Urban renewal is more than just the construction of buildings; it’s the construction of community. On Indy’s Near Eastside, nonprofit community development organization Near East Area Renewal (NEAR) creates great places, cultivates relationships, and promotes the belief that “front porches make good neighbors.”
Five years ago, the Near Eastside was the urban equivalent of a fly-over state; homes were abandoned, crime was rampant, and local businesses and amenities were scarce.
Sure, the Near Eastside is still an emerging area. It has its challenges. But over the last few years, the area has gotten a few boosts—the 2012 Super Bowl Legacy Project, the federal Promise Zone designation in April 2015. Awareness improved. Indy Star columnist Robert King moved his family to St. Clair Place. And people started to wonder if the Near Eastside was a destination, rather than a drive-thru.
Since the inception of the Legacy Project, parts of East 10th Street have been overhauled and beautified. There is now a BlueIndy station across the street from the John H. Boner Center. And the Tick Tock got a facelift. Five years ago, the Chase Legacy Center broke ground. There was no Rabble Coffee back then, and No Love Handle, either. And NEAR was just getting started.
NEAR’s mission is to “develop community as it creates great places for neighbors.”
Notice that it doesn’t say, “and it creates,” but rather “as it creates.”
NEAR constructs and rehabilitates physical homes, yes, but it revives neighborhood loyalty, too. After all, a neighborhood is only stately mansions and brick bungalows on the outside. At its core is community. As NEAR executive director John Franklin Hay said in a bulletin about fighting blight, “Relationships are critical for neighborhood revitalization.”
In other words, urban renewal is about community and camaraderie. It’s about getting to know your neighbors and sharing your porch with them on a hot summer’s day, glasses of iced lemonade in hand. It’s about creating and maintaining relationships—through porch parties, through neighborhood festivals, and through volunteer projects like Caulk of the Town.
On Oct. 24, NEAR is hosting Caulk of the Town, a one-day, community-wide home weatherization event. Approximately 165 volunteers will weatherize around 30 homes. Volunteers—who are grouped into teams of 10 individuals, all with various skill levels—will, in addition to other tasks, caulk, apply weather stripping to windows and doors, cover windows with plastic, place air conditioner covers, and even install small amounts of insulation. The volunteers interact with each other and with the homeowners. They make friends. They let each other know that they care about one another, and about the vitality of the neighborhood.
The Near Eastside isn’t perfect. Not yet. But on these streets, young families take walks together. Young professionals and first-time home buyers bike to work, eschewing cars. Residents are watchful, loyal, present. They frequent the 10th Street Corridor and contribute to the renewal of both the commercial and housing markets. And they sit out on their porches, rocking, watching, waving to fellow Near Eastsiders. Because that’s what good neighbors do.