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Mayor Jon Costas 'State of the City' address

Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas delivers his State of the City address in this 2018 file photo.

When we consider why the grass is greener in Valparaiso and throughout Northwest Indiana, it seems that all of the reasons originate from one source: our people. People make positive things happen.

To celebrate people in Valparaiso, we’ve created spaces for all ages to gather and a Valparaiso Events office to create experiences. Our best-known gathering space is our downtown park, Central Park Plaza, which hosts events year-round, from big-name summer concerts, outdoor movies and market, winter ice skating and, of course, our renowned Popcorn Festival, now in its 41st year. Last year alone, more than 120,000 people participated in Valparaiso Events-sponsored experiences.

The very park that gathers us together so frequently was made possible by so many people who collaborated to make Central Park Plaza a reality. The space was designed with community input and funded with the help of many donations. It’s gratifying to see so many people enjoying the space they all worked to create.

People truly drive the great things happening in Valparaiso. Five years ago, we launched a bold visioning project called ValpoNEXT in which we encouraged each member of the community to share ideas and priorities for Valpo’s future. We gathered thousands of ideas and created 43 action items, all focused on a central, shared vision: to be the most civically-engaged city of our size.

This vision plan, coupled with our strategic plan, provide the blueprint for our city, created by the people who live and work here.

The people in our engaged city are are behind every idea, innovation and success we celebrate.

Valparaiso’s leadership team begins by listening and then considering the best options for the city. When we saw congested intersections, we set to work to design solutions. The resulting roundabouts have become a bit of a signature in Valparaiso, and they work. In fact, we’re currently working on the city’s seventh roundabout, largely funded through grants which reward projects that mitigate traffic congestion. In the same way, our leadership team responds to people’s challenges in infrastructure, facilities, neighborhoods and more.

People were also the driving force behind one of our most visible projects last year: the improvements along US 30. Prior to 2018, drivers could pass through our city on the south without ever knowing they’d arrived. So we set out to improve the function, appearance and economic potential of that corridor. Many people came together to create the plan that includes more than four miles of improvements —  decorative lighting to improve appearance and visibility, wide pedestrian pathways, gateway and wayfinding signs, overpass improvements and landscaping.

Protecting people is also a high priority in our community and safety is another way our grass is greener. Valparaiso joins several Region communities among the state’s top 10 safest cities. Not only was our Valparaiso Police Department just the 13th Indiana department to earn accreditation from the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, but our Fire Department was recently named one of just 12 Indiana fire departments to earn a coveted Class 2 Insurance Service Office rating for its fire protection service. No Indiana community is rated higher.

People in Valparaiso and throughout Northwest Indiana truly are what set this area apart. When we gather, collaborate, lead and engage, we make positive things happen. Our communities are stronger and safer and offer a better quality of life. By choosing to focus on achieving shared goals, rather than divisive ideas, people in Northwest Indiana work together to demonstrate why the grass is greener in our region.

Jon Costas has served as mayor of Valparaiso since 2004. He is a also a successful attorney and businessman, born and raised in Porter County. 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.