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“The Power of Place” can be found on MKM’s website, mkmdesign.com, under “Ideas – White Papers.”
Editorial

Creating a sense of place for all ages

Most of the people who live in or near downtown Fort Wayne don’t work there. And vice versa.

That’s just one nugget from an essay titled “The Power of Place: How Engagement, Happiness and Attachment Could Shape the Midwestern City.”

Written by Ellen Cutter and Zachary Benedict, the piece was presented at the Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana’s 2014 “My City Summit” last month. But it deserves a wider audience – like, perhaps, everybody who wants to see Fort Wayne grow and become better.

Cutter is director of IPFW’s Community Research Institute, and Benedict is a partner at the MKM architecture and design firm. They see great opportunities for cities such as Fort Wayne because of some changes that lie ahead.

In Indiana, the combination of brain drain and aging baby boomers means that “between 2005-2040 the state’s population will increase by 15 percent. During that same time, the 65-plus population will grow by 90 percent.”

There are 10 million more boomers than there are Gen-Xers, Cutter explained in an interview. “Demographers call it the pig-in-the-python effect.”

Though a lot of growth strategy has focused on attracting young professionals, Cutter and Benedict think a more effective approach would be to create diverse neighborhoods that could appeal to all ages and allow boomers to “age in place” instead of finding that houses in outlying subdivisions no longer meet their needs.

It’s about creating “a sense of attachment,” Benedict said in an interview last week. The aging population “becomes a demographic shift that you can’t ignore.”

Fortunately, the authors argue, courting older boomers doesn’t have to work at cross-purposes with trying to keep or attract younger people.

“Suburbs not only mean longer commutes, they can lead to “marginalized and isolated existence for many people,” the authors argue, and don’t offer the quality of life that a neighborhood close to downtown could provide. More opportunities for walking or biking, more places to connect with or serve others, more diverse and interesting surroundings and people – these are factors that can add up to a positive “sense of place” that seems to increase individual happiness and may even affect a community’s economic health.

Near-downtown Fort Wayne has what Cutter calls “great bones” for such connections-friendly residential development – “the density, the street network – the area really provides a strong framework for building quality of place.”

There are, though, problems to overcome. Housing in the area isn’t family- or senior-friendly at this point, and basic amenities such as grocery stores and drugstores are lacking. In what Cutter and Benedict call the “greater downtown” – an area within a 20-minute walk – only 3 percent of employed residents work downtown. “There is little interaction,” they write, “between those who live in the area versus those who work downtown.”

If we’re to capitalize on a boomer-driven opportunity to make greater downtown a place to live as well as a place to work, we have to do it while the pig is still in the python. The new neighborhood approach must be in place within five years, Benedict said.

Businesses, events, the arts – now Cutter and Benedict have added another dimension to what it means to become a great downtown.

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