Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist, Aim
Community leaders saw the untapped potential in one of Muncie’s most struggling areas.
So they got down to work, bringing together community partners to plan for the area’s revitalization and to form the 8twelve Coalition. Central to those efforts was a partnership with Vectren Foundation, which acted as a catalyst by providing funding to get the plan off the ground.
Now the area, which encompasses some of Muncie’s main thoroughfares and around 500 households, is on the upswing.
“The momentum that has been generated in the 8twelve Coalition target area is a testament to the hard work and selflessness exhibited by neighborhood residents and Coalition partners,” said Tom Moore, manager of community engagement for Vectren Foundation. Moore also serves as a steering committee member for the Coalition.
The Coalition – whose name reflects two main boundaries of the area, 8th and 12th streets – has already engaged in several community projects. Its goal is to improve the area’s business development and employment opportunities; beautification; housing; and access to services.
And many of those goals have been realized with the help of Vectren. The foundation provided a three-year $225,000 grant to Greater Muncie Habitat for Humanity to support owner-occupied home repair programs in the target area.
Vectren also provided a grant to assist in the development of new recreational facilities at Ross Community Center. In addition, the foundation supported workshops, including one focused on developing entrepreneurs in the neighborhood and an Intentional Development & Education for Association (IDEA) members conference. The annual IDEA event brings together leaders representing Muncie’s neighborhoods to develop and strengthen community-building skills, Moore said.
The change is welcome for community members, who didn’t stop believing in the good of the area.
“People drive through our neighborhood to get somewhere else. They see the blur of abandoned houses, potholes, and trash out of their car windows,” said Sara Renee, a resident of the area targeted by the Coalition. “But there are a lot of us that live here in South Central Muncie and see it differently.”
Work began by developing a neighborhood revitalization strategy, which was envisioned by residents. The process included intensive workshops and an exploration of the community’s strengths and opportunities. Those strengths were determined by asset mapping, which outlines the community’s key organizations, retail stores and churches. The Coalition also tapped into the broader Muncie Action Plan, which recommended developing a Council of Neighborhoods, improving branding and promoting education from pre-K through higher education.
“Working with residents as they are empowered to create the neighborhood they desire is truly amazing,” said Jena Ashby, director of impact and programs for Greater Muncie Habitat for Humanity.
“Watching not only places and spaces, but people, being transformed by their own work might just be the best thing neighborhood revitalization creates. You see hope.”
Stakeholders also reviewed a separate planning effort by the Building Better Neighborhoods Program at Ball State University. The plan explored education and training; health and safety; and other community amenities. In addition, the university’s Energy Plan Studio developed a draft plan for the Coalition area, which delved into strengths and weaknesses of each parcel of the neighborhood. That information can be used to prioritize what blocks and properties need the most immediate attention.
Today, the strategy is coming to fruition. The neighborhood is home to community gardens, a pocket park and an improving housing stock. Already, 23 vacant homes have been boarded up with four new home-ownership opportunities made available.
“Rebuilding neighborhoods is fundamentally about people and the incredible opportunities that are created when true collaboration occurs,” Moore said. “The work of the 8twelve Coalition is truly inspiring.”