Indiana officials have taken the time to carefully study the growing population centers around the country, and in every case, they found local officials working together and focused on a common goal — to create an environment where people want to live.
That usually includes downtown amenities to attract shoppers and tourists with parks and green spaces where people can gather. It also includes a transportation system that doesn’t require a car to get everywhere.
In my travels around our country and elsewhere, I found that those places I enjoyed the most offered easy transportation. I was able to move about to different locations and points of interest with relative ease, whether by train, bus, automobile or boat. This kind of mobility connects people and businesses, restaurants and recreation. That’s what builds an economy and a desirable place to live.
I’ve been a proponent of the South Shore commuter rail extension and improvement because I believe it begins to move us in that direction of growth and connects us to a great metropolitan economy — not to export jobs, but to import residents.
The better connected we are, the more development we will see along these transit lines with Chicago workers becoming Hoosiers, taking advantage of what we have to offer.
Business locates around people, either to sell services or to find skilled workers. I remember downtown Indianapolis in the 1970s when it was only populated during the day. They began a campaign to encourage renovation of downtown homes as well as incentives to keep and bring business offices downtown. Young people jumped at the opportunity to acquire a handyman special for a dollar and fix it up. Stores, restaurants and service businesses followed.
Chicago often is referred to as a city of neighborhoods, but so is Northwest Indiana. Our diversity is our strength and an asset to promote. Our many towns are unique with residents proud to call their community home. But this also is separating us. Our officials concern themselves with their individual districts while few consider the collective responsibilities. Unlike a big city, we don’t have a mayor to focus on a vision who is concerned for all of our neighborhoods. Even our county executives are elected from different geographic areas with no single executive responsible for all.
I’ve polled residents in my district, and they are overwhelmingly skeptical of a single county executive because they fear someone with too much authority — or a county government that would limit local authority. Yet cities have mayors, and states have governors.
It is difficult for Northwest Indiana because we do not speak with one voice. Imagine the strength we would have if we could. Right now, we have a strong group of mayors and town councils representing our “neighborhoods.” This is a unique opportunity for our county executives to work with them to build a common vision — one that would attract people to live here.
Leaders around the state are taking notice of our accomplishments in Northwest Indiana. Rather than complaining about what we deserve, we are carrying a message of what we are doing. Our new governor is talking about us and how the state can help.
I believe that we are at a turning point for Northwest Indiana. If we focus our effort toward common goals, improving our transportation infrastructure and building desirable community amenities, we will once again grow our population and realize success that benefits us all.