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Nora Alliance Kickoff Meeting: What We Heard

March 18, 2015, marked the first meeting of the Nora Alliance, aimed at introducing the initiative and identifying interest.

Introductions

Local resident Bob Weaver kicked things off with introductions and a statement of how and why we are coming together as the Nora Alliance. Together, we can take a proactive approach to build community identity, enhance livability and address community issues.

Post-it notes were distributed for people to write down ideas about their wants for Nora.

The power of community-based proactive planning cannot be overstated. We invited Michael McKillip, Executive Director of Midtown Indy Inc., to share Midtown’s experience getting organized, developing objectives and initiatives, and how they are making a difference.

Example from Midtown Indy

Michael McKillip gave an information packed presentation of the work of Midtown Indy, Inc. Through about 165 community meetings since 2006, starting with a handful of interested neighbors, the grass-roots organization has grown to hundreds of volunteers and (just in the last two years) two paid staff.

Key to Midtown’s success has been proactive planning. Midtown has a mix of great neighborhoods, amazing destination public amenities, and its fair share of problems, such as vacancies and blight. The community was tired of reacting to things taking place in their geography. Now they are active, not reactive. They asked residents, “Tell us what you want. Where are the problems?,” recalled Michael.

Through a deliberate planning process, Midtown engaged neighbors, businesses, other civic and philanthropic organizations, and the City as partners. They studied the area closely, looking into issues such as the percent of land mass vs. tax generated from their area of the city, demographic trends, community interests, housing stock, transportation assets, public destination amenities, workforce, educational opportunities, and more.

From those studies emerged a plan to stimulate public and private investment to occur in ways that the community wants it. Now those efforts are paying off – thanks to the joint efforts of many. Midtown Indy, Inc. doesn’t claim ownership of all the projects in their community, rather they are dedicated to keeping people connected. As Michael put it, “Midtown owns nothing, and is involved in everything.”

If you’d like to learn more, here’s a timeline of Midtown Indy’s history.

Q & A

Questions and answers followed the Midtown Indy presentation. Here is a summary of what followed:

Herman Habegger, a 55-year resident of Nora, was kind enough to share some history with the group. Herman recounted that in the 1960s there were no good restaurants, 2 gas stations, 1 grocer, 1 hardware, 1 doctor’s office, 1 rail station, 1 small high school, and 1 church. Keystone Ave. (north) didn’t exist. It was largely a farming community, he said, “The growth here has been phenomenal, with a tremendously good culture.” Here, here.

Q: Who did the (Midtown) studies? How was it paid for?
A: Midtown facilitated raising about $145k in the early days from local residents and businesses. They later received some grants. Now funding is a mix split among individuals, business, and philanthropic organizations.

Q: How was Lincoln Square (Chicago) chosen as a model for Midtown?
A: It was based on similar densities. It is important to make the public transit system sustainable.

Q: What are the boundaries of Nora? Do we have distinct neighborhoods (like Midtown)?
A:  Nora has never been an incorporated place. Currently we are following the boundaries that have established by the Nora Northside Community Council. Michael noted when Midtown first got started, most of the neighborhoods wouldn’t have identified as such. He discouraged us from focusing too much on borders, and rather focus on areas with shared interest.

Q: What is the difference between this effort (Nora Alliance) and the Nora Northside Community Council (NCC)?
A: We see them as complimentary. There is a shared interest in seeing Nora thrive. Among other things, the NCC is heavily experienced with zoning issues in Nora. We expect the Nora Alliance will be more heavily involved in engaging and promoting the community and proactive planning. Michael McKillip noted that in Midtown there are other groups that take positions on zoning issues. Midtown doesn’t take a position – if they don’t agree they stay silent. If they agree, they help where they can.

Q: Does Midtown track crime?
A: Yes, but others track crime in detail. Midtown mainly looks at the large scale systemic issues.

Q: I like the “proactive” approach vs. “reactive”. I feel Nora has lacked someone looking at the big picture in terms of a comprehensive plan.
A: Midtown doesn’t look at itself as a broken community, but looks at the systemic problems and how to proactively address them. Midtown/Broad Ripple has recently established the city’s first “form-based” code.

Q: What is going on in some neighborhoods where a (NY) company owns tons of housing?
A: Big investment companies bought up a lot of houses in the last housing bust, particularly in low income areas. Now many are selling them, and the boom-bust cycle may happen again. The City-Cunty Council recently passed a Rental Registry that should help identify rental properties and owners. Unfortunately, there is little neighborhoods can do but try to keep an eye on housing ownership. An important part of the planning process is understanding our housing stock.

Wrap Up

Nora resident Jill Saligoe-Simmel wrapped up the meeting. There are many well organized community groups around Indianapolis that are making an impact similar to what Midtown Indy is achieving. Where these largely grass-roots communities develop a vision and plans for their community, the City is listening (and public/private investment is following). We will build on the interest from this first meeting to begin the process for Nora.

Post-it notes were collected.

Here’s What We Heard – What Do You Want for Nora? (Post-it Comments, unsorted)
  • Improved walking connections
  • Sidewalks on Westfield Blvd. north to 91st St. south to 86th St / YMCA
  • Traffic management of 86th Street
  • Create a community identity and vision
  • Walkability
  • A park or something to gather around
  • Too many apartment complexes
  • Mixed use buildings with pedestrian connections
  • Supportive transit that is safe and comfortable
  • Would like small, nice living for folks who want to downsize
  • Improved Monon trail crossing at 86th St.
  • Safer school crossings at NCHS/Northview
  • Love this area, don’t want to leave, but choices are extremely limited
  • No more apartments, please!
  • Individual housing neighborhoods with ownership
  • Walkable
  • Park / public gathering space
  • More local cafés and restaurants (too many chains)
  • Connect neighborhoods – more walkable
  • Need ideas to get people involved – lack of interest of people in the neighborhoods to volunteer for neighborhood associations, positions on board, or activities in the neighborhood
  • Young families move out when children reach school age – perception/reputation of Nora Elementary
  • Safe walk / bike connection 86th St through Keystone
  • More walk / bike trails
  • Paved access to Monon under high power lines? (east of Monon trail)
  • Overall strategy for development
  • Safety / security – decrease crime
  • Proactive planning
  • Walking trails or sidewalks on busy roads with lots of people walking them – Westfield Blvd (86th to 91st), College (75th to 96th), and Ditch (75th to 86th)