Message #1 to the newly formed RDA
Today is an apt time to release some of my thoughts about the forming of the RDA. The following is a message I sent on to Tim Sanders, the NWI representative of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and one of the organizers of the RDA, on September 6, 2005.
Today’s Opinion section of the Times outlined a number of initiatives for the RDA. Although I fully support the economic opportunities these projects represent to the region, I must encourage the RDA to adopt principles of “smart growth” and “sustainable development” to mitigate against any adverse impact. With the ongoing events on the Gulf Coast (due in part to the weakened wetlands system), the mission of the Great Lakes Collaborative in protecting our water supply, and the regional movement to improve the quality of life here in NWI, it is timely that the economic mission of the RDA partner with ecological principles. As we all know our waterways and air are amongst the most polluted in the country. We have the need and the opportunity to reverse the damage. First, in so doing, we have the opportunity to seed an industry of environmental re-mediation, secondly, in so doing, we open the opportunity to feed-up the American economic food chain and attract knowledge based industries and workers to the region. I have an idea, lets get obsessive about cleaning our environment and lets be known throughout the country for this obsession. Chattanooga, Tennessee can serve as a great example, considered America’s dirtiest city in the 1980’s today it is one of America’s greenest.
At present the mission of the RDA is project or action/transportation orientated, as the outline of initiatives show. The RDA, as a natural outgrowth of NIRPC is like NIRPC, and threatens to duplicate NIRPC and past mistakes. With that said NIRPC’s historical role has been in transportation, leaving land use to the municipalities, in reality to industry (In the case of East Chicago and Gary City Planning and building standards are no longer existent). At some point, municipal shortfalls will need to be addressed at the regional level, if we are to maximize economic growth opportunities. The regions lack of history in land use planning and lack of balance between land use and transportation has contributed to the regions lack of quality of life. We lack so much. I encourage the members of the RDA to bring greater emphasis to land use planning and establish a committee addressing Brownfield redevelopment. For further discussion on Brownfield Redevelopment and three case studies see below.
Although I am not a Historical Preservationist I must also encourage the RDA to act responsibly when it comes to the few remaining remnants of our regions heritage. In the right hands these resources offer nodes of development from which to cluster new industries in todays knowledge based economy. These historical references can give location a place, and a marker to time. In our zeal to get something done don’t forgot the value of what was already here. WE DO NOT LIVE IN AN ENVIRONMENT OF SCARCE OPPORTUNITIES AND WE DON’T HAVE TO BEHAVE AS IF WE DO. We need to behave as we want to be, and we will become that. We just need to prove that we are economically rational, that we understand the value of what we have, and that we treat what we have with value.
Next, I would like to raise a tone of caution when it comes to the planned expansion of Gary/Chicago International Airport, I fear the need to aggressively push expansion through will negatively and severely impact East Chicago’s harbor neighborhoods as this does not have to be the case. As presently planned the expansion would negatively impact the only stable middle class neighborhood in the City, a hospital, three elementary schools, and acres of parkland. If I could I would nominate the airport expansion as a candidate for a smart growth initiative, by orienting growth in a much more compatible manner. It appears the planned configuration is a political configuration, and perhaps a product of the petty fiefdoms. The intent seems to be to threaten the desirability of East chicago, and force East Chicago to negotiate from a negative position, to gain back its future economic potential. The only problem is East Chicago leadership does not yet perceive the threat and are not engaging the issue.
Lastly, Lets be vision makers, and lets build upon our identity.