GARY, Ind.–Many Indiana cities have challenges. But, Gary’s troubles with crime and jobs are known all over the country. The mayor says there’s hope, partly because of the resiliency of Gary’s people, but also because they are finding ways to meet the challenges.
If you walk down Broadway, downtown, you’ll see murals and art created to help beautify the city, thanks to an art challenge, made possible by the Bloomberg Foundation.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, says it’s because of partnerships with non-profits, hospitals, the power company and even private businesses, that Gary is able to pay for projects like beautification, and even fighting crime.
“We have been a leader nationally in innovation. A lot of times people recognize you at the national level, but don’t do it locally,” said Freeman-Wilson. “The innovation ultimately helps local people.”
The challenges come from the decline of the U.S. auto industry over the past 40 years, and the corresponding reduction in jobs from U.S. Steel. Gary once had a population close to 200,000, and now has just under 80,000 people living in the city. That means less of a tax base and less money to pay for a large city.
“Gary, like many legacy cities, has had a true challenge transforming from a solely manufacturing community to a diversified economy,” said the mayor. “We’ve seen the population decline. We’ve seen the loss of retail.”
But, the partnerships, she said, have helped. The city is able to pay for the demolition of thousands of abandoned houses, which can help breed crime.
“We have been able to invest in infrastructure for the first time in 10 to 15 years.,” said Freeman-Wilson. She said a bi-product of investment in the city is job growth, which she described as “record”.
“While we would be the first to acknowledge that there are challenges, we are also seeing the progress that gives us a lot of hope.”
PHOTO: Chris Davis/ Emmis The City Methodist Church has become a symbol for Gary’s decay.