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Anthony Copeland

Anthony Copeland

When it comes to Northwest Indiana, I’ve always been an unabashed fan — of our industry, our location on the beaches of Lake Michigan, our commerce, neighborhoods and schools.

The same can-do spirit that led titans of industry to catapult the region into the industrial age at the turn of the last century is thriving again in this, the 21st century.

What makes it even better this time around: an understanding by leaders that including quality of life projects in our 5-, 10- and even 20-year plans is just as essential as business-friendly efforts for this evolution of Northwest Indiana to continue.

Our goal: to foster and support stronger families while creating vibrant livable, walkable, stable communities.

Is our grass greener in NWI? You betcha. Here are just a few reasons why.

Repurposing while reimagining

Decades after many wrote off Lake County’s northern cities as obsolete, our communities are experiencing a renaissance, tapping into a new generation of apartment dwellers and house buyers who want amenities within arm’s reach — or at least within walking distance.

These young families want to visit restaurants, see their doctors and shop for groceries without moving their cars. They want to work close to home — or be able to have a commuter option nearby.

That demand — and the city’s vision — has culminated in the North Harbor Downtown District, a reimagining of Indiana Harbor from Columbus Drive to the lakefront.

Our Fitzsimmons Redevelopment is an example of transformation at its finest. Once an abandoned furniture store on Main Street in North Harbor, construction crews have given the building a facelift and are readying it for retail and residential occupancy this year.

That project will be augmented by construction of Alder Commons, a $1.5 million state/city affordable housing project that will enhance quality of life and provide adjacency to transit and shopping along with energy conservation — both in construction and use by residents — while creating opportunities for self-sufficiency.

Partnering for safety

Northwest Indiana is becoming adept at tackling crime and strengthening our social safety net. It couldn’t happen without groups of us working together. As a result, crime rates are down, and our families living on the edge have greater options for emerging stronger than ever before.

I am proud to say East Chicago is the pilot for North Township’s autism initiative, a program that trains police to better understand the needs of our autistic population and strategies to keep them safe.

We are also the launch site for North Township’s high school summer internship program and social worker/police department early intervention program, which will both debut this year.

We are placing a priority on solving social ills that plague every urban, suburban and rural community in our country at the same time we are reinventing our city centers to meet their needs.

Arts, parks and recreation

One of the lessons we have learned in this evolution of the region is that the arts and recreation are vital to healthy communities.

A 10-minute walk north of the Fitzsimmons building, East Chicago’s newest residents will be able to access Jeorse Park and the city’s marina, which have undergone a $15.5 million transformation over the last two years.The Lake Michigan waterfront now has an ADA-accessible playground, splash pad, a trio of picnic shelters, permanent stage, restored beach and walks along with towering shoreline beach art, paddle boards, kayaks and loads of summer entertainment.

Jeorse Park is one of our first — but not our only — park transformation.

A $100,000 investment at our spectacular greenhouse complex in Washington Park, has allowed us to reimagine and repurpose the 85-year-old greenhouse. That, along with the assistance of 1,000 bluegill, has transformed the site into a working aquaponic garden providing fresh, high-quality produce to restaurants around the area, including Ameristar Casino Hotel.

Also at Washington Park, an art-in-the-trees initiative that is transforming dead and dying ash trees into works of art. They won’t last forever — five years is the anticipated lifespan — but while they are here, they are something to behold.

Whether you are a current NWI resident or want to become one, please make plans soon to see why the grass is greener here. Please contact my office at (219) 391-8200 if you would like more information on what we have to offer.

A lifelong resident of East Chicago, Mayor Anthony Copeland is known as a community activist and a leader on a quest to transform the city he loves. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.