It’s invigorating to see the big potential of grass-roots economic development efforts.
Take, for example, the Reconnecting to Our Waterways initiative, known as ROW, a mammoth plan to use six waterways in the city to attract investment and improve the neighborhoods that surround them.
ROW’s potential is similar in some ways to the IndyConnect transit initiative. Both would advance overall quality of life for city residents, and both could provide opportunities for real estate development. IndyConnect’s selling point is transit stops, which have been magnets for real estate investment in cities that have them. ROW’s lure, of course, is the waterways themselves.
There’s another difference that gives the waterways initiative a big advantage over transit: The locals behind it don’t need the state’s blessing to proceed. State legislators have been an obstacle to the expansion of transit in the Indianapolis region by failing to allow local funding referendums. Fortunately, ROW isn’t similarly constrained by reluctant legislators.
ROW’s first big splash was Oct. 11, when 8,000 Eli Lilly and Co. employees spent the company’s annual Global Day of Service clearing creeks and streams of invasive plants and litter and painting murals in nearby neighborhoods.
That work is but a trickle compared to the gusher of activity that could follow.
ROW has been in the works for more than a year and involves hundreds of volunteers, businesses, neighborhood groups, city representatives and others, all intent on pumping life into portions of White River, Eagle Creek, Fall Creek, Pogue’s Run and Pleasant Run, and the Central Canal.
Those driving the plan forward, including representatives of Lilly and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, have been working with neighborhood stakeholders over the last year to inventory and synthesize more than 100 plans that already exist to improve waterways and neighborhoods.
By the end of the year, organizers expect to narrow their initial focus to one project per waterway.
Improvements will range from volunteer cleanup efforts to multimillion-dollar developments.
The institutional support already evident is a hopeful sign that ROW will achieve its goals.
Ivy Tech Community College is planning outdoor classrooms and an orchard along Fall Creek. Dow AgroSciences is providing safe chemicals to kill undesirable plants, architecture firm Schmidt Associates is offering design assistance, and Rolls-Royce is working with students to create public art with an engineering theme.
ROW will require more generosity and hard work in the years to come. But we’re confident the necessary support will be there. The effort is broad enough and important enough to drown out anyone who says it can’t be done.•
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