This past weekend, our neighborhood association held a weekend retreat. It was a huge commitment of time for the residents of Cottage Home
, a neighborhood nestled between downtown and near eastside Indianapolis. But, we had a great turn-out, and the energy all weekend was amazing
First, let me tell you that Cottage Home was a working class neighborhood built around the big-boss' house back in the last 1800's, early 1900's. The homes are predominantly small shot-gun cottages built by many of the carpenters who lived in this area. While about 200 homes are still standing, many have also been raised as urban blight set into this neighborhood like many forgotten during the white flight to the suburbs. Throughout the years, business and industry existed here, and in the 50's, the neighborhood was referred to as rat-town! As with many inner-city neighborhoods, African America families called Cottage Home their home for the past 60 or so years. And, in fact, in the 1980's, the city turned their back
on Cottage Home by determining in their city master plan that the neighborhood should become an industrial area and thus changed much of the zoning of the residences to commercial. We learned that even our home had an industrial zoning when we went to get a permit for an addition a few years ago.
But, the residents of Cottage Home did not give up. While many homes became boarded up when black families moved out or died off, still, many remained. Almost 30 years ago, the first new, white families moved into Cottage Home -- those without money who acquired the home through a tax sale. They brought their friends, and they brought their friends, and soon, there was new life breathed into this little community. Residents black and white, old and young, began working together
to fight crime, to get the attention of government officials, and to turn the neighborhood around.
So, I moved here, into a rental that a friend owned, almost 16 years ago. I was drawn immediately to the neighborhood because of it's diversity, eclectic-ness and funkiness!
Filled with artists, musicians, vegetarians, and what you might consider a very non-traditional group of people, I felt right at home
When I moved here, you could get a livable house for $40,000. It needed work, but you could live there while you worked and so, many people did buy houses then. By the time I bought here, the first house had already sold for over $100,000, and now houses have sold for $200,000+. And, as a result, gentrification is occurring, and we have only 7 African American families left in the entire neighborhood (a few Latino families and a little bit of representation from other ethic groups)...but, we are quickly losing our diversity and part of what brought many of us here.
So, you might be saying to yourself, "how is that different than every other downtown neighborhood in Indy?" And, here is the answer. Our neighborhood has a community garden, a community prairie, a bee hive, a small apple orchard, an awesome annual block party where hundreds of non-residents attend because it is so fun (food, music, dancing in the street...really, really fun), public art, a community park and playground. And, most importantly, we all know each other -- we have cook-outs and campfires, and outdoor movie nights, and concerts. We are becoming certified as a National Wildlife Federation community. It is a real neighborhood oasis in this sea of suburban living where people drive their big cars into their big garages and walk in their backyards with 6' privacy fences, to their sprawling homes, all without having to interact with a single soul. We have a real neighborhood, a real community
; we are truly connected
to these people.
So, we hold this strategic planning event, and people do talk about potholes and alleys and sidewalks, like one might expect. But, they also talk about ways we can attract a more diverse population to move back in. And, we talk about how we are going to implement this vision of a community space that incorporates rain gardens and rain barrels and native plants and places to gather. We create a "neighbor to neighbor" market concept with actions for the next few months to make it happen. We talk about ways to attract sustainable development to the neighborhood for planning of our in-fill housing. We talk about how we can increase the public art and start being a destination location for art events. And, we talked about how we can keep the socio-economic diversity by helping our lower income residents stay in the neighborhood.
It was really a wonderful experience to sit across from so many of my neighbors and feel so connected and among so many like-minded people.
So, if you are longing for this kind of community, you might want to give a nice, long look to Cottage Home! You might find that it is just what you've been missing, and just what you've been looking for!
Our house with sunflowers
Community Prairie with bike and ladder sculptures
Jungle Gym Jam fundraiser to support playground, June 2007
Neighborhood volunteers installing playground, October 2007
Neighborhood Block Party, October 2006