October 17, 2014
The City of Gary, Indiana, is ushering in a new era. The days when the city was synonymous with urban blight and crime are fading into the distance. Once a symbol of disinvestment standing next to City Hall, the Sheraton Hotel is being demolished and will be replaced with community green space. Marquette Park has undergone an extensive renovation, making it a hub for community and family-focused events, including Gary's first marathon. Thanks to hundreds of volunteers, a newly renovated Boys and Girls Club sits in the once vacant Tolleston School. Gary's hometown brewery is producing critically acclaimed beer and continues to grow. And, IUN and Ivy Tech have partnered to build a new Arts and Sciences building on the corner of 35th and Broadway to serve as a cornerstone for future redevelopment projects.
The city is on the upswing, and everyone from teachers to business owners is feeling it. But what's behind Gary's revival, and what can we do to maintain, support, and build on the transformation? How do we ensure that Gary continues to become a more vibrant place to live and work?
Over the next three years, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a private, independent foundation based in Miami, will invest $15 million to answer these questions in Gary and twenty-five other communities across the United States. The foundation believes it is the city's own activists, designers, artists, planning professionals, hackers, architects, officials, educators, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and social workers who have the answers, and it wants them to take hold of their city's future. To that end, all are welcome to submit ideas to the Knight Cities Challenge in one of three areas that the foundation believes are the drivers of future success for Gary: attracting talented people, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement.
Why these three focus areas, instead of traditional metrics such as creating a better school system or helping small- and medium-sized businesses? Because research has demonstrated that strengthening precisely these aspects of a community gives it the tools it needs to do everything else.
Businesses already know that attracting and keeping the best and brightest is good for their companies, but the same is true for cities. Research shows that cities become stronger, more resilient, and more vibrant when they are able to attract people with skills, education, and the ambition to succeed. To achieve this, however, cities must be able to show that they offer the kind of diversity and vibrant lifestyle that appeal to talented people, whether they are young or older.
Expanding opportunity means both expanding economic prospects more broadly and breaking down the divides that create bifurcated communities in which the wealthy and poor live apart and unconnected from each another. To do this, cities need to create spaces where people of diverse backgrounds can come together and share their dreams, talents, and skills with other members of the community.
Engagement focuses on spurring connections and driving civic involvement. We know that residents must own their communities' future if those communities are to succeed. Which means we need to find ways to encourage residents to come together to set the agenda for change.
We know these concepts have made a change here in Gary. And now you have an opportunity to actively participate in and sustain the city's revitalization and growth. All we ask is that you submit an idea at knightcities.org before the November 14 deadline. No project is too small – as long as the idea behind it is big.
Want to learn more about this amazing opportunity? Join us at one of our upcoming information sessions. For dates and locations, call the Legacy Foundation at (219) 736-1880. We're looking forward to seeing you!
Kelly Anoe is director of grants and partnerships at the Legacy Foundation and Richard Leverett is chief of staff for the City of Gary, Indiana.