October, 2018

The Old Southside Neighborhood


Congratulations to the Old Southside Neighborhood for being chosen as Indianapolis Mayor Hogsett's second Lift Indy neighborhood!

Once a prosperous neighborhood on the Southside of downtown, the Old Southside neighborhood changed dramatically when I-70 was constructed. Interstate construction took several of the neighborhood businesses, and many families left the area.  The community had applied for various grants and Great Places 2020 with no success, but was as motivated as ever to work with partners to spur investment and redevelopment.

INRC invited the Old Southside Neighborhood Association (OSNA) to participate in the Indianapolis Community Building Institute (ICBI) pilot program. ICBI is a leadership training program, based on the philosophy of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), where community building skills are transferred, while providing space where neighbors can connect, realize and act on their passions for change. Six Old Southside neighbors made the commitment to attend the six-month program, with two other neighborhoods. 

As part of this training, INRC provided project management skills that helped the Old Southside residents plan, implement, and evaluate a neighborhood project. Using asset mapping tools gained from the ICBI training, the group looked at the large number of vacant and abandoned homes in their area. As a way to address the vacant-property challenge, they decided to host a property showcase, highlighting the vacant properties as opportunities for investment.

OSNA invited realtors, investors, developers and individuals to visit the neighborhood on June 25, 2016 for a property showcase. Big red bows were placed on every vacant property, so attendees could easily identify them. A reception was held at Sacred Heart Parish Hall, where local organizations and businesses had information booths; OSNA and the Stadium Village Business Association shared their land use plan with attendees. Attendees received a map to tour the neighborhood on their own. In addition, realtors distributed information about current listings in the neighborhood. 130 individuals attended the property showcase; those individuals represented the developers, investors, real estate agents, and potential homeowners targeted by OSNA.

As a direct result of this showcase, at least 10 derelict houses have been demolished, and an equal amount sold. The number of vacant housing has decreased from 50 to less than 23, and the number of boarded houses decreased by ten. In addition, "Two Chicks and a Hammer", from the HGTV show “Good Bones” have purchased 11 houses in the Old Southside neighborhood and will be featured heavily in their newest season. Over the last two years, since the showcase, nearly half of the 120 properties showcased have been purchased or demolished.

OSNA’s current focus is on strengthening partnerships with area landlords. Using skills learned in ICBI trainings, the neighborhood identified the importance of marketing the neighborhood to investors, as well as the importance of establishing partnerships with people who had already invested in the neighborhood. Because 60% of the houses in the area are rentals, OSNA decided to focus its efforts on developing a relationship with property owners. Utilizing the City’s Landlord Registry to find information contact information, OSNA hosted a landlord forum. At the forum they discussed the importance of rental property in the neighborhood, as well as the support that OSNA provides to landlords to help them retain better renters. The property owners appreciated the neighborhood reaching out to them. To continue communication, OSNA created a private Facebook page for the landlords and the OSNA to share information and be better connected to the neighborhood.

At the 2017 Neighbor Power Indy event convened by INRC, members of OSNA presented a workshop on their Property Showcase and Landlord Forum projects. Because of their hard work, OSNA won the 2017 Neighbor Power Indy Connecting Community Award. 

Neighborhood residents Judith Essex and Lisa Hale commented, “We need to work together. We are all out here wanting the same thing for our community; pretty, safe, clean neighborhoods; a place to raise our children and a place to retire.”

May, 2018

The Valley Neighborhood

The Valley Neighborhood is steeped with history, long-term neighbors, and loyalty to preserving and creating new neighborhood appeal.
In the fall of 2017, The Valley Neighborhood Association launched its Valley Vision Plan. The plan, which addresses housing, commercial development, green spaces, and infrastructure, is a statement of the neighborhood’s aspirations to guide the area’s future development.

The Valley Neighborhood is part of the area known as West Indianapolis, and is bounded by Washington Street on the north, Morris Street on the south, Harding Street on the west and White River on the east.

In 1913, the neighborhood was greatly impacted by the Great Flood of 1913. The flooding left a persistent stain on the reputation of the community.  The Valley became undesirable, and the residents became referred to as “Valley Rats”.

Adjacent to The Valley is the former GM Stamping Plant. Many neighbors and their families worked at and retired from this plant. In the early 2000’s, the plant closed and left behind over 100 acres of land. After several years, many options were proposed for the site including a justice center and a concert venue. With the latter, the neighborhood could be impacted by the concert’s high-decibel noise pollution every weekend.  Due to the site being close to the Zoo, the noise projection needed to be directed toward the river and neighborhood as it could cause the animals to stampede in their stalls, running into walls, etc. The residents were not in favor of this option.

Residents began to come together and voice their wishes and concerns for their area. In 2014, residents Rahnae and Jay Napoleon, joined their neighbors in forming The Valley Neighborhood Association. The association led the community in meetings with City staff, educated more neighbors about projects affecting their area, and helped residents communicate with each other, allowing for more community engagement and outreach.

As the neighborhood continued to oppose the concert venue, they also advocated for the City of Indianapolis to address the poor conditions of The Valley alleys. With their continued advocacy, all of the alleys were upgraded; this infrastructure work re-energized the residents. With downtown living being very attractive, and 100 acres of riverfront property still available, residents remained focused and united in their desire to create a community that neighbors and new neighbors would want to be a part of.

A new developer, Ambrose Property Group, won the bid for the GM site, with a mixed-use vision that will transform the neighborhood.

Rahnae learned of INRC’s Indianapolis Community Building Institute (ICBI) and applied to attend, along with a few of the neighborhood leaders. She saw the value of the leadership skills that ICBI offered her and her neighborhood and jumped right in. Through her and her neighbors determination, leadership skills, and love for their neighborhoods, The Valley Neighborhood Association is thriving. Rahnae presented The Valley’s success story at Neighbor Power Indy in 2017. Last fall, Rahnae shared The Valley Neighborhood Story at a Spirit and Place event, hosted by INRC. 

The future is bright as the neighborhood looks to enhance connectivity with downtown, including new and improved streets. The proposed mixed-use project plans to utilize the White River for activities which is already bringing the neighborhoods in The Valley alive again. As Rahnae says, “We now embrace the nickname Valley Rats as a sense of pride, understanding our past, our present, and our very bright future”.

April, 2018

Crown Hill

Crown Hill Neighborhood Association (CHNA) 

Nestled next to its namesake, Crown Hill Cemetery, has a long history with a growing and vibrant presence. Long-time residents have seen swings in economic vitality and demographic makeup over the decades. In the 1950s, Crown Hill was “a thriving community, with good, settled, hardworking families, both black and white, and solid neighborhood schools,” says long-time resident/new CHNA president, Danita Hoskin. Today, Crown Hill retains its powerful sense of family with multiple generations living nearby, and the stories of the earlier days have not been forgotten. Neighbors recall when three groceries were in walking distance, and now there are none. But, that is about to change. At the recent CHNA meeting, the owners of Under the Sun Market (at Keystone & I-70) announced their plan to open a second store in the Concord Building at 3802 N. Illinois St., “providing easier access to high-quality, low-cost goods,” including produce. In addition, a new museum focusing on the history of the Mid-North neighborhoods is looking to open on the Concord’s second floor.

Residents continue their effort to improve the neighborhood. Five sought additional training through INRC’s Indianapolis Community Building Institute (ICBI) and graduated in March 2018, at Neighbor Power Indy. Armed with new neighborhood organizing knowledge, the five are more prepared and ready to make a difference in their neighborhood. One participant, Jonathan Onuorah, is now chair of the new CHNA Land Use/Beautification Committee. Recognizing that 34th Street is the thoroughfare to the Crown Hill Cemetery, Jonathan has focused the April 14th beautification and cleanup there. In addition, Jonathan and the other residents look forward to partnering with Near North Development Corp. to re-envision 34th St. They hope to beautify and develop a mixed-use plan to build support and encourage potential developers to engage. The goal is to improve properties, increase home ownership, include long term residents, and welcome newcomers as the neighborhood grows and changes.

Carleen Carter, long-time resident of CHNA, and until recently the neighborhood president, welcomed INRC’s Public Allies into the neighborhood to partner on a video collection of the neighborhood’s history. The Allies were so interested in Carleen’s history and stories that they asked her to bring together other neighbors to share their stories. Several weeks later, a dozen or so neighbors met at the Renaissance Center on Boulevard Place to tell their stories. They reminisced about the once bustling 34th-Street business corridor. One shared her story of buying dishes at the hardware store and the joy of using them for decades for Sunday luncheons with friends. Others talked about working in and then running their own beauty salons. Several spoke of their experiences at Butler University; unique among Indy universities of the era, Butler admitted some African American students. Tanner Alexander, an INRC Public Ally from a small town in southern Indiana was encouraged by the diversity of neighborhoods when he first moved to Indianapolis. Hearing Crown Hill residents’ stories, he was most excited by the amount of pride and joy expressed for their neighborhood. The Allies recorded some of the stories and plan to make them available in the community by providing the link to the online recordings in the little free libraries that are soon to be added to the neighborhood. During the Public Allies Team Service Day in Crown Hill, on April 27, they plan to install two little free libraries as well as plant flowers and do other beautification projects for the neighborhood.

Danita Hoskin, whose extended family has lived in Crown Hill for three generations, really enjoys working with young people, and applauded the Public Allies for being so attentive and sincere during their interactions with the Crown Hill neighbors. She thanks INRC for teaching her how to work in neighborhoods when she participated in ICBI several years ago. “INRC teaches what we don’t know about bringing community together and provides both organizations and people with skills and training.” Danita summed it up by saying “the key is to learn and to know that working together works.”

There are so many wonderful stories to share about the neighbors and neighborhood of Crown Hill. The neighbors know what Crown Hill was and what they envision it to be. They are paving the way for the days of yester-year to be reborn. Keep your eye on the Crown Hill neighborhood!
For more information, contact CHNA at crown.hill.na@gmail.com.

November, 2017

Carson Heights

Carson Heights is a neighborhood on the south side of Indianapolis.  It’s a quiet community located between Troy Avenue, Carson Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Hannah Avenue.   The neighborhood also includes a major anchor, the University of Indianapolis. 

Until recently it lacked any formal organization that would give residents a voice in what was happening in the area or a forum to address concerns of neighbors.  Jason Fletcher, a local resident saw the need and decided to act.
In the early months of 2016, Jason worked closely with Nita McCormick, a Neighborhood Development Specialist at the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC).  They talked about how to engage your neighbors and look at the area with an asset-based community development (ABCD) lens.  This means focusing on the assets to address opportunities and challenges in the neighborhood.  Using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to ask open-ended questions can better engage your neighbors.  “I received lots of tools and ideas from INRC that I use regularly”, said Jason.

Nita encouraged Jason to visit other surrounding neighborhood meetings to better connect and learn how other organizations function including how to develop an effective agenda.  “Nita helped guide me through the steps needed to organize our neighborhood.” With these tools in place, the first meeting of the Carson Heights Neighborhood Association took place in the spring of 2016.

Carson Heights and other neighborhoods participated in the South Indy (SoIndy) Quality of Life study that began in June of 2015.  With this opportunity, Carson Heights residents participated in planning exercises and formed action teams to define what makes their neighborhood and the larger SoIndy area great.  In order to further strengthen their leadership capacity, five members of the SoIndy Quality of Life team are participating in the Indianapolis Community Building Institute (ICBI)  at INRC. 

The first major event the neighborhood organized was a community day in the fall of 2016.   This successful celebration was continued in 2017 as a National Night Out event.  This year’s event featured a bounce house, games, corn-hole, and a dunk tank,   In addition, local police and elected officials all enjoyed a barbecue with community residents.

Following this success, the Carson Heights Neighborhood Association is currently engaged with the University of Indianapolis to discuss U of I’s plans for more Student Housing.   These plans include adding three student housing buildings and potentially closing a block or two of National Avenue, to create a pedestrian walkway. The neighbors are working with U of I to ensure neighborhood concerns and interests are heard.  They are being kept up to date on construction plans and timelines.  They are also working to ensure that student parking is plentiful and clearly marked and fencing is installed in the backyards of existing homes. 
With an eye toward the future, the neighborhood is planning for changes that will come when the red line is developed on Shelby Street. Building on these upcoming developments, the neighborhood is now looking at new activities to deepen the sense of community. Carson Heights plans a crowded agenda for 2018. 

October, 2017

Shelton Heights

For decades, Shelton Heights was a quiet community of small homes and a trailer park nestled in the curved bank of the railroad tracks at Washington St. and Rockville Rd. on the west side. In 2007, the trailer park was a vibrant part of the neighborhood. However, after the 2008 death of a trailer park co-owner, management of the park declined, and long-term residents began to move out. By spring 2015, after the second owner died in late 2014, “it was complete chaos. We were afraid to open our doors and afraid someone would be found dead.” Squatters, drugs, prostitution, and illegal dumping had completely taken over.

Frustrated with always calling the police and nothing changing, they asked the police to do something.  The police responded, “No, you need to do something.”  And the neighbors did!

Neighbors Debbie Parish and Sherry Belden started talking about what they could do. Debbie noted, “The key was not trying to do it all alone – it took a group to make a difference.” Debbie added she was “mad enough to bite my nails, so it was no problem to stand up,” and when she did, she found others willing to stand up too. They began going door-to-door and meeting neighbors, and by June 2015, the neighbors had come together and started a Crime Watch. An unexpected benefit of the? Crime Watch was it connected them to other agencies who could help. Immediately, the Marion County Public Health Department shut down the trailer park and removed the squatters. After that, the residents “kept the squatters and prostitutes out by calling the police whenever anyone stepped foot on the property.” Others who helped included City government and the Mayor’s Office, elected officials, Mary Milz at WTHR, and non-profits including Indy Gateway Inc. (a West Side community development corporation) and Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC), among others. The neighbors’ determination and networking, along with the support from other institutions and organizations, enabled them to do what had seemed impossible: on September 19, 2016, the trailer park was torn down!

Now they are partnering with Indy Gateway to purchase the park from the City’s Land Bank, and have applied for a KIBI Green Space Grant to add a bench and other amenities to the park. In preparation, neighbors have organized several major cleanups of the park area and celebrated with cookouts, games, and conversation.

Mary Chalmers, a Neighborhood Development Specialist at INRC, first met Debbie Parish in a meeting in late 2016. Since then, Mary has discussed challenges and opportunities in the area with Debbie, including proposed new businesses, some of which the neighbors opposed and were able to stop. Mary also invited Debbie to share their story at Neighbor Power Indy 2017; Debbie participated in the NPI presenter training at INRC and, with Mary’s encouragement and support, shared a powerful story of neighbors reclaiming their neighborhood.

Today, they are enjoying their more vibrant, engaged, and healthy neighborhood, where kids ride their bikes, neighbors talk and take the initiative to help, and the crime rate has declined 75%. At National Night Out in August, the neighbors came out and fully enjoyed the conversation and activities, and they filled a car trunk with food for a food pantry. Clearly, they are enjoying the benefits of getting to know their neighbors and working and playing together.

Update to the Shelton Heights Story: RTV6, The Indy Channel, recently covered their amazing neighborhood story. Check out the story here.