region report, the Knight study rated the emotional connection within the Lake, Porter, LaPorte county region at 2.80 out of a possible 5 points. That is significantly worse than the 3.57 average for 26 cities studied nationally.

That is sobering, but not surprising, information.

As its name indicates, the One Region organization, is committed to bringing Northwest Indiana people and their communities together so we may share from the many strengths our area's people and resources have to offer. For too long, there has been a perceived regional competition and sometimes real separation that hinders us from moving ahead.

One Region will sponsor community conversations, funded through the Knight Foundation, so we can better understand how to strengthen the bonds among our residents and our cities and towns.

For those of us who call this region home, it is vital that we recognize that we are one region, with similar concerns, desires and ambitions. I hope to see you at one of the upcoming community conversations.

James B. Dworkin is chancellor at Purdue University North Central. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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