Before 'Transforming' Your Neighborhood, Talk to Your Neighbors
Since early in the history of the Sunday conversations, we have been actively involved in a number of neighborhood groups in Englewood and across the larger Near Eastside neighborhood. Church members have invested their time in these groups, and we have opened our building for neighborhood meetings. In 2007, the Near Eastside was identified by the city as a re-development zone. In other Indy neighborhoods, this has been the first step on the fast track to gentrification. Together with our neighbors, we agreed that while there were many facets of our neighborhood that could use significant investment, the last thing we wanted to do was drive out our neighbors who already had roots in the Near Eastside.
So we hosted a six-month-long series of meetings to ask how our neighborhood could flourish in ways that would minimize or eliminate gentrification. These neighborhood-wide conversations were recorded to form a "quality-of-life plan" that identified seven key action areas that the neighborhood wanted to develop: Family Strengthening, Education, Public Safety, Affordable Housing, Business and Economic Development, Livability, and Leadership and Neighborhood Connections. Within each of these areas, we identified immediate and long-term goals for developing the neighborhood. This Quality of Life plan continues to guide the neighborhood in making decisions about what development projects should be undertaken and how they should be funded.
Among our new conversation partners are churches in our own neighborhood. In 2003, we got to know Mano de Amistad, a Spanish-language church that was meeting in the school next door, the same building that would later be given to us. Not long afterward, we invited them to use our building for their meetings, and we continued to get to know them and to seek opportunities to work together. The two congregations merged in 2009, and we continue to converse and grow together, although we still have a long way to go, considering for instance that we presently have two services separated by language and the culture and history of their participants (e.g., style of music, order of services).