By Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Prepared Remarks, March 10, 2015
Thank you Council President Scott. Thank you Pastor Taylor for our invocation. Thank you to the color guard of the Junior ROTC, and thank you to that phenomenal band. And thank you, Principal Sanders and Washington High School for hosting us all this evening.
Members of the Common Council, distinguished guests, city employees, residents, students, neighbors, friends:
Not long ago, in a quiet moment in my office, I found myself looking at the seal of the City of South Bend. And for the first time in a long time, I took a good long look at the imagery it bears. Much like a tree in your yard, a painting in a church, or a name on a plaque, a City seal is the sort of thing you can glance at a thousand times without actually noticing its features. But our seal is worth a good look, because it says a lot about the thoughts of those who came before us, the people who formed and led this city long before our time.
In the middle of the seal is the word “PEACE,” which meant a great deal to a people who had known years of civil war. In the year this city was established, the very core of our nation had been shaken by a war no less terrible and defining than what is going on today in Iraq or Ukraine or Afghanistan.
Also on the seal is an American flag, which also would not have been taken for granted in 1865. The very survival of that flag and the republic for which it stands had been doubted, challenged, tested, and had seemed less likely than not, more than once, right up until that very year. It must have been an act of great hope, then, for the people of our city to organize themselves into our present form in that year, looking to the future so soon after the country had come through a violent test of whether it would exist any longer at all.
And then there is the last feature on the seal, a sun emerging from behind a bed of clouds, its rays reaching upward and outward. The sun, of course, represents a new beginning, and it represents hope. It has special meaning in this time of year, this warm week that came just in time, after one of those punishing Februaries that make you begin to question whether it is even possible that spring and summer actually exist. The dependability of the sun, the knowledge that it will always rise in the morning and will always warm us in spring and summer, make it the ultimate symbol of faith in the future.
One hundred and fifty years after our City was incorporated, we are living in that future. And there can be no doubt that the extent of our City, the scale of our buildings, the productive power of our workers, and the measure of our learning would amaze the men who drew up papers of incorporation in May of 1865 to make this place officially a city.
They could not have imagined that the community they established would one day boast a modern skyline and an airport, five institutions of higher learning, hospitals capable of carrying out such sophisticated and lifesaving operations, firms producing everything from jetliner brakes to molecular diagnostic devices.
And yet for all the extraordinary progress of the last 150 years, we have seen tremendous challenges too, ups and downs that led many to question the very endurance of our community. In particular, the economic struggle of our city in the last fifty years led some to ask if the sun was setting on this great community. The winter of 1963-1964 raised the question of whether we could withstand the loss of Studebaker. Population loss in almost every decade since then threw doubt on our city’s ability ever to grow again. Just four years ago in early 2011, a Newsweek article suggested we were a dying city, and some here seemed willing to believe it—even though we were designated one of the country’s ten All-America Cities that very same year.
It was in the midst of that debate that this administration arrived in office, and began doing everything we could to ensure this decade would be remembered as one of growth and progress in our hometown. It can be difficult to believe that we are already in year four of my term—what I hope will come to be known as my first term—in office.
Yet a tremendous amount has happened, both last year and in the last three years and three months. Today, thanks to the hard work of this administration team as well as the groundwork and progress achieved by my predecessors, the City is already markedly different. Just as each of my predecessors could point to major progress made compared to the time he took office, in this fourth year of my administration I feel confident in saying that our city has moved rapidly forward. We may have a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction.
If our first year, 2012, was a year of groundwork, transition, and preparation, and our second year of 2013 was a year of action, then 2014 ought to be remembered as a year of results. In last year’s state of the city address, I concentrated on the way we do business in this administration—a way of doing business built on partnerships, on customer service, on innovation, inclusion and transparency, on teamwork, and recognizing community as capacity. This year, I would like to focus on what that way of doing business has got us, how it has improved our city. I will focus on results because however much work we still have ahead of us, the results are telling us what is right about our approach.
In every major area of policy--neighborhoods and quality of life, crime and safety, jobs and economic development--our city is better off than it was even just one year ago, thanks to a way of doing business that is working for South Bend. Faster than at any time since this administration arrived, the results are coming in and they are looking good.
2014 - DEPLOYMENT
Before going into detail about these results, I should pause to acknowledge the peculiar circumstances of 2014, especially the fact that for seven months, I had to watch these results materialize from far away. My deployment to Afghanistan made 2014 a highly unusual year for the administration, the city, and for me personally. I want to offer a personal note of thanks to the city of South Bend for your extraordinary support in the form of thoughts, prayers, care packages and well wishes during my time serving overseas. They made a great difference to me and also to my family who watched and waited here in South Bend, like everyone else, until I came home to a warm welcome on a cool night in September.
Before going, I shared my conviction that people join the military and go to places like Afghanistan in order to protect places like South Bend, and noted that I expected to come back to South Bend a better man and mayor than I had left. Admittedly, I did not know then how exactly that would come about, but now I can report that this indeed happened.
One thing that happened there was that I learned the importance of a city that works. Part of my service consisted of frequent assignments as an armed driver or escort on convoys in and around the Afghan capital city of Kabul, seeing first-hand the challenges faced by residents of a city that could not provide the basics that we here take for granted. Everything from safe streets to reliable trash pickup, fire suppression to clean drinking water, is hard to come by in many other countries. Our mission here in this administration is to provide it so seamlessly that people can take it for granted, leaving them free to pursue whatever they most care about in life. The urgency of that mission has for me become even more vivid after seeing a place where it could not be counted on.
Also, I must say that serving partly in a staff role as a junior officer, doing the sorts of things that mayor’s office staff and administration employees do here at my instructions, reminded me of the enormous value and benefit of teamwork. The administration faced its share of challenges during my seven months’ leave, and rose to the occasion in ways that show what this team--and our whole community--are made of.
A summer storm lay waste to many of our oldest and largest trees, severely damaging homes and properties in parts of South Bend. The administration and community came together to ensure cleanup was swift and efficient, and began work immediately to repair what was damaged and replace what was destroyed.
A terrible underground fire triggered a downtown power blackout that could have been devastating to our downtown retail economy, coming as it did on the busiest restaurant reservation weekend of the year. Instead, our city rallied, with my office working closely with the power company and the unified downtown restaurants, working together to provide cold storage and set it up right on the gridiron of the Hall of Fame so that none of them would lose their product and sales over the weekend.
None of this or anything else we do would have been possible without an administration full of employees who stepped up to ensure that our city government continued to serve residents well, not missing a beat. And our entire city owes a debt of gratitude to Deputy Mayor Mark Neal, Chief of Staff Kathryn Roos, and all of the department leaders, mayoral staff, and others whose day-to-day work was affected by the deployment. Before, during, and since my time away, our hard-working City team kept quality services available without missing a beat. And the results are clear.
Perhaps the most remarkable results of 2014 have to do with the impressive and accelerating comeback we have seen in South Bend’s economy. Our building department issued permits for 1,408 building projects with a total valuation of over $84 million, just last year. Last year, our Department of Community Investment contributed to the creation of some 1,368 new jobs along with over $180 million in private investment. Of those jobs, at least 405 have already come into being, with the remainder expected to come online soon. The majority of these jobs are on the West Side of our city, where economic need has been especially pressing.
South Bend’s unemployment rate now stands at 7.4%, higher than we want it but dramatically down from the 11.6% we saw when I took office in 2012. The job creation achievements of even just the last year are too numerous to go over in full, but I’d like to mention a few. Lippert Components worked with our Department of Community Investment to establish a new home in the former A.J. Wright building, whose persistent vacancy in a large facility on the West Side has been a struggle for years. The deal will lead to 380 jobs and $2.3 million in investment.
Nearby, Nello Corporation decided to consolidate its operations in South Bend from Texas and Bremen into a new $57 million facility that will lead to the creation of 540 jobs by 2023. Not far from Nello, the city worked with Noble Americas to reactivate the ethanol plant, restoring 67 jobs for local residents and resolving a major problem with the surrounding water table that affected residents in the area.
And even since last year, good news has continued to come in the form of an announcement that FedEx has chosen South Bend to locate a facility that will lead to hundreds of jobs on the Northwest side of the city.
South of downtown, work with Union Station Technology Center continues on the Ivy Tower project, with remediation scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. Meanwhile, in Ignition Park, where the data hosting firm Data Realty led the way and a new multi-tenant building is under construction to house more local startups like F-cubed, a new collaboration will bring another world-class facility to the heart of our city. Built in partnership with the University of Notre Dame and General Electric, a new Turbomachinery project called ND Turbo represents $33 million in investment and at least 57 jobs, with a strong chance of drawing more companies to locate close to what will be some of the most advanced testing facilities in the world.
A little further north, a historic comeback is underway in our central business district. The office, retail, and restaurant scene downtown has grown dramatically, with 22 new businesses opening last year alone, representing 260 jobs. The total number of restaurants in the downtown area has more than doubled since 2012, and more are expected this year. Storefront occupancy has gone over 80% for the first time since we started keeping track in 2011.
Just as important as the numbers is the feel of our city, where more people sense the vibrancy and energy we have been craving for years. The crowds out at events like DTSB First Fridays, the full tables at our restaurants, even just the looks on the faces of people visiting the downtown area, show that our downtown is in the midst of a tremendous comeback.
Not that long ago, our newspaper opinion pages were full of rhetorical crossfire over whose fault it was that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation had not done a deal in our county. Some blamed state officials for neglecting our area; others blamed South Bend for being too Democratic and business-unfriendly. Moving past the blame game, we have worked across party lines with our state partners to help deliver business growth and job creation at a pace not seen in years. IEDC has been involved in 18 economic development deals in South Bend since 2012, including nine deals just last year, and we expect the relationship will yield more good jobs in the future.
It has been particularly encouraging to see the IEDC embrace the concept of city-led regional economic development, through the Regional Cities program to support Indiana communities working regionally to develop quality of place. When state officials convened local leaders in each part of the state to discuss the concept, the meeting held here in South Bend was the single best-attended anywhere in Indiana. I hope this program receives full funding from the state legislature in order to help kick-start our economic recovery. To survive in the economy ahead, our area will need to continue learning to think as a region, because our most serious economic competition isn’t coming from places like Mishawaka, it’s coming from places like China.
All across South Bend, the economy is rebounding. But keeping up the pace of this job growth will not be easy, and the biggest issue we face is the readiness of our workforce. That’s why we’ve been partnering with our schools on efforts like Project Lead The Way, which enriches the science, technology, engineering and math curriculum in local classrooms. It’s why we are working with Goodwill to ensure adults are able to complete missing high school education. And it’s why the city has engaged with employers to establish the SMART workforce program, which provided scholarships and training for local workers.
We have also seen results in the neighborhoods of our city, of which the most remarkable is the impact we have had on vacant and abandoned homes. This was the number one neighborhood issue that residents spoke about when I reached out to them during the campaign, and it has become clear that no single issue has had more effect on the value and viability of our neighborhoods.
This is why we pulled together a diverse coalition of civic, nonprofit, business, and elected leaders on a task force that spent more than a year preparing its detailed report on the vacant and abandoned housing issue in South Bend. And it’s why I announced, two years ago, a bold initiative to address one thousand houses in one thousand days.
Today we are 742 days into the initiative, and I am pleased to report that 790 houses have been addressed. This means they have either been repaired, demolished, or put under contract. I am especially pleased to report that of those 790 houses, 274 have been repaired rather than demolished. In fact, many were repaired without the use of any taxpayer funds, after we revamped our approach to code enforcement so that formerly irresponsible landlords stepped up to do the right thing. Another 62 houses are being addressed through a creative partnership with the State of Indiana under the Blight Elimination Program. The remaining houses will be among the toughest to deal with in the city, but the coalition we have built to address the problem has what it takes to get the job done. And this year through the Urban Enterprise Association, we are offering matching grants of up to $10,000 to owners prepared to improve a vacant and abandoned house in a South Bend neighborhood.
Increasingly, the work will shift from how to address crumbling houses, to how to find value in the land after some of them are cleared. A promising example now underway is the South Bend Mutual Homes project, providing low to moderate income families with newly constructed homes built on lots left vacant after demolitions, leading to stronger neighborhoods and more affordable family housing in our city.
Also improving neighborhoods has been an expansion of our city’s program to improve curbs and sidewalks. South Bend has 3.9 million linear feet of sidewalk, and about a quarter of that sidewalk needs work. We can’t do it all at once. But we’ve expanded funds in this year’s budget and invited each Council member to allocate a share of the funding to an area of demonstrated need. Meanwhile, the federal Safe Routes to School program is allowing us to improve sidewalks near Harrison and Coquillard Schools, with hopes for more improvements around other neighborhood schools in the future.
Meanwhile, our Public Works Department partnered with Council members Tim Scott and Karen White on a neighborhood program called Light Up South Bend, working with the power company to deliver more and better street lights to enhance safety and livability in our neighborhoods. Already we have installed 67 lights in the West Side neighborhoods of LaSalle Park and Keller Park, with more new lights coming to the South and Southeast sides this year. Meanwhile, we are reactivating the lamp post cost-share program which allows residents to install a lamp post in the front yard at reduced cost, enhancing the quality of life and safety along the sidewalks.
Of course, no neighborhood issue is more pressing than ensuring that the reality and the perception of safety are where they ought to be in every part of our city. Here, too, we have a long way to go but we are headed in the right direction.
According to the most recent data in the Uniform Crime Reports database of the FBI, both violent crime and property crime are at their lowest rate in over twenty years, even as improved policing technology means that more of the crimes that do happen are reported than before, which will put upward pressure on the numbers.
Perhaps the most dramatic results of the past year in public safety have to do with the outcomes of the Group Violence Initiative. Motivated by a flare-up of gun violence in the city, in 2012 we began seeking approaches that would move past the old, failed solutions to crime that make for good headlines but don’t get real results, and sometimes make the problem worse.
Instead, we went looking for approaches backed up by evidence of success. Confronting violent crime is a problem as old as civilization itself, but some communities have done a better job than others, and we wanted to find out how. We formed a diverse coalition of community leaders to tackle the problem, and after more than a year of research and preparation, we adopted the National Network for Safe Communities’ Group Violence Intervention. This strategy, which presents a clear choice to young people associated with groups or gangs that cause violence--we’ll help you if you let us, and stop you if you make us--was launched in May of 2014. Coordinated by the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County, with involvement that reaches from local, state, and federal law enforcement to faith leadership, schools, public health and social services, this is a true community partnership with results.
Since this group kicked off the strategy last May, compared to comparable periods in the previous year, the number of persons shots in crimes in our city is down by 39%. It is far too soon to rest easy or to get comfortable with these results, but if we continue to succeed and cement that result, it will prove to be one of the most powerfully effective public safety interventions in the history of our city.
Serious concerns remain, including fluctuations in property crime, and a clear need for new approaches to confront the problem of domestic violence which has played out for too long in the shadows. But our Police Department and our community at large are increasingly equipped to deal with these challenges. We are using technology in new ways, as in the case of the successful deployment of ShotSpotter technology to aid and automate dispatch. And we have reconfigured our police beat organization so that captains become experts in an area instead of working by time of day, which will make it easier to practice neighborhood and community-oriented policing.
As we make these gains, the rest of the world continues to take note. Our work has earned South Bend more national and international recognition in the past year. The world’s top business journal, the Harvard Business Review, recently featured South Bend’s vacant housing work in an article entitled, “What Business Can Learn from Government,” which is not a phrase you hear every day. Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government recently honored South Bend with its “Bright Ideas” award for the Department of Community Investment’s work with the Drucker Institute. And the recovery of our real estate market prompted national coverage of our rebounding home values.
One piece of press we could have done without was an academic paper that suggested the South Bend-Mishawaka statistical area was unusually “unhappy.” Left out of most of the coverage is the fact that the study didn’t look at South Bend today, it looked at data from 2005 to 2009.
It’s not hard to imagine why 2009, when unemployment was at 13 percent, was an unusually unhappy year for our city. 2009 doesn’t sound very long ago. But think of how much has happened in South Bend just since then. 2009 is before Eddy Street Commons was fully up and running. Before the South Bend Cubs, before a round of major improvements to the ballpark. Before the Five Points was anything but the Five Points, and before it was certain what, if anything at all, was going to take the place of St. Joseph Hospital downtown. Culturally, 2009 was before LangLab and the Pool, before South by South Bend and the Music Village, before nearly a thousand volunteers painted a decrepit bridge on the northern approach to our city and made it a work of art. It was before the Liga del Barrio and the Civil Rights Heritage Center and the Kroc Center on the West Side, before Downtown had a Linden Grill or a Brew Werks or a Café Navarre or anything like the East Bank Village or the River Race Townhomes, before there was a single building in Ignition Park. 2009 was before you started seeing those little “I heart SB” buttons and stickers and bracelets all around town. We may have a long way to go, but look how far we have come, and think of how far we could get in another five or ten years.
And we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way. Not only are there the major, high-profile efforts I just discussed, there are countless other initiatives taking place out of the spotlight and under the hood, low-profile but incredibly important to keeping this city headed in the right direction. The day-in, day-out work of employees in every department of this city makes it possible for the growth and resurgence to continue.
Consider bond re-fundings—certainly not the sexiest topic, but our Administration and Finance department saved taxpayers more than a quarter of a million dollars just last year, by looking for smarter ways to finance our city projects. Our bond rating didn’t get much coverage, but we were reaffirmed as AA, which means that we have been certified as having some of the strongest city finances in the state. No class-two city in Indiana has a higher bond rating. It’s taken tough choices to make that happen, and will take more to keep it that way, but our financial fundamentals are strong.
Chances are no one will write a hot news story about our legal and collections process, but residents deserve to know that we have completely updated our approach, more than doubling the city’s success in collections on property damage and EMS and already saving South Bend taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Most residents will never see it, but the new Luther Taylor Fire Training Center has elevated the standards of our whole region for fire department training, so much so that other fire departments are contracting with us to train their fire fighters, and it will make our city a safer place to live.
Without much public fanfare, to date our legal department has handled 1,913 requests for information under the Access to Public Records Act, all without one violation. So far in this administration there are 6,348 times that a citizen has gotten information requested, and zero times we have erred on the side of not sharing what we legally should. Meanwhile, we continue to go above and beyond the legal minimum by publishing our data—including information about every city expenditure—to the city’s online Open Data Portal, the first of its kind in the state of Indiana.
Meanwhile, our efforts on customer service continue. The city’s 311 line, which didn’t even exist three years ago, recently took its 300,000th call, and we are field-testing a 311 smartphone app so you can address everything from a water bill issue to a pothole right from your phone.
Some of our best results are coming not by the workings of government but the initiative of the community. One more unsung but deeply encouraging development is the success of the Mentor South Bend initiative, featuring a partnership between Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Education Foundation. The effort is well on its way to doubling the number of mentors helping children in our community, with Big Brothers Big Sisters growing from 200 mentors to 359 in South Bend in less than two years, and the Education Foundation program growing from 121 to 184 in an even shorter period of time.
These are just a handful of the good things happening across our administration and our city. I wish I could tell you about every one of them, but we would be here all night. But as I keep saying, we know we have a long way to go. Every city has its challenges, and our city has its share. We are challenged by everything from the fatigue and expense of two harsh winters in a row, to the budget challenges associated with rising costs and tightly constricted revenue.
Perhaps the most pressing challenge before us is how to take care of our most vulnerable. There is no reason to ignore the fact that 27.8% of our residents live below the poverty line, and we must do more to confront the problem. This means continuing to address transportation issues that affect people’s ability to get and keep good jobs, and ensuring that agencies like the South Bend Housing Authority are well-positioned to meet the needs of our low-income residents. The recent decision by United Way to concentrate its efforts on addressing the needs of those living with low income is another step in the right direction that our community should rally around—not just to help those in poverty, but to help those in poverty get out of poverty.
Like the rest of America, we are still struggling to ensure that the economic recovery reaches everyone in our city. As I mentioned before, most of our recent job creation has been on the West Side. But we know that many in our community, including those who live nearest some of these jobs, have not been able to find work even with the falling unemployment rate. That’s why we must continue to ensure our workers are equipped for the jobs that are actually open, gaining both the hard and soft skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace. The measures we have put in place are a good step; we will continue to seek out more.
Another enduring challenge for South Bend will be addressing the federally mandated Long Term Control Plan to bring our sewers into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Under the terms negotiated with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, South Bend is required to complete over $600 million in upgrades over the next twenty years. The cost is daunting, but there may be opportunities to use better technological and environmental approaches to bring the bill down for the benefit of ratepayers in our area. For this reason, our Department of Public Works has initiated a major engineering study to evaluate the many changes that have taken place in this space even in those last few years, with a goal of saving at least $100 million for the people of South Bend. Again, doing so will not be easy, but I have been in dialogue with a coalition of mayors from across the Midwest facing similar mandates, exchanging ideas and joining forces to seek new answers for our cities.
Perhaps the most widely discussed challenges our community is facing today have to do with ensuring that this truly feels like one city, belonging to all. As a city we are unquestionably better off because of the diversity of our people, giving us a rich heritage and much to learn from one another. But we are also struggling, like all of America, to overcome centuries of division, a legacy of prejudice and segregation and separation that casts its shadow to this day.
The long shadow of that problem is reflected in the fact that everywhere from corporate boardrooms to college classrooms to our city workforce itself, not all parts of our communities are represented.
To be sure, we have made strides that are significant and important. The mayor’s office staff is a case in point. My staff consists of more African-American and Latino employees than white employees, has ideological diversity, members of diverse orientations and a female majority—perhaps the first time that all that diversity has been present all at once in a South Bend mayor’s office. We do this not because it helps us check a box, but because it helps us make better decisions and serve our city more effectively.
We have also moved intentionally to ensure that our many boards and commissions are made even more diverse than I found them, with more female and more ethnic minority appointees to key boards across our administration.
Our department of law is led by the first African-American corporation counsel in our city’s history, and the team she is building is a great example of how to establish the very highest standards both of professional accomplishment and of diverse backgrounds on a single local government team.
On the other hand, our workforce as a whole does not yet fully represent the city it serves. We may be ahead of some communities in the region, but we have a long way to go. And even when the face of the community is truly reflected in the workforces, faculties, boardrooms, and committees of our city, there will be more work to do. Experience has taught us that there is more to inclusion than just who is in the room. It is a matter of the way we do business, how we ensure more voices are heard. Getting this right is crucial to how we establish more widespread trust in the community.
Once again, this is not only a challenge for South Bend but for all of America. The last year has thrown our whole country into a needed but often painful dialogue about how we can live together as one, especially when it comes to the relationship between communities of color and law enforcement. This past weekend’s 50th anniversary of the Selma march was a powerful reminder of how far we have come, but also of just how much we have to overcome. There is no escaping the fact that the most grievous injustices experienced by minorities in American history were often served at the hands of police officers. And every police officer today, even the most forward-thinking among them, even police officers who are themselves African-American, is forced to deal with the fact that even if they had nothing personally to do with those injustices, the uniform did. And so for all the good reasons that our men and women have to be proud of that uniform and the service and sacrifice it represents, it also remains the case that the uniform has a lot to overcome.
That’s why such bitter disagreements have arisen over something as seemingly minor and symbolic as t-shirts. And that, let’s face it, is why there will be divisions in our community related to the controversy over police department tape recordings, no matter what the courts decide, and no matter what anyone does or does not get to hear from the conversations of others. This is not about t-shirts and it is not about tapes. This is about trust. And we won’t get anywhere as a community until we learn how to build trust, the hard way—by taking on the roots of this challenge directly, by resisting the urge to go back to what divides us, by coming together to make this a better place.
Building a more diverse police department is one step, and it’s a step we’re taking. That’s part of why new recruitment incentives went into our budget for this year. And it’s why I have publicly committed to engaging services of professionals with a proven track record of helping American cities improve diversity and inclusion in their hiring in public safety and beyond. It’s why we are exploring new ways of elevating the voice of the community in the practice of law enforcement in South Bend. But the biggest steps will have to draw on our community as a whole.
It’s time for South Bend to begin talking about racial reconciliation. That means honest, frank discussions that allow city leaders, law enforcement, and community members to face the mistakes of the past and establish shared ground for the future. We cannot reach our full potential for community-oriented policing until we have made it the norm that all residents feel and know that we have every reason to be both pro-minority and pro-police, at the same time.
There is no contradiction between respecting the risks that police officers take every day in order to protect this community, and recognizing the need to overcome the biases implicit in a justice system that treats people from different backgrounds differently, even when they are accused of the same offenses. We need to take both those things seriously, for the simple and profound reason that all lives matter.
YEAR AHEAD – 2015
Our challenges our great, but our opportunities are greater. The results we have seen in the last year and the last few years leave no doubt that that sun emerging on our city seal is still a rising sun for South Bend. And the year ahead promises to be another one of good results for our neighborhoods, residents, families and businesses.
More business growth is coming to our city, from repair and renovation underway in buildings like the LaSalle Hotel and Hoffman Hotel downtown, to over a million square feet of new commercial space under construction this year.
We will also be continuing the work of the Smart Streets program, with most of 2015’s work concentrated on Western Avenue and Lincoln Way West Corridors as well as preparing roundabouts to better distribute traffic downtown. The effort will continue into 2016, when the bulk of the two-way conversion downtown will take place. This initiative is the result of more than two dozen public meetings and three major public debates and votes with strong supporting majorities on the Common Council. It gives us the chance to make our city streets safer, more attractive, and more economically productive, all by going back to principles that served South Bend well in the past and serve other American cities well today.
Our growth in the use of technology will continue, with our new Office of Innovation, led by our new Chief Innovation Officer Santiago Garces, hard at work improving city processes and management while we bring on a Chief Technology Officer to drive the future IT strategy of the City. In this century, municipal IT can and must go far beyond the traditional “help desk” functions of the early 1990s, and we will continue to expand our vision for how technology can deliver cost savings for taxpayers and better services for residents.
2015 will also see the beginning of a number of upgrades to Parks and Recreation facilities, using a $5 million bond recently authorized by the Council. These funds will allow us to address deferred maintenance while expanding gymnasium space and recreational resources, and also providing a large number of small enhancements to parks throughout the City. Based on what we learn with this effort, we will pursue further investments in the future, with a goal of making sure we offer access to good parks and programs for every resident and child in every neighborhood, while establishing some truly distinctive parks that benefit the whole city. A great parks and recreation system creates memorable places, supports public health, spurs economic development, preserves green space, and helps build community and neighborhood identity. To make our network of parks and recreation programming all that it can be for the next fifty years, we will need to make additions and subtractions, always with input from the community.
And as I never tire of reminding people, this year South Bend is celebrating her 150th anniversary of incorporation. The celebrations are already underway and will last throughout the year, with educational, promotional, and community activities taking place in every part of our City. Countless local leaders and volunteers have been collaborating on planning the events and activities, with a major celebration planned on the weekend of our official May 22nd birthday. The heart of our city will come alive with concerts, fireworks, exhibits, and even ziplines, all to bring South Bend residents of all ages together. During the festivities, we will dedicate a light sculpture on the river that will serve for years as a commemoration of this special year.
The 150th anniversary is about more than just how we celebrate this year. It’s about putting this year, and the times we are living in, into context. Every day I work in this job increases my conviction that we are living in one of the most pivotal and transformational moments in our city’s history. This is not only the city’s 150th year, it is a hinge point in our city’s trajectory. And we would do well to think of this year as the first year of the next fifty years. The other day in Selma, President Obama quoted Langston Hughes’ moving line: “We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”
My hope and expectation is to be on hand for the city’s bicentennial, fifty years from now in 2065, eighty-three years old and a happily retired former mayor. I often think about how our city will look then. Undoubtedly it will be different in many respects. If demographic trends hold, it will be even more diverse, and so will its leadership. The buildings will look different; the streets and ways of getting around will have shifted with the times. We will, if only from necessity, have developed more sustainable ways of living, just as our patterns of life have now become more sustainable than they were even one or two generations ago. Many here will work in industries that you and I cannot even conceive.
But some things will be the same. Our winters will be cold and our summers hot. Our magnificent river will continue to flow through the heart of our city, a great resource and a natural treasure. Our community will continue to respond to ups and downs by looking out for each other and pulling together in tough times. Our people will still be strong in faith, work ethic, community spirit and generosity. And they will take that spirit into their lives as they pursue the things that matter to them: family and friends, ideas and enterprise, scholarship and music and sports.
And the people of this city, fifty or one hundred and fifty years from now, will continue to find that their well-being is closely tied to the well-being of their city. Their freedom to pursue the good life will depend in part on how well their city takes care of the basics of support so they don’t have do, and how well the city creates a set of places where their lives can play out better than if they lived somewhere else. Just like today. And all that will depend on the choices we make, for ourselves and for the future. If we can continue to make our city more perfect each passing year, to take risks and even make mistakes but always to take more steps forward than backward, to do what is right for this city even when it is not easy, then we will give them every reason to look at that city seal and continue to agree that what they see is a rising sun.
Our work matters because in a well-run city, people are at greater liberty to live well. And it matters because the choices we make now telescope through time into the future. So we build our city for tomorrow, strong as we know how. And each passing year, our know-how grows greater, so long as we are not afraid to learn. We learn from our past, we learn from each other, we learn from ideas that we seek out, close to home and far away. And we learn from our mistakes. We learn, we grow, we build, we make choice after choice to move ourselves and our community forward, and when the time for speeches is over, the results will speak for themselves.