- October 12, 2021
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SOUTH BEND — Keith Mason illustrates the challenges confronting city officials working with residents of west side neighborhoods to develop plans to pay for improvement projects in their area.
“The thing is, I don’t think nobody really cares about this neighborhood,” Mason said Tuesday.
For example, he said, sidewalks are in such poor condition that residents often have to walk in busy streets. And he agrees with his neighbors who list lack of affordable housing and a grocery and a service-business desert as top concerns in the west side’s Kennedy Park neighborhood.
And perhaps most importantly, Mason said, poor street lighting contributes to the crime that has plagued the neighborhood in recent years.
“It’s unsafe on College, Brookfield, Johnson, Huey,” he said. “All those are dark streets, and if you look at the news, that’s where all the shooting is going on right now…And until you get lighted up where they can be seen, they are going to be coming through the alley shooting every week.”
Mason was one of 15 people who last week attended the first in a series of “Neighborhood Plan Workshops,” this one at the Martin Luther King Center.
His deep skepticism reflects the views of many who live on the west side of South Bend and believe the city neglects it.
Jorden Giger of Black Lives Matter, South Bend said the group believes a 2022 city budget that addresses the priorities outlined by the Kennedy Park residents will go a long way to address the community’s concerns.
“We feel they need to address issues around infrastructure within neighborhoods — curbs, sidewalks, streets and lights,” Giger said. “And then also the issue of housing because they’ve had lot of demolished properties within that neighborhood and they need a plan for infill.”
Giger said he was among the citizens who interviewed District 2 residents about their concerns as part of a 2018 city funded survey. He said canvassers talked to more than 860 people and those residents had the same concerns as the participants in Tuesday’s Kennedy Park workshop.
“They want support for businesses,” he said. “They want to address the issue of affordable housing. They want grocery stores. They want to see community centers improved and be more accessible.”
West side priorities: ‘Black People’s Budget‘
The information Giger and other activists gained from talking to city residents led to the creation of a plan BLM calls the “Black People’s Budget.” It prioritizes funding programs and infrastructure projects for neighborhoods the group believes have been neglected by the city. It pushes for funding that will improve infrastructure, create more safe and affordable housing, address the rights of tenants, and focus on economic and neighborhood development.
Giger renewed his call on the council to delay a vote on the 2022 budget, saying community groups need more clarity on how the budget was developed.
“We need to have a deeper understanding of how they come up with the proposed dollar amount and how the funds they are requesting the council to appropriate will impact and reach our neighborhoods.” he said. “That is the concern. There is not clarity around that.”
The council is required by Indiana law to approve next year’s budget by Nov. 1. Rather than a single “budget bill,” there are are 10 bills that detail spending and taxation for next year. The council could give third and final reading to six of the bills at its meeting Monday, the main departmental appropriation bill, which includes the types of spending the west side residents want to see more of, along with Transpo’s budget and four separate salary ordinances. The council would then need to finalize the other four salary bills and could do so at its next regular meeting Oct. 25.
The workshops, like Tuesday’s, are being rolled out in neighborhoods throughout the city.
They have given residents a chance to communicate their priorities, said Tim Corcoran, the city’s director of planning, who facilitated the Kennedy Park meeting.
Neighbors attending last week’s session all had similar concerns and emphasized similar priorities, with infrastructure, affordable housing and business development being recurring themes. Corcoran said he was not surprised.
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“Those comments are almost universal across each neighborhood that we’ve worked in so far,” he said. “… Streets, sidewalks, lighting have been the top issues from an infrastructure point of view.”
Infrastructure improvements were also on the mind of Al Carothers, barber and longtime owner of Al’s House of Style barber shop at Olive and Rogers streets.
“I try to keep this corner the best that I can,” Carothers said. “But the curbs and streets and things like that need to be worked on.”
While some of the issues and concerns raised by the Kennedy Park residents are the same as those listed by others who live on the west side, some of them are unique.
While residents in other neighborhoods talked about opening coffee shops and other small-scale businesses, Kennedy Park residents want to bring things like grocery stores and laundries to the area, in addition to cafes and boutiques.
There is also a focus on restoring Linden Avenue as a hub for the community’s economic activity, much as it was up until the 1960s.
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“Our hope is that by focusing on the Linden Avenue area, we can revitalize some of that small-scale business that used to be in the area,” Corcoran said.
Viola Sims, who is president of the Kennedy Park Neighborhood Association, said residents’ frustration stems from a sense the city has not followed through on past promises for improvements.
For example, they’ve long complained about how dark the streets are at night. The lack of lighting makes walking risky and serves as a perfect cover for crime, she said.
Sims said neighbors want the city to fix the lights and install speed bumps to slow down cars.
Residents also want improvements to parks in the neighborhood, noting that they’ve waited years for playground equipment to be installed at Kennedy Park. They also stressed economic development.
Corcoran said he understood the frustration felt by many people living in the neighborhood and on the city’s west side, and tried to address that frustration early in the meeting by explaining the “neighborhood plan score card,” which is the city’s way of bringing transparency and accountability into the process.
The score cards allow residents to go online and track the city’s progress in meeting the priorities that have been approved by the common council in each neighborhood’s plan.
Corcoran said the city will take the information it gathered during Tuesday’s meeting, as well as during discussions with stakeholders and its online survey, and make a list of all of the suggestions they received.
The city will then work with the residents to pare that list down to the most important priorities at the next workshop, which will be at 6 p.m. on Oct. 26 at the King Center. People can also watch virtually.
Maritta Freeman, a west side resident, said she understands residents’ frustration after years of broken promises. But she remains hopeful things will be different, since neighbors can now get involved in the city budgeting process and say where they’d like the money to go. And the city, she said, is expressing a desire to hear what people have to say.
“I’m kind of skeptical, but when you show up, it’s like baby steps,” she said. “You start there and aim high. … I think we’re on the right track.”
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Howard Dukes at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter: @DukesHoward