Archive for the ‘Neighborhoods’ Category

Let me give you another blog you should be checking out.  It is called Revitalize South Bend (*insertpumpfist*).

It’s creator:  The most excellent Beth Harsch.

Listen to its purpose and intent:

As a resident of South Bend, I refuse to believe we’re a ”Dying City,” as a recent article in Newsweek claims. Nor do I care to give credence to Princeton who lists South Bend among the ”College Towns not so Great.”

I believe what many residents of South Bend believe… that this is a generous, caring, innovative community.

My desire is to highlight those people (and groups) in our community who will not let some Newsweek article define them. This is for, and about, those generous, caring and innovative people doing transformational work that improves life in South Bend.

Won’t you join me as we share ideas and resources that can benefit others in our community?

Add it to your blog roll, check out its contents frequently, and COMMENT and engage in the conversation!!

And while you are there should especially check out today’s blog post!!

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[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first couple of posts here , here , here, & here.]

A few years ago Jennae Gee and I attended a conference on Bridges Out of Poverty at the Century Center here in South Bend.  The conference was based on the work of Ruby Payne.  It was incredibly insightful.  One of the things that was mentioned in the conference was the “type” of businesses that reflect an area of poverty.  I’m sure you know this experientially as you note the difference between the businesses found in an impoverished area, and those found in a more affluent area (e.g., Granger, Grape Rd. & Main St. in Mishawaka).    In the conference they provided a list of the kinds of businesses that begin to take over a neighborhood when it is sliding towards, or is in, poverty.  They listed the following:

  • Pawn shops
  • Liquor stores
  • Corner stores (like…the shady looking ones that you’re just a little suspect of in regards to what they are really selling)
  • Rent to own stores
  • Laundromats
  • Fast food restaurants (if there are any restaurants at all)
  • Check cashing
  • Temp services
  • Used-car lots (you should count how many are on Michigan Street!)
  • Dollar stores
As soon as they read the list, I immediately started thinking about the kind of businesses that existed on the South side of South Bend.  YES…we do have the Ireland Rd. business district (corridor) that runs from Ironwood to West of Michigan that contains businesses that reflect a non-impovershed area (e.g., Target, Kohl’s, Supermarkets, etc.).  But as soon as you move north of Ireland Rd. things change quickly and dramatically!
Below is a slide show of businesses that are on two major corridors coming into the city of South Bend from the South side.  One is Michigan Street (the “Southgate” of the city) [pictures are from Chippewa to Indiana Ave.] and the other is Miami St. (also known as the “Miami Village Association”) [pictures are from Ewing St. to about Indiana Ave.].  Take a few minutes to look at these photos and see if you don’t recognize in them that the these main arteries into the city are “impoverished areas.”  Side note:  the pictures are almost exhaustive of businesses on these two street.  I did leave out Bob Miller’s Appliance Store (a great exception here on the South Side), the Landing Catering & Banquet hall, 1st Source bank, and a host of muffler or body shops.
Thank you to Ann Lynn who took these photos!
The question is – how do we stop the movement towards greater poverty in regards to the “types” of businesses that are located on the South side of South Bend?  How do we encourage investment by businesses that reflect opportunities for growth, jobs, and economic development?  What incentives can be offered or provided to turn the tide towards businesses that help a neighborhood rise above its declining state?

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See Part 1 here and Part 2 here

“A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”  James Madison 1788

I want to go back to the mayor’s address to the school board and suggest one more thing the mayor should do:  PUSH FOR A PARTIALLY-APPOINTED SCHOOL BOARD!!!  I know this is controversial, but I’ve lost my hope and trust in the voting electorate to select school board members who are qualified (or even smart).

Recent turmoil on the school board bears that out.  For further proof…note Roseland’s town council.  I believe in Democracy, but in local elections for school board candidates, the voting public has no clue what the candidate stands for or if they are even qualified to lead the city’s school system.  Whenever forums are offered to meet the candidate about a dozen people or less show up.  The candidates don’t have the finances for commercial spots, mass mailings, or other means to get their message out.

David Snyder

So…a voter enters the booth and chooses a name that rings most familiar (and hopefully the name isn’t familiar because of the charges that were filed against them) or one that sounds nice.  “Spivey…that sounds nice.”  “Stephanie Spivey…oooo…two ‘s’ words.  I like it.  I’ll vote for her!

And then…we get what we get.  Except, it usually means inept leadership.

If the city’s well-being is intertwined with the school system’s well-being (which I believe that it is) then the Mayor has a huge stake in what happens within our school system.  All of his attempts at city growth will be undermined by a defunct school system.  There should be at least 2-3 school board members who are directly appointed by, and are accountable to, the mayor.  I know this places a lot of trust and control in the hands of the mayor.  But he has a vested interest and his voice (via his appointees) are critical.  Further, it expedites communication between the mayor’s office and the school board.  And I don’t mean just communication that occurs at their Monday night board meetings, but probably more important, the communication that goes on outside of it.

See Part 1 here.

One way the city government can help our neighborhood schools is to do something about the condition of the neighborhoods that surrounds the schools.  Specifically, something about the blight and abandoned

properties that many schools on the South Side are right in the middle of.

Has anyone seen the neighborhood that surrounds Riley High School (especially facing opposite the main entrance)?  Has anyone seen the street that is directly in front of of the Riley Early College Program now meeting at the old Studebaker Primary Center (on Dubail Street)?  And now the school corporation is considering the Studebaker school building for the New High Tech School!!!  The entire block across from the school is abandoned with several scarred from arson on two of the properties (it used to be three but the city did demolish).

And where are these schools located?  In some of the most run-down and neglected neighborhoods on the South Side.

I don’t know what Code Enforcement or the city can do, but what does it communicate to our students, and to their families – to have schools in whose surroundings are so miserable?

To see Part 3 go here.

[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first couple of posts here , here , & here.]

This past Monday evening the  South Bend School Board had their weekly meeting. During the meeting the newly elected Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, addressed the board.  In his address he expressed his desire to work with the school board noting how important a strong school system is to the health of a city.  He promised several things such as: 1) an open door for communication; 2) an advocate by virtue of his office; 3) pursuit of private financial investments; and 4) a call for community volunteers and mentors.

I’m glad the mayor addressed the school board.  And I couldn’t agree more in regards to the health of a city being largely dependent on the condition of its schools.  But as we talk about the south side of South Bend and schools (as has been popular on the blog this week) I believe the condition of our schools may be a contributing factor to the decline of our neighborhoods (and yes…I know the exact opposite can be said as well…the decline of our neighborhoods is a contributing factor to the condition of our schools…welcome to the chicken and the egg debate).

The one thing I hear consistently in regards to people’s decision to move to Michiana but choose a home in Mishawaka or Granger, is the condition of South Bend public schools  (even more than crime) .  I recently read a forum online of someone asking for advice because they were moving to the area.  Page after page was filled with people encouraging them NOT to move to South Bend but rather choose Lakeville, Mishawaka or Granger and the most often cited reason was the school system.

Several years ago I counted 18 kids that lived on my street (I live on a cul-de-sac on the South Side of South Bend).  18 kids…mostly girls! Out of those 18 kids (who are smart, well-behaved, come from stable homes, etc.), only 2 (my children) actually attended a South Bend public school (and even now I only have one in the South Bend public school).  The other 16 were attending private schools (mostly Catholic).  I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the norm on other streets as well.  It seems that anyone who can…sends their kids to another school system or a private school.

The flight out of South Bend public schools guts the neighborhood schools.  And specifically, it guts the schools of kids who are coming from stable homes with parents who are involved and who encourage their children academically.  When you take all of those kids out – how does it not devastate a school?  And now the State is offering vouchers to help in this flight (which…in a spirit of full-disclosure…we use for one of our kids).

AND another thing…I think the whole “magnet” / “traditional” school concept has not helped neighborhood schools.  I think it had the best intentions in the world.  But the end result is you have taken some of your most academically skilled kids who live on the South Side of South Bend and now bus them to Kennedy, LaSalle, etc.  The result:  the further gutting of our neighborhood schools.  I was talking to an ex-teacher at McKinley elementary the other day.  She said that is exactly what happened at McKinley.  After the magnet school came into existence McKinley now qualifies as a 100% free-lunch school and their ISTEP test scores plummeted.

I don’t know how you go back now.  But the end result and consequence has been weaker South Bend neighborhood schools – and especially around the South Side of South Bend.  Our South Side High School – who I love and graduated from (just a couple of years ago) – just barely avoided state takeover.  And when a parent has to decide where to send their kid to High School – a school that isn’t under threat of State takeover (whether it be private or in another school system) is a whole lot more attractive than one that is.

To see Part 2 go here.

[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first couple of posts here & here.]

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – Apostle Paul

As you drive along the South Side of South Bend there is a divide that takes place at Ewing Ave.  South of Ewing, you are in the 5th city council district and in the zip code of 46614.  North of Ewing you are in the 6th city council district and are now in the zip code of 46613.  Not only is there a divide in council districts and zip codes, but there is also a divide in regards to the socio-economic demographic and with it a spirit of fear.

What you will notice as you move north of Ewing is that many homes have their front yard fenced in.  On the south side of Ewing, almost no residence has their front yard fenced in.  If they do, it is for decor.  But on the north side, the fences are not for aesthetic value – they are for security.  They are taller fences with locks.  And through it you can see a growing spirit of fear.

Whenever a spirit of fear grips a neighborhood, the future is not bright.  Panic sets in.  People begin to isolate themselves (thus becoming not very good neighbors) and look for opportunities to leave to a “safer” neighborhood.  That is why police investigators are so eager to want to resolve any crime or mystery to alleviate the contagion that comes with a spirit of fear.

My first real experience with a community spirit of fear came at the Miami Hills Apartments.  One day I went to the apartment complex to figure out a map of the buildings and the numeration of apartments within each building.  I parked my car in the apartment complex and received a phone call before getting out of the car.  While on the phone, a guy starts to circle my car.  Finally, after several passes, he came up to the window and asked if I knew what time it was.  He then went on his way.  Unbeknownst to me, as I was sitting in my car, small pockets of people had gathered together in different sections of the parking lot.  I got out of the car and approached a gathering of three women to ask a question about the signage on the building and the numbers on the apartments.  As I approached and asked my question, the only reply I received was a hushed…”are you FBI?”  Taken back I asked, “What?”  She repeated, “Are you FBI?”  I laughed (and honestly was a little flattered that she even thought I could get into the FBI) and then told her who I was and what I was doing.  And then we had a 15 minute conversation about their kids, Vacation Bible Schools, etc.

But what I saw was a spirit of fear.  And when a spirit of fear grips a neighborhood – it takes over.  You become afraid of everyone.  You are afraid of crime.  You are afraid of strangers.  You are afraid of police.  You are afraid of your neighbors (and especially your neighbor’s teenage kids).  You fence your front yard.  You put in security systems (or at least a sticker that makes it look like you have a security system).  You buy a dog.  You put up a “beware of dog” sign.  And you barricade your home.  And you dream of the day when you can move to Granger.

Your neighborhood is guaranteed to decline.

There are other signs:  notice how many people go to a garage sale north of Ewing versus in a subdivision south of Ewing.  Note the absence of little kids playing outside in the front yard in the middle of the summertime.

If a neighborhood is going to see revitalization, one thing that must be addressed is the spirit of fear that is gripping the neighborhood.

[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first post here.]

No one in South Bend grows up dreaming of living on Dubail Street.  They just don’t.  If you are on Dubail Street it is either because you have no other options, or you are 93 years old, have lived there for 68 years, and aren’t moving now.  Otherwise, if you could have left, you did.

You can call it “white flight,” “suburban exodus,” “movin’ on up” or whatever you want, but the reality is – people who can, are leaving neighborhoods that are in closer proximity to the center of the city and fleeing to the outskirts (churches frequently do the same thing).  They blame it on several things – increased crime, lower property values, underperforming schools, general blight, etc. – but in the end, it fosters within a neighborhood an increased level of fear and anxiety (more on this in another blog posting).  So, the first chance they get…they move out of the neighborhood.

And their home, more often than not, doesn’t get sold to another family looking for long-term residency, but to someone interested in rental properties.  And over decades of this trend, you have literally – blocks of homes that are now rental properties.  Home ownership is no longer the norm or expectation of these neighborhoods. [The city provides a map with listed residential ownership at this website].

And it is the loss of private home ownership that I believe is the GREATEST cause and factor in the deterioration of south side neighborhoods.

Quick story.  I, along with another member of the Living Stones Church, was in a meeting about a month ago with Pam Myers and Lory Timmer who work in the Community Development office of South Bend.  Pam shared a story of a conversation that happened just that week in her office.  She got a phone call from a woman in New Jersey who purchased, via internet, a few homes in South Bend.  She isn’t from South Bend, she’s never been here, she doesn’t know anything about South Bend nor the neighborhood and community in which she purchased these homes.  But she was calling to get “the money.”  She was apparently under the impression (probably from one of those late night infomercials teaching you the techniques of making millions through real estate) that if she bought foreclosed or abandoned properties that the city gave her money to rehab them so she could sell it for a profit.  After Pam Myers told her that wasn’t how it worked, wanting to unload the hassle she just purchased she attempted to “donate” the properties to the city.

I can’t help but wonder how often that sort of thing happens.  People who have no vested interest in our community, our neighborhoods, and or city who then purchase property in our neighborhoods hoping to turn a profit.  And when you are driven by profit, you aren’t concerned by the overall impact your house has on the neighborhood, you are only concerned with how much money you can make.  Thus, your property is typically in poor shape and full of issues.

And do you know who can afford to rent those kind of rental properties?  People who can’t really afford those rental properties.  An individual stuck in their economic situation signs the papers, puts up a modest deposit and then has housing for a few months never intending to pay the monthly rent.  The landlords then file eviction proceedings and the “renters” quickly move to another house in the exact same fashion.  Individuals in these neighborhoods are very transient.  Ask Monroe and Lincoln Primary Schools what the percentage of their students who begin the year with them actually finish.

The impact on a neighborhood is huge.  Renters who have no intention of staying long don’t care about their property.  They don’t care about their yard, they don’t care about their neighborhood.  And why should they?  They have no ownership in it.  And the real “owners” most likely don’t live here, or live elsewhere and are only concerned about a profit coming out of Dubail Street.

If you want to resurrect and change these neighborhoods, it can’t be by just demolishing abandoned homes.  It can’t be by putting in new sidewalks and lights.  It can’t be by sprucing up a nearby park.  It can’t happen through “curb appeal” projects and funding.  It won’t happen by a well-intended non-profit groups buying up all of the homes.  I’m more or less for all (or at least some) of these investments.  But ultimately, if you are going to resurrect a declining neighborhood it has to be by RESTORING HOME OWNERSHIP in that neighborhood.  (more on this to follow)

Possible resource from Diana Hess of the Neighborhood Resources Corporation:

Homeownership from Start to FinishJanuary 16, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m., Century Center Recital Hall, If you want to know the best way to become a homeowner, this program is for you.  Local experts will share how to finance a home, find the neighborhood that is right for you, and how you can keep your home during difficult times.  9:30 – The American Dream, Amanda Walker, GreenPath Debt Solutions; 10:00 – Financing the Cream, Kelly Suddarth, KeyBank Loan officer; 10:30 – Keeping the Dream Alive: Surviving Foreclosure”, Judith Fox, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Notre Dame Law School and Legal Aid Clinic.  Moderators: Stephanie Ball, director of home ownership, South Bend Heritage Foundation and Tasha Reed Outlaw, attorney at law, TRO Law Group.