Last week, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Indianapolis (LISC) selected two additional neighborhoods to join its Great Places 2020 initiative. The chosen spots were Twin Aire, a 1950s-era neighborhood located southeast of downtown that serves as one of two primary market areas in that community, and the 25th and Martin Luther King Jr. corridor, located on the city’s northwest side.
The initiative, which began in late 2014, is a collaboration among several city organizations such as the Indy Chamber, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership. The intent, according to Bill Taft, executive director of LISC, is to have five to six Great Places identified in keeping with Plan 2020, the city’s bicentennial-themed strategic development plan. In addition to Twin Aire and MLK, other great places include Englewood Village, Maple Crossing and River West.
“Just looking at the future of the city, there’s this idea that we need more of these neighborhood centers that are walkable, that bring life to the centers of urban neighborhoods,” Taft said in a previous interview with the Recorder. “Most of our neighborhoods had those historically, but they’ve deteriorated through the years and lost businesses. If we’re going to have really vibrant urban neighborhoods, we need to bring more of those back.”
Information from the Great Places website states that neighborhoods are chosen through a comprehensive application process with specific selection criteria, which begins initially with LISC issuing a request for letters of intent to neighborhoods. A selection committee and other community partners review the finalists’ presentations and make recommendations on their selections. Following that process, LISC’s local advisory board reviews the recommendations and makes a final decision on the chosen areas.
Brandon Cosby, executive director of the Flanner House, which served as lead partner on the project, shared that he was thrilled to have the historic institution be a part of this.
“The first round of Great Places back in 2014 had a pretty significant economic input in those neighborhoods. We knew at some point there would be another round, so when the (application window was announced) this summer, we were excited about the possibilities,” he said. Flanner House, which serves as the convener of the Northwest Quality of Life Plan, talked with the governance committee to see if they felt it was something they should pursue. The group sided with Cosby’s stance that this would be a great opportunity to bring additional support to the things they were currently working on.
The news they received last week was stirring, to say the least. “To say that we were extremely excited would be an understatement,” Cosby said. “I was sitting at my desk when I got the call. I was trying to keep my composure and refrain from jumping up and down!”
Cosby said beyond the initial thrill, the thought of being able to bring a solid win to the neighborhood was most important.
Though the 25th and MLK area has enjoyed some enhancements over the years — redesigned street signage, public art installations and visually appealing bus stops, to name a few — the residents are still subject to a lack of economic resources as a result of Chase Bank deserting the area, a lack of food stability due in part to the closing of Double 8 grocery store, and overall blight as evidenced by the number of abandoned and dilapidated properties in the neighborhood.
“A point of contention for me coming into the Flanner House and being involved with the QOL is really making sure that we have concrete things we can point to that are happening in the neighborhood and community to benefit the community, as opposed to everything being abstract,” he said.
Reportedly, LISC and its partners have already committed to an $84 million investment for the three neighborhoods previously chosen, and the total expected investment in all five neighborhoods is poised to exceed $20 million next year.
Cosby believes that such a significant and concerted provision will go a long way in ensuring impactful changes.
“We can talk about dollars all we want, but until there are tangible investments where people can see economic growth or new construction or any of those kinds of things … the community should be suspect of people that come in and promise a lot but deliver very little. It was really important to me to have some tangible things to point to.”
Some of the plans for the 25th and MLK area include attracting new business, bolstering the already existing arts scene, continuing plans toward food sustainability, providing education and training opportunities and improved, affordable housing.
The Flanner House-led effort, in collaboration with Groundwork Indy, a local nonprofit focused on environmental sustainability, is also directly tied to the national Beloved Streets of America movement that aims to revitalize all Martin Luther King Jr. streets around the nation, many of which struggle due to crime and impoverished conditions.
The goal for Cosby is to develop the area without displacing those who are already there. “This isn’t the idea of doing all this development to attract new people … this is about building up the quality of living for the people who are residents of the northwest area.”
He also sees it as an opportunity for intergenerational engagement.
“For years, I saw this in my previous background in education, one of the biggest mistakes we made is telling kids that they could go to college and leave here, but no one ever sent the message for them to come back,” he said. “This is an opportunity to be that beacon, to say it’s time to come back and build the block, build the neighborhood into what it could be and what it should be.
“It’s a long process; the more folks from the neighborhood and community we have involved and engaged, the more likely we are to make decisions that are in line with the community’s needs and interests.”
The Northwest QOL team is currently seeking volunteers and partners with a variety of interests and skill sets to be involved in the process. For more information, visit nwqol.org.