Garfield Park Neighbors and Garfield Park South Neighborhood Associations joined with the Big Car organization to host Indianapolis’ third Better Block event on Oct. 19 along Shelby Street between Raymond Street and Southern Avenue.

Better Block is a nationwide community-building project that helps neighborhoods and communities visualize their dreams to revitalize out-of-use properties into viable establishments and turn streets into pedestrian and bicycle friendly multi-modal corridors that invite people to walk and bike about safely.

The purpose of the Garfield Park Better Block event was to show Indianapolis residents what this section of Shelby Street could look like if restaurants and cafes filled the current empty buildings. Organizers set up false signs in front of vacant buildings, and narrowed the street with strips of fake grass and live plants to simulate landscaped medians with separated bike lanes.

Over 30 local vendors from the neighborhood, nearby Fountain Square, and around Indy set up tents on both sides of the street selling crafts. The Garfield Park neighborhood groups also had a tent selling neighborhood t-shirts and offering information to visitors. Live bands, including the Manual High School pep band, entertained the crowds all day.

“We could not have been more thrilled to share our amazing neighborhood with Indianapolis,” said Aryn Schounce, one of the key event organizers in an interview. “The progress we sought in starting a Better Block project is well under way and we are working to capitalize on this momentum to increase our impact for future improvements in the neighborhood.”

The Garfield Park neighborhood group has been active in recruiting residents to participate in efforts to build stronger neighborhood ties with each other, and has been forming partnerships with other neighborhood associations and community development corporations in the Indy-Southeast area. These partnerships have given Garfield Park neighbors the opportunity to swap ideas with other neighborhood groups to confront issues such as crime, vacant buildings, and economic development challenges.

Garfield Park Neighbors Association holds regular meetings in which everyone in the neighborhood is invited, and has recently completed its second public art display on a vacant building on Shelby Street. Last year’s public art project involved painting a “Welcome to Garfield Park” mural on the north side of Suding’s Hardware near the intersection of Raymond and Shelby.

The role of neighborhood organizations like the Garfield Park groups in building stronger, more cohesive communities is far reaching, from developing crime watch patrols to supporting youth activities and promoting economic development.

By forming volunteer groups that pick up trash and plant trees, advocating for better sidewalk and trail systems, and partnering with local, state, and national government agencies to redevelop vacant lots, neighborhood organizations across Indianapolis are embedding sustainable practices in their goals and initiatives. These groups are encouraging residents to exercise and lead healthier lifestyles, and they are transforming seemingly useless, dirty properties into vibrant, mixed-use developments that improve the local economy and provide jobs.

Neighborhood organizations create community gardens, which encourage residents to get outdoors, socialize, and make new friends, all the while providing themselves with locally grown food. Neighborhood youth participate in clean-up and tree planting projects too, thus teaching them responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Pedestrian and bicycle friendly corridors reduce the carbon footprint by reducing vehicles on the street, also resulting in improved local air quality. Redeveloping vacant commercial lots into sites that support residential and commercial uses provide for close-to-home restaurants and retail, reducing the need to drive elsewhere. Neighborhood clean-up projects keep trash out of streams and ditches while also producing more aesthetically pleasing streets and open spaces. Trees along streets absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, battle heat islands with shade, and provide habitat.

In all, neighborhood organizations bestow sustainable practices in their areas and in their residents just by identifying and achieving their goals for stronger neighborhood ties and more attractive places to live, work, and play. These groups create a sense of community and improve quality of life, not just for residents but for visitors to their neighborhoods, while also making Indianapolis a more sustainable city.

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