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VALPARAISO | Two Valparaiso University professors have begun an interactive project that explores the impact of white flight and what is called green flight, referring to economy flight, from Gary.

A multimedia website will help participants, consider factors contributing to de-urbanization and the fracturing of neighborhoods, communities and regions in America through the specific example of Gary.

The project, called Flight Paths, is an initiative of the VU Welcome Project, which was designed to spur discussion about issues of diversity on and off campus. Content includes an array of historical material and first-person stories of residents then and now.

"Our practice is we interview and then we edit those interviews into sometimes more than one short video or audio story," said Allison Schuette, co-director of Flight Paths and associate professor of English. "Then we faciliate conversations around those stories in various venues. Once they are posted to the website, anyone can access them and use them in classrooms, workshops and professional development and civic presentations."

The site will allow users to juxtapose the stories of "neighbors" and to analyze the social, political and economic factors contributing to de-urbanization in the region for the last 50 years.

Users will have the option to upload their own mental maps, stories or photographs, and an innovative map interface would allow users to visually experience the "flight" paths of residents from the 1960s to the current day.

Schuette said they are projecting to work on the project for five to seven years.

"It will depend on whether we'll be able to secure the external grants we need to fund the interactive documentary website," she said.

Schuette said they are working with the Calumet Regional Archives to supply newspaper stories or real estate documents to include in a separate website from the main one. Grant money to work with the geographers and the IT people would help the site.

"It would then allow us to embed or pin personal stories (audio/video) next to the historical documents," she said. "We could map it so it would like a geographical map of Gary but then we could also use GIS to show how flight happens from different neighborhoods and how people left and when they left and where they went."

Co-director Liz Wuerffel, an assistant professor of art, said Flight Paths is a cross-region project, one that aims to better connect Lake and Porter counties by recognizing that its histories, present, and future are intertwined.

"Rather than let the dominant narrative narrow our ideas about who we are or what kind of regional relationship we can have, we hope that, through storytelling, research, and conversation, we can start to tell a new story about who we are and what we can become," she said.

Former and current residents of Gary who would like to share their story can contact the co-directors at allison.schuette@valpo.edu and liz.wuerffel@valpo.edu.

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.