Chesterton Tribune

500 citizens offer varied ideas for Region's future

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A 2,000 foot-tall water jet rising out of Lake Michigan that would create rainbows on a sunny day?

“Northwest Indiana needs an ‘awe’ effect on the lake,” said Hans Enderlin of Hebron. “We would be the envy of Chicago.”

Challenged to think out of the box about what Northwest Indiana could be in 2040, participants at a Saturday forum did just that. Tourism-related development was mentioned as a way to capture imaginations and visitors’ dollars.

Marlena Bell of Gary said we could turn this area from an industrial region to a vacation region by educating others about what’s available here.

Paul Boyter of Chesterton agreed there’s an opportunity to draw Chicago residents. “Why don’t we have a New Buffalo in Gary or Chesterton that’s fun and draws people in?” He predicted golf courses and hotels would be popular attractions.

According to John Davies, formerly with the Northwest Indiana Forum, “I would encourage people to dream. When they dream they change the world.” Innovation, creativity, curiousity and entrepreneurship need to be encouraged, he added, and dreamers need determination to implement their vision.

Developing a long-range vision is what the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s forum was all about. To get the ball rolling nearly 500 people, 51 percent female and 49 percent male, spent a day agreeing, amiably disagreeing and agreeing to disagree about what Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties need to do to remain a place where people want to live and work in the decades ahead.

Sixty-four percent of those attending live in Lake County, 21 percent in Porter County and 15 percent in LaPorte County with the remaining participants from elsewhere in Indiana or Illinois. Even middle and high-school students attended.

The regional population hit a record 762,469 persons in 2007 and is expected to grow to a combined population of 824,542 by 2040.

Today, Barb Morgin of Roselawn in Newton County believes, “Northwest Indiana has a very small view of itself.” And that, she and others said, needs to change. “Education should be this region’s first and foremost priority,” said Morgin. Smart-growth mass transit and shared resources are her vision for the future.

Her husband, John Morgin, said Northwest Indiana will be considered six counties one day. A big challenge to new ideas is non-diversity that’s created elitism, even between communities. Building expressways, which he said should be toll roads, encourages people to move out of urban areas. “We pull out the heart of every community when we move.”

Maintaining vibrant central business districts in older cities and towns was supported as a forum goal. “Chesterton should be a town people drive 300 miles to see their downtown,” said John Morgin. Boyter said, “A lot of people in Northwest Indiana have a no-growth attitude,” citing how Chesterton officials turned down a mall that would have included prototype-design Target and Kohl’s.

Steve Nigro, planning administrator for the city of Crown Point, said future growth will occur in proximity to existing cities and towns so surburban communities will need to offer a unique product with amenities available to those who desire them. But that likely will require the towns to implement impact fees to support themselves, he noted.

David Isley of Evansville, who works in this area, said neighborhoods are the building blocks of any community. He recommended pedestrian-friendly growth. Northwest Indiana has over 74 miles of bike/pedestrian trails built and over 57 more miles planned and funded. “We’ve gone through an industrial revolution and a technological revolution. We’re in an energy revolution now but I don’t know if we’re going to win that,” said Isley. “Whoever does will dictate their future.” Jenn Denny of Hobart said her vision for 2040 is people living a healthier lifestyle, enjoying a vital lakefront, cleaner water and using wind farms for energy.

According to NIRPC director of planning Steve Strains, nine cities and towns in Northwest Indiana, including Chesterton and Porter, rely on combined sanitary and storm sewer systems. In 2007 these nine systems overflowed 1,344 times. Bell said the region needs to construct state-of-the-art wastewater treatement facilities and to encourage younger political and educational leaders.

Transportation --- efficiently and safely moving people and goods through and within the region --- proved to be an often-discussed topic. What to do about increasing rail freight, the potential for air freight with airport partners and the over-abundance of semi-trucks all must be addressed in future transportation decisions.

John Vail of Michigan City supported continuing efforts to move South Shore commuter trains off Michigan City streets, and to eliminate an on-time bottleneck at the Kensington interlocking in Illinois. “Let’s fix what we’ve got first.” However, Vail said we can’t lose sight of planning for transit-oriented developments of the future combining business/residential uses and transportation services

Nigro said with the announced parking-meter fee increases in Chicago, South Shore ridership will see a boost.

Enderlin said the Borman Expressway can’t expand any more and that the controversial Indiana/Illinois south-county expressway has to come. He recommended all transportation agencies be consolidated under one properly funded entity.

According to NIRPC statistics, nine out of 10 region commuters use a car to get to work, and eight in ten are alone in that car.


 Posted 12/8/2008