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A 20/20 perspective on 2020, and even 2040, in Northwestern Indiana
Ty Warner | NWI Times

 

Local contractors and others peer over a solar panel array on the roof of the Porter County Career and Technical Center in August. The group participated in a Solar Ready II tour hosted by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

Whenever you take a road trip (as my family recently did), it is, of course, important to get to your final destination. But what makes any road trip memorable are the opportunities along the way that enrich your trip while still getting to where you want to go. It’s the same with the future of Northwest Indiana.

 

The region is not operating in a vacuum. Within the past five years, regionally minded citizens of Northwest Indiana came together in unprecedented numbers to plan the region’s “road trip” not just for the next five years, but for the next 25. That future, laid out in the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan: A Vision for Northwest Indiana, is fresh and compelling, and shapes not only what we’ll be doing for the long term, but also how we approach opportunities in the short term.

 

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission has seized opportunities to launch several recent initiatives which will have results in the next five years and yet move the region down the road toward its envisioned future:

 

- NIRPC’s Creating Livable Communities program was recently established to fund plans to enhance the “central places” of our communities. Seven Northwest Indiana communities are already benefitting from the $400,000 put toward their planning efforts, and NIRPC plans to enhance the program within the next couple of years for a new round of funding.

- The Northwest Indiana Economic Development District, created in partnership by NIRPC and the Northwest Indiana Forum, has been designated to take advantage of certain Federal funding available for economic development, and has secured resources from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to solicit projects to enhance the region’s economic environment.

- NIRPC, working with the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Association of Regional Councils, and South Shore Clean Cities, has launched Solarize NWI to reduce barriers and costs of solar energy installation in Northwest Indiana communities.

- The Northwest Indiana Brownfields Coalition has come together through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address those areas of abandoned industry that have stymied redevelopment and reinvestment, with $600,000 to be spent on environmental assessment and building a brownfield inventory and $800,000 in revolving loan fund dollars to help repurpose these properties.

- The third phase of the Marquette Plan will be completed shortly, identifying policies, strategies, and catalytic projects for protecting, restoring, and in some cases, reactivating Northwest Indiana’s 45 miles of lakefront.

NIRPC launched the latter two efforts in partnership with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which has been a critical partner for funding projects that are game-changers for the region.

 

Some other steps to take before 2020 that will keep us on track for 2040:

- Forge stronger partnerships among the private and public sector. Old divisions are falling, and for Northwest Indiana to succeed, private and public entities have to work in tandem toward the end goal. Industry needs to understand the nuances of how they affect the region’s future quality of life, and government needs to consider how it might be creating unintended obstacles to investment in our communities. NIRPC’s offices being co-located with the Northwest Indiana Forum is but one strong example of government and industry working together to enhance that collaboration.

- Take advantage of unique opportunities for action. Major regional investments such as commuter rail expansion and transit-oriented development may not happen within the next five years; these take time to plan and build, so the time to start is now. In five years we should be underway with a comprehensive, integrated transit picture that shapes the way we create places to live, shop, work, and play.

- Get on the same playbook. The 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan was a grassroots effort that laid out a vision for the next 25 years in the areas of growth and conservation, transportation, environment and green infrastructure, human and economic resources, and stewardship and governance. Watch the 12-minute video posted at www.nirpc.org. These are solid goals in a compelling vision developed collaboratively from across our entire region. The way to move forward has already been outlined; we just need to jump on it and go.

- Take the long-term view. Ironically, one of the most important steps to take in the next five years is to look at our region beyond the next five years. The region cannot afford to grab the short-term, quick fixes that may bring immediate gain in a few years but are obsolete in 10 — or even worse, which become an obstacle to something critical in 20. The region has to hold out for those investments with long-term, sustainable benefit — not settle for the short-term, quick return.

 

We have a future vision to which we’re headed and the collaborative partnerships in place to get there together. The 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan: A Vision for Northwest Indiana is being renewed, and the plan’s vision for a more vibrant, revitalized, accessible, and united region is the destination. Holding strong to this future vision, we will have a much better chance of staying on track whatever arises in the next five years, with the perspective to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities that emerge in that timeframe. The journey we take to get there may very well be better than we expected at the outset.