Carson Heights is a neighborhood on the south side of Indianapolis. It’s a quiet community located between Troy Avenue, Carson Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Hannah Avenue. The neighborhood also includes a major anchor, the University of Indianapolis.
Until recently it lacked any formal organization that would give residents a voice in what was happening in the area or a forum to address concerns of neighbors. Jason Fletcher, a local resident saw the need and decided to act.
In the early months of 2016, Jason worked closely with Nita McCormick, a Neighborhood Development Specialist at the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC). They talked about how to engage your neighbors and look at the area with an asset-based community development (ABCD) lens. This means focusing on the assets to address opportunities and challenges in the neighborhood. Using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to ask open-ended questions can better engage your neighbors. “I received lots of tools and ideas from INRC that I use regularly”, said Jason.
Nita encouraged Jason to visit other surrounding neighborhood meetings to better connect and learn how other organizations function including how to develop an effective agenda. “Nita helped guide me through the steps needed to organize our neighborhood.” With these tools in place, the first meeting of the Carson Heights Neighborhood Association took place in the spring of 2016.
Carson Heights and other neighborhoods participated in the South Indy (SoIndy) Quality of Life study that began in June of 2015. With this opportunity, Carson Heights residents participated in planning exercises and formed action teams to define what makes their neighborhood and the larger SoIndy area great. In order to further strengthen their leadership capacity, five members of the SoIndy Quality of Life team are participating in the Indianapolis Community Building Institute (ICBI) at INRC.
The first major event the neighborhood organized was a community day in the fall of 2016. This successful celebration was continued in 2017 as a National Night Out event. This year’s event featured a bounce house, games, corn-hole, and a dunk tank, In addition, local police and elected officials all enjoyed a barbecue with community residents.
Following this success, the Carson Heights Neighborhood Association is currently engaged with the University of Indianapolis to discuss U of I’s plans for more Student Housing. These plans include adding three student housing buildings and potentially closing a block or two of National Avenue, to create a pedestrian walkway. The neighbors are working with U of I to ensure neighborhood concerns and interests are heard. They are being kept up to date on construction plans and timelines. They are also working to ensure that student parking is plentiful and clearly marked and fencing is installed in the backyards of existing homes.
With an eye toward the future, the neighborhood is planning for changes that will come when the red line is developed on Shelby Street. Building on these upcoming developments, the neighborhood is now looking at new activities to deepen the sense of community. Carson Heights plans a crowded agenda for 2018.
For decades, Shelton Heights was a quiet community of small homes and a trailer park nestled in the curved bank of the railroad tracks at Washington St. and Rockville Rd. on the west side. In 2007, the trailer park was a vibrant part of the neighborhood. However, after the 2008 death of a trailer park co-owner, management of the park declined, and long-term residents began to move out. By spring 2015, after the second owner died in late 2014, “it was complete chaos. We were afraid to open our doors and afraid someone would be found dead.” Squatters, drugs, prostitution, and illegal dumping had completely taken over.
Frustrated with always calling the police and nothing changing, they asked the police to do something. The police responded, “No, you need to do something.” And the neighbors did!
Neighbors Debbie Parish and Sherry Belden started talking about what they could do. Debbie noted, “The key was not trying to do it all alone – it took a group to make a difference.” Debbie added she was “mad enough to bite my nails, so it was no problem to stand up,” and when she did, she found others willing to stand up too. They began going door-to-door and meeting neighbors, and by June 2015, the neighbors had come together and started a Crime Watch. An unexpected benefit of the? Crime Watch was it connected them to other agencies who could help. Immediately, the Marion County Public Health Department shut down the trailer park and removed the squatters. After that, the residents “kept the squatters and prostitutes out by calling the police whenever anyone stepped foot on the property.” Others who helped included City government and the Mayor’s Office, elected officials, Mary Milz at WTHR, and non-profits including Indy Gateway Inc. (a West Side community development corporation) and Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC), among others. The neighbors’ determination and networking, along with the support from other institutions and organizations, enabled them to do what had seemed impossible: on September 19, 2016, the trailer park was torn down!
Now they are partnering with Indy Gateway to purchase the park from the City’s Land Bank, and have applied for a KIBI Green Space Grant to add a bench and other amenities to the park. In preparation, neighbors have organized several major cleanups of the park area and celebrated with cookouts, games, and conversation.
Mary Chalmers, a Neighborhood Development Specialist at INRC, first met Debbie Parish in a meeting in late 2016. Since then, Mary has discussed challenges and opportunities in the area with Debbie, including proposed new businesses, some of which the neighbors opposed and were able to stop. Mary also invited Debbie to share their story at Neighbor Power Indy 2017; Debbie participated in the NPI presenter training at INRC and, with Mary’s encouragement and support, shared a powerful story of neighbors reclaiming their neighborhood.
Today, they are enjoying their more vibrant, engaged, and healthy neighborhood, where kids ride their bikes, neighbors talk and take the initiative to help, and the crime rate has declined 75%. At National Night Out in August, the neighbors came out and fully enjoyed the conversation and activities, and they filled a car trunk with food for a food pantry. Clearly, they are enjoying the benefits of getting to know their neighbors and working and playing together.
Update to the Shelton Heights Story: RTV6, The Indy Channel, recently covered their amazing neighborhood story. Check out the story here.