The Indiana National Guard is planning to spend two weeks knocking down abandoned buildings in Gary. This is an idea that has taken a long time to come to fruition, but it's welcome news.
Gary has such a vast inventory of derelict buildings that it will take a long time to clear them out.
The National Guard's involvement means demolishing large buildings, much as the guardsmen might if deployed overseas in a war zone. That makes this effort good training for the guardsmen as well as a boon to the city.
The National Guard is expected to be in the city's 4th District next month, working between 15th and 19th avenues and Broadway and Virginia Street. Among the 22 properties to be razed by the Guard in September is a burned-out former VFW post.
The National Guard helping Gary in this way was a good idea years ago, but the local National Guard combat engineers unit and its heavy equipment were tied up overseas at the time.
Also helping the city raze homes is Rieth-Riley Construction, which deserves praise for leading a coalition expected to remove 100 structures next year. Rieth-Riley hopes to get several other contractors to join the effort.
Cedric Kuykendall, the city's demolition coordinator, said the properties targeted will be the "worst of the worst," including burned-out structures. Properties being targeted are in the Aetna, Marshalltown, Tarrytown, Black Oak and Colonial Gardens area, between 49th and 50th avenues and Tennessee and Kentucky streets.
The city's Redevelopment Commission also is hiring contractors with money from the federal Hardest Hit Blight Elimination money distributed by the state. The commission is adding its own money, too.
Joe Van Dyk, executive director of the of the city's planning and redevelopment department, hopes nearly 1,000 structures will be razed with the use of those funds.
Admittedly, there's a long way to go even after these efforts this year and next. Blight took a firm hold on Gary, and it will take a long time to eliminate it.
This is a good start.
Abandoned buildings are a magnet for crime. Not only do police and residents have to worry about people being lured or dragged into those buildings, they also can serve as a sort of crime headquarters for drug sales and other evils.
Firefighters also are put in the position of battling fires in buildings that are in such dangerous condition that entering them can risk firefighters' lives.
And, of course, abandoned buildings are a drag on property values and a deterrent to economic development.
The urgency to knock down these buildings cannot be overemphasized.