Source: The Corydon Democrat

Creating a thriving community
Community conversations

by Judy O'Bannon

March 11, 2014

I remember talking to a newly hired young Main Street manager in Carmel about 20 years ago. At that time, Carmel, located just north of Indianapolis, consisted of an old movie theater, an antique store and a grocery store surrounded by newly built subdivisions.

I remember chuckling when he said his job was to first identify the center of town and then develop a Main Street program like we had in Corydon.

In contrast to Carmel, we started with an Old State Capitol complete with a courthouse square that had served as the hub of commerce. This “kid” was charged with plotting out a fake old town from scratch. What a monumental job, I thought.

Well, 25 years later, a thriving community is drawing commuters to its housing, stores and arts programs. It is the place to be for convenience and quality of life for thousands of people. It is mapped out like an old town with buildings meant to look like yesteryear but it is all brand new. Its art centers and restaurants are causing venues in Indianapolis to sit up and take notice of the competition. Medical facilities and commercial districts are forming around it.

Carmel is focused on providing a small-town feeling with modern amenities.

Corydon sits in the same relative position to Louisville as Carmel does to Indianapolis. We already have the heritage, and it is authentic and unique. We have the infrastructure of streets, gas and water lines. Why couldn’t we use some of the same strategies to grow our community?

We don’t desire to become a large urban area like Carmel, but we do need to stay up with the needs and wants of people in the 21 century.

What kind of housing do we have available? What entertainment, recreational and educational venues do we find in Harrison County that would attract potential residents?

In a reversal of the flight from the decaying city of Indianapolis in the past, is the current movement to downtown living as the “in” destination of today.

Chris Sikich, a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, recently ran an article quoting Realtors and developers stating that people are gravitating to the core of cities and towns to take advantage of the many activities they provide.

“Changing attitudes and lifestyles have boosted the apartment industry even as the new home market has emerged from the recession, said Drew Klacik, senior policy analyst at the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.

Those born around the new Millennium, Klacik said, “are interested in living in an urban environment without the long-term binds of a mortgage.”

Millennials are a key demographic, expected to grow from 36 percent of the workforce to 50 percent by the end of the decade, according to Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates.

Empty-nesters, Klacik said, are ready to downsize and give up the maintenance headaches associated with home ownership.

“Millennials and empty nesters want walkable, new urban neighborhoods,” Klacik said. “The stuff Carmel and Westfield are doing is really a big deal, and that is the trend.

“Town and city governments, including Carmel, Fishers and Westfield, have begun to invest in their town centers and downtowns to attract apartment projects and economic growth, investments that have sometimes stirred controversy and questions about the role of taxpayer-funded amenities,” he said.

There are many ways to look at city planning, and with it comes some controversy. We are not trying to be a large metropolitan community. Most of us like the atmosphere of a small town in a rural setting, but we can find some tips for positive moves that help us continue to thrive.

As I watch my granddaughters sled down the snowy slope in front of my home while I write this, I feel deep inside the whole reason families like to live close to each other. I certainly hope that, after getting prepared for a career, these same grandkids will be able to stay in this area and find a stimulating life economically, socially and culturally.

We are a mere half hour from Louisville along a good interstate that connects us with everything a big city has to offer. Many Carmel residents drive a lot longer than that to get to work. In my mind, a good number of folks would like the benefits of a small town after a car ride to and from work. Even better is the ability to walk or bike to work in the same well-equipped small town you sleep in. Especially wonderful are schools, stores and churches where everyone knows your name and cares that all is going well for you. Life can sometimes be impersonal these days; one could easily become just another Social Security card number and birthdate. Connecting with real human beings in shared activities and seeing the fruits of your labor is very satisfying.

Let’s figure out how we can provide much of what is available in the bigger towns that is good without many of the negative trappings that more populated places often impose.

No one ever said it would be easy. I do know, however, it will be rewarding.