Touring the Southside

Posted: July 15, 2009 in South Bend

For our staff meeting today we jumped in the church van and drove through some neighborhoods on the south side of South Bend. If you are familiar with the area, the streets we drove through are those north of Ewing to Indiana Ave. and Michigan to Miami Street.  For a long season of time I drove through the neighborhoods about 2-3 times a month.  It has been awhile since I drove through the area.  I could tell a big difference.  It was disturbing.  Here is what we noticed:

  • There used to be an abandoned (and boarded up) home here or there, now, there are literally areas of 6-7 houses in a row (virtually an entire city block) abandoned.
  • The overall look of the neighborhood tended to decline the closer you got to Michigan Street.  Now, the deteriorating condition of neighborhoods seems to be advancing eastward.
  • The amount of litter and blight in some areas was amazing.
  • Code Enforcement could be employed full-time for months to come just in this area.
  • High percentage of working-aged adults loitering in the area.
  • The look of a neighborhood changed dramatically from street to street.
  • Lots of vacant lots (most overgrown and full of trash)

The area seems to be in a serious state of decline.  I know years ago the city attempted to help deal with abandoned homes by offering to sell them for $1.  The condition was that you had to invest a certain amount of money into the property (which was totally over the possible value of the home given its location), and a bunch of other restrictions.  The result…not a single home sold.  Now what?  What do you do with all the abandoned homes and the miserable condition of some of the neighborhoods on the south side?

  1. Jim Ruth says:

    I have spent a fair amount of time on Michigan Street near the Torch Lounge. A number of things have become evident to me. For adults,
    1) The American Dream as we know it is a myth.
    2) Hope for a better tomorrow is mostly non existant.
    3) The neighborhood has its own economy.
    4) Children are a gift from God.
    5) For the most part, moms are raising the children alone.
    6) Those children still dream of being doctors and lawyers.
    7) No one is showing them how.
    8) God cares.
    9) Without a massive move by our Supernatural God, using His people to do extraodinary things, nothing will change.
    10) The answer is one bite at a time; let’s start eating.
    11) You know the question.

  2. Jim says:

    Many post-industrial cities face this problem in their oldest neighborhoods. Some cities end up giving in and tearing down block after block of abandoned homes, creating what is becoming known as an “urban prairie.” Detroit’s the poster child for this. Check out the before-and-after photos at this link:

  3. Jim – wow that is amazing!! That is exactly what I picture for the future of this area if and should the city take action. That is dramatic.

  4. Jim Ruth says:

    Be careful about wanting an Urban Prairie. All of the displaced people will need to go somewhere. Even now homes are being purchased in neighborhoods South of Ewing Ave for rental properties using Section 8 to supplement the lack of income needed to live in these homes. All this is doing is preparing the way for further blight. This Prairie idea only makes it appear to solve the problem. It is at best a very late tourniquet that allows enough blood to circulate to give the idea of health. I wish government was able to solve this problem. They have had 50 years to do so and have fallen incredibly short. Quite frankly, the only solution to this issue is a change of heart and lifestyle. A problem too big for anyone but God and His Church; you and me.

  5. oops. I didn’t mean to communicate I want an Urban Prairie. It is wasteland in the middle of a city. What I meant was, I don’t picture an alternative solution from the city other than demolition. I favor demolition for so many homes that look beyond repair, but not to remain a vacant lot. I would love to see rebuilt homes so that neighborhoods remain that…neighborhoods. I’m not interested in driving down Milton and saying, “There used to be a neighborhood here called Milton.”

  6. Melissa says:

    I took a business ethics class and one of the questions posed was what if Christians hired the un-hireable (is that a word?)? I’m not sure how this applies to the decline of the neighborhood, but it seems to fit somehow. Things certainly would change if Christians made a ministry of finding ways to put people to work.

  7. Kneip says:

    Those urban prairie pictures are crazy — it looks like even some of the roads have become grassed over!

  8. Sarah Boyce says:

    Surly the city wants to fix this obvious problem. What can we do to help the city? If they tear down houses we loose community, but even re-building low cost slum type housing is not the answer. Some of the houses will fall down soon with or without demolition, so we will end up with empty lots no matter what. Can we use those lots to build community for the people still living in the area?
    Urban areas are full of outdoor programs in empty lots these days. There are community gardens, children’s programs, organized street activities, free meal programs, art and music lessons, adult education programs, literacy education for children and adults, GED training and assistance the list is endless and many of them are happening in empty lots or areas that were once urban trash heaps.
    What can God do with a church full of people willing to use their gifts and talents, and a bunch of empty lots? I think we might just be amazed. The best part of our church is that for many of us, we would not be going in to someone else’s community and making it our “project.” We already live and work in these neighborhoods. We would just be taking back what is already ours! Viva la revolution!!

  9. Linda says:

    Sam, the problems you are describing are city-wide problems. It is happening all over South Bend, now more than ever. We have lived in a very diverse urban neighborhood on the northwest side of the city for the past 22 years and it hasn’t always been easy. We are fortunate enough to have a very strong neighborhood association (the NNN) that is constantly working on behalf of those living here. We also have many very active and involved residents who work alongside each other to make our neighborhood better. We have our share of crime, vacant homes, drugs houses, code enforcement nightmares, but we hang in there. Over the years, so many people have left the inner city neighborhoods for “greener pastures” often times because they want a safer environment for their children..which is understandable. I wonder what would happen if families would begin to move back into these areas, ban together and revitalize our neighborhoods? The city government isn’t going to do it, heck the Mayor lives in our neighborhood, and we still have these problems. People are what make the difference. I believe God will use you and other believers throughout this city to make a difference not only on the Southside but on the Westside, the Northside, and the Eastside.

  10. Ed says:

    My old beat area was bounded by Michigan, Calvert, Monroe/LWE, and Ironwood. One day in the spring of last year I started a drive, street by street, and started counting vacant or abandoned houses.

    I drove from Calvert just up to Broadway (back of Ivy Tech) and between Michigan and High (Pepsi plant,Studebaker School street).

    Empty/Vacant/Abandoned houses in that 6 block area? One hundred and Thirty seven!!! It was staggering.. And that was before the total housing collapse and a year later I’m sure its higher.

    Across from Studebaker School there is a house that was so overgrown by scrub grown and weeds that it literally covered the house which was about 15 feet from the tree lawn. I wrote it up eight times in the summer of 06 and five in the summer of 07 for code referrals to PLEASE cut it down and board it up. I finally gave up because it never got done. Late in 08 someone moved into the green house next door and took it upon himself to trim it up and then it got boarded up.

    What will it take to restore these neighborhoods as viable? I don’t know. Rental houses have killed the inner city market, as have the other urban scourges. There needs to be a way to restore afforable housing, but most of these houses have been picked clean of all scrap metal including all copper plumbing and wiring and the damage in some of these houses would cost tens of thousands to run basic utilities. When you have a house that would retail for $10-20k, that’s not a good thing.

  11. Ed says:

    One thought I have kicked around, and possibly relevant to LSC is to try to see what in fact, would it take to take over a neighborhood.. but by a band of churches.

    On the south side, there are several concerned and active churches all with a certain set of interest in their own neighborhoods. I’ve talked with Broadway Christian Parish people, and with staff at Mt. Carmel (Indiana and St. Joseph) for two examples. Southgate being another.

    What if there was a way to get the city to take control of a single block of houses on a given street (purchase, claim deed, tax sale, etc) and all of the churches including LSC, “adopted” this block of houses. Perhaps after a Habitat style makeover to get them going then used this block of houses to use in getting people back on their feet, either working with the CFH or YWCA- not as rentals, but bought at cost type houses. Any proceeds then are banked to move to the next block.. and so on.

    We as a church are all for it, why not get other south side churches and resources together as one, working all on the same block? Imagine that!

  12. Jennae says:

    Ed and Sarah…
    you both have some great ideas! about Ed’s, I particularly like the idea of one block at a time, as well as networking with other like-minded mission focused people. And I can see in the middle of that block, a community house of sorts, that becomes the hub of that block/neighborhood where you can offer some of the great ideas that Sarah mentioned. I can feel myself get very excited when I start thinking about this stuff! 🙂

  13. kurt says:

    man, as an architect and community planner, this post has me intrigued….we too, suffer from phenomenal rental rates and housing going bad-but with people living in them and slumlords making a lot of money off of them.

    But, what would it look like if Christians started moving BACK INTO town instead of out? What would happen if we could make an impact in these neighborhoods? Plymouth has a population of about 10k, but our Plymouth church only has maybe 20% who actually live in town. How can you be light if you’re not there?

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