Rivers’ ripple effect widening

April 5th, 2014

News Coverage:

Published: April 5, 2014 3:00 a.m.

Rivers’ ripple effect widening

Kara Hackett

When we talk about riverfront development downtown, we’re talking about 2.5 miles of the St. Marys River.

But those 2.5 miles are influenced by more than a million acres of farmland that drain through the heart of Fort Wayne, said Dan Wire of the Tri-State Watershed Alliance.

So Wire is working to coordinate efforts between rural and urban communities to help clean our rivers so everyone can enjoy their natural beauty and economic benefits.

He said the rivers are important because their well-being affects everyone in the region. Maybe we need to call more attention to how connected our region actually is.

I write about downtown a lot, and if you don’t live or work downtown, you might get the idea that things happening in the city’s center don’t really matter to you.

It’s a feeling I got a lot growing up in the suburbs about 20 minutes away from the city center. Downtown was a place for special occasions, like senior prom or the family’s annual trip to see the light displays at Christmastime. It wasn’t an everyday place, and it didn’t seem to have a direct effect on my daily life, so it was out of sight and out of mind.

But when I started looking for a job and deciding where I wanted to live after college, I began to realize the success (or failure) of downtown really did matter, regardless of how often I visited the city’s center.

The social and leisure activities downtown has to offer either put us on the map as a place recent grads and talented workers want to live or a place they’ll avoid until it’s their last resort.

New workers represent the city’s future, and when you’re looking for your first job, you’re at a crossroads: You can either choose to stay and see what happens in Fort Wayne, or leave this city for places such as Chicago and Indianapolis where there’s a lot already happening.

It’s a choice I weighed myself, and it’s a choice many others are weighing this spring as another class of college students prepares to graduate.

That’s why the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership decided to focus on riverfront development in the first place, said Katy Silliman, vice president of regional initiatives.

When the Regional Partnership was looking for ways to market our 10-county region to national and international businesses, it realized that if it wanted their marketing to work, it needed to develop quality-of-life factors in our region that would give workers a reason to choose us instead of nearby alternatives.

“People want to feel attached to their communities,” Silliman said.

So to help people feel attached to northeast Indiana, the regional partnership conducted surveys and found that riverfront development downtown was the best way to capitalize on our community’s assets.

“Riverfront development offers more activities and opportunities,” Silliman said. “A lot of times people talk about going to the coast for the beach or to Colorado for the mountains. The rivers and what they have to offer are our amenities.”

So when we talk about the rivers and downtown development, we aren’t just talking about good news for urbanites. We’re talking about good news for everyone.

Developing our rivers gives us the chance to change our image in the minds of young workers from “the town I grew up in” to “the town I want to end up in.”

Actually, the rivers provide an excellent depiction of the ripple effect that downtown has on the rest of the city in general. Just as what happens in one part of the river influences what happens downstream, what happens in one part of the city influences what happens in others because it affects our image as “place.”

And that’s why downtown development is worth all the fuss.

Kara Hackett is social media writer for The Journal Gazette. To see more of her work throughout the week and participate in the conversation, go to www.journalgazette.net/coffeebreak, where this column first appeared.