Thursday, June 6, 2019

Living in our Newest National Park


Gary’s Miller Spotlight volunteers couldn’t be happier about the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore becoming the USA’s newest National Park

(Rep Visclosky addresses community members at the park's designation.)

Over the years the good folks at NPs have been some of our best community partners and have actively helped us implement our 2025 community vision.
(NPS, VOCART, Northern Lights Eco Adventures, Causes for Change and Miller Spotlight at an adaptive paddle.)

Our 2025 Vision:
Miller is a beautiful, high density, universally designed neighborhood in Gary, Indiana, known as an active arts community and a destination for beach and waterfront recreation. Miller provides quality education and programs for its youth and a variety of activities for residents of all ages. Inviting gateways and transit options make Miller accessible to visitors from throughout the region, and Miller’s inclusive community design make it easy for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the area’s activities and natural environment. A vibrant downtown supports a strong business community and provides quality employment opportunities. Resident leadership and initiative create a thriving, safe, and inclusive neighborhood with government, philanthropic, and business support enriching those initiatives. The Miller neighborhood is a vibrant and functional community to live, work, and play in.

(Brainstorming session in 2015 at Marquette Park UMC)

This vision was created during Gary’s Miller Spotlight Collective Impact Plan process. It was the culmination of a year of relationship-building and planning efforts that happened between 2014-2015. We were part of the pilot year of the Legacy Foundation’s Neighborhood Spotlight program. You can download and read the plan in full here. 
(Monthly meeting of the Access Miller Action Group in 2019 at Anna's Kombucha Cafe.)

This plan is not final; it has continued to evolve with the emerging priorities and needs of our community as new opportunities have been identified and past concerns are resolved. As a community, Miller seeks to participate in the revitalization efforts occurring within Gary via a place-based collective impact process.

(Rep Visclosky discussing transportation equity with Jessica Renslow, Zully Alvarado and Jennie Rudderham at a Take Bike the Streets Event.)

Seven action groups were formed based on themes identified in the vision: 

  • Area Context 
  • Education, Youth and Child Programming
  • Environment and Ecotourism
  • Jobs and the Economy
  • Property and Blight
  • Safety and Code Enforcement
  • Transportation and Infrastructure 
(Northern Lights camper paddling and NPS escorting folks at one of our adaptive paddles.)

We cannot wait to continue to help NPS steward our environment, while also helping our city infuse its economy by this new boon. 


(Zully Alvarado and Jessica Renslow at the Bike Walk Summit in Indianapolis and the Douglas Center's Sign.)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Employment First Town Hall

VOCART had a great turn out at the Employment First Town Hall in Gary last week. This was a collaboration between many groups. 
(Advocates discuss equity with Councilwoman Wyatt and Accessor Prince)

We discussed ways to promote having inclusive hiring practices for businesses, nonprofits and governmental entities. Thanks to IUN for hosting at the Moraine Student Center. 

(Advocates brainstorm ways to have incorporate inclusion.)

To learn more about how to integrate community employment at competitive wages as the first and preferred outcome for all people please like the Volunteer Office for Community Accessibility, Resource, and Training aka VOCART on Facebook. 


(Advocates take notes as the panel speaks)

You can watch the entire town hall here.



Tuesday, April 30, 2019

2019 APA-IN Achievement Awards


When Gary's Miller Spotlight began in 2015 we could not imagine how our original 29 goals would expand to create programming that serves all of NWIndiana. Our Take Bike the Streets initiative was created in 2016 by our Access Miller volunteers. In 2018 our transportation and infrastructure/ education goals expanded to help create a service learning camp that would lead expeditions across Lake, Porter and La Porte Counties. Last Friday the Northern Lights Eco Adventures crew received the American Planning Association's Award for Outstanding Hoosier Grassroots Initiative for their pilot expedition. 
ID: Mandi Renslow, Gretchen Sipp and Jessica Renslow stand together at the Honeywell Center in Wabash as they receive the from the American Planning Association - Indiana Chapter.

This award is given annually to recognized notable planning pursuits that have exemplified planning principles and fostered positive impacts on Indiana communities. They were honored along with municipalities and professional planning groups. Congrats to all the winners! Thank you Indiana!!! Thank you to all our community partners, volunteers and donors for helping to make this possible.



(This is the second time Gary’s Miller Spotlight programs have received an APA Award. We also got the 2016 Award for Outstanding Community Outreach. )

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Jessica Renslow's ICAT Interview for Public Transit Day



(This spring volunteers advocated for inclusive public transit on the state level. Our community builder was featured discussing shared mobility. Check out indianacat.org for more info.) 

Name: Jessica Renslow
Employment info (title & org):
Volunteer Community Builder, Take Bike the Streets (Small Business Owner, Almost Fairytales)

Brief overview of Take Bike the Streets 
Take Bike The Streets is a comprehensive program that involves community engagement, economic development and intergenerational environmental education. Our volunteers have committed to organize, decide and act upon projects that will profoundly change our Indiana’s future.The goal of Take Bike the Streets is to capitalize on our diverse active transportation needs and implement a multiphase project that makes cycling an accessible and enjoyable activity for all our community and our visitors. We believe in active transportation for all. 
(Check out takebikethestreets.org for more info.) 

How does your work and personal life connect to public transportation? 
I have been blessed to have many positive experiences with public transit in my life. As a kid growing up in Gary and Hammond I road the bus and the train regularly. Before moving home in 2015 to manage a community initiative, I lived in Los Angeles for 9 years, before that Japan for 3 years and before that Italy for about a year. I experienced great public transportation and terrible transit as well. Now I commute regularly to Chicago for my business. I see how many of NWI’s residents and guests use our public transit and where we need help. Currently, I live in a Transit Oriented District in Gary. There are many positives to living in a TOD. I lived in a TOD in LA and saw the amenities it brought my neighborhood there, however I also saw the problems it brought as well. NWI needs to prepare itself for the economic impact of transit improvements to ensure that we promote universal design and transportation equity. We also need protections in place for our mom and pop businesses so that they can maintain their places of business. We definitely need a population infusion, but we need to also ensure that our legacy residents are not pushed out in the process. 

What are some of the programs, solutions and/or policies your organization is involved with to support better public transportation? 
We are involved on the local, state and national level concerning policy on complete streets, ADA compliancy and creating age friendly/ life-long communities. We promote critical mass efforts that showcase the need for universal design. We run the only bike shop in Gary, the Ken Parr Build a Bike, an expedition based learning bike camp called Northern Lights Eco Adventures, community slow rolls and we piloted NWI’s first accessible bike share. 

What are some key goals for Take Bike the Streets over the next few years? 
We want to have a regional dockless bike share that goes across Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties. We are working to promote connectivity to our public transit and how to link first and last mile access for residents and guests. As a city 19% of our 80,000 people within Gary depend on bikes, buses and trains as their only means to get around. Shared mobility is a growing trend nationwide and NWIndiana is a prime candidate for such a collaboration as we have 764,418 residents between, multiple business districts, universities, trains, buses and the nation’s newest national park all within our tri county region. Unfortunately you cannot take a bike on nor off at many of our train stations! When you also add the influx of seasonal tourists (3.6 million annually) we get across the National Lakeshore and lack of bike access 
 Northern Indiana is a prime location for a regional bike share. We need a company that believes in equity to take a chance on our diverse active transportation needs. 

Any statement you would like to provide to show support for increased funding to the Public Mass Transit Fund (PMTF) is welcome! 
Our buses do not run on Sundays and our bus access is limited. Expanding connectivity along with our green trails will improve the overall quality of life for all Hoosiers. As a community builder I have conducted numerous surveys with our community. Many folks stated that improved infrastructure and access to public transit would help them with the struggle to garner employment. Additionally, Lake County just lost almost half of our precincts. In Gary alone we went from 106 to 51 precincts, and we are losing an additional 28 polling places. Which means for a city that is 57 square miles and has an estimated 80,000 residents (of which 19% do not have access to cars) we are going to have a huge transit need for the primary and general elections. Supposedly, this was done to save money. An estimated $116,000 to be exact. Where is that money going? Some should go to transportation equity. We are an urban county but in many ways our transportation access needs mirror rural communities.