When it comes to untapped potential, the city's Northeast Corridor — which includes 14 communities home to more than 26,000 people running north and south of Fall Creek from I-70 and College to 56th and Emerson — has a mother lode.
Way too often, in many residents' opinion, the Corridor is lumped in with the vague label "East Side" and the myriad challenges that label carries — including high unemployment, dropout and asthma rates. Too often the area's considerable assets and opportunities are overlooked.
Enter the Northeast Corridor Quality of Life plan, which was developed from the grassroots level over the past 16 months. Guided by Amandula Anderson, executive director United Northeast Community Development Corporation, and Ben Harris, a community builder with the King Park Development Corporation, with the support of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the largest community development org in the country, the process was actually powered by 928 people and 87 organizations from the Corridor who engaged in the QOL planning process.
"We weren't dictating," Anderson told a standing-room only crowd gathered at the Avondale Meadows YMCA for the March 27 plan unveiling. "This is a process that came through us."
Assets the plan catalogued include the Indiana State Fairgrounds, which has been there since 1892, Douglass Park, which featured the first golf course in the U.S. that allowed people of color to play, a disk golf course at the old Washington Park Zoo, the Kennedy-King Memorial, the 38th Street Library, the Avondale YMCA, the Monon Trail and the Fall Creek Trail, which links 52 parks across the city.
The Corridor is also looking forward to the addition of the Design Bank design center on 38th Street and the city's first bicycle boulevard near the Kennedy-King Memorial at Martin Luther King Park.
[Since the theme of this week's issue is soccer, we must also note that the newly rehabbed Old Northside Soccer Fields at 16th Street and the Monon Trail are another fabulous resource that promises to enrich the cultural vitality of the NE Corridor moving forward.]
"We need to celebrate our place in this world and make a big deal about what we've got," said Darrin Orr of the Oxford Neighborhood Association.
Beyond the most noticeable physical assets, he said, the neighborhood should consider even small projects — such as neighborhood cleanups — as assets, he added, noting that such interactions with neighbors throughout the community help to "develop tribal bonds (that can) cure some of our social ills."
To underscore this point, Anthony Beverly of Stop the Violence, who chaired the 57-member safety and crime chair committee, emphasized the importance of developing personal connections throughout the community.
He asked everyone in the packed room to stand if they visited regularly with someone from their block — only a handful of people stood.
"How can you have quality of life with as much crime as we have in our neighborhood?" he asked. "The way we change it is to know your neighbor. "
These type of community ties would work to directly support the goals of the Youth Engagement and Health and Wellness committees.
"A child that does not know their own value, is comfortable in devaluing himself," said Darrieux Peterson, who chaired the Youth Engagement Committee.
Nurturing children to understand their worth and to act accordingly is critical as the Corridor looks to reverse the jaw-dropping fact they found during the planning process — that 90 percent of population in the county juvenile detention center are from the area's 46218 zip code.
Of course, confronting the disconnect between so many kids and their education is another critical component. But while the "problems are obvious, solutions are not," said education committee chairs Alicia Reuter and Khaula Murtadha reported.
Moving forward they said that fostering an education that treats children "as a whole individuals" would be a positive step forward, as would greater access to preschool and adult learning opportunities.
The committee is also looking forward to an education summit to, among other things, help teachers to learn the history of the Corridor and incorporate it into curriculum.
As far as business stimulation, team members are willing to host Better Block events to create mock businesses where vacant buildings stand to test drive the look and feel of potential new businesses.
"The business growth team needs more partners to come on board as the NE Corridor works to make Indianapolis beautiful," said Lisa Terry, the plan's business committee chair, asking neighborhood associations to set up tables to distribute information about business-boosting opportunities.
Encouraging greater engagement with the business community is essential if the NE Corridor is to flourish to its greatest potential. As is, the unemployment rate is nearly 20 percent and even higher in some areas, said Shanika Heyward, who chaired the 47-member Jobs and Training Committee.
"We need your help to help train, hire, support and encourage" the people of the NE Corridor, Heyward said.
The Culture + Connectivity + Livability committee noted that the NE Corridor has some of the highest bus ridership rates in the city, which makes it an "ideal location for increased opportunities for transit –oriented development," committee chair Dina Batts Davenport said.
The need for quality of life improvements related to transit also stimulated the brainstorm around the bicycle boulevard, which would enhance the riding experience and safety for cyclists in the area.
Housing development also represents an underdeveloped opportunity.
With double the vacancy rate of Marion County as a whole — in a city where the tax base needs to be increased for the city budget to work – the NE Corridor has options for people of various incomes, ages and all types of families, with many well-maintained properties that are visually pleasing," said Gina Lewis-Alexander, director of the Oasis Community Development Corporation in Martindale-Brightwood.
"The most exciting thing about the Quality of Life plan is it is the people's plan – this plan represents people taking charge of our destinies," Darrieux Peterson said.
Anderson echoed that sentiment.
"This plan will not just happen with one person," she said. "Please make that change with us. ... We've stepped up as a community, we're asking you to step up with us.
"It's not a plan anymore, it's action. We've moved beyond the plan."
To read the plan and/or get involved, visit necorridor.com.