Chicago architect Wendell Campbell stands in front of the $25 million Gary Civic Center (1980)
- By Melvin Thompson
- March 28, 2011
No sense losing sleep over population loss. News of such outward migration is increasingly commonplace and certainly not limited to the hard hit City of Gary, Ind., as St. Louis, Mo., Birmingham, Ala., and even Chicago can attest. While Gary’s dwindling numbers over the past decade do raise eyebrows, the city should instead espouse to emulate innovative best practices in post-industrial towns experiencing much the same.
Like Youngstown, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pa., Detroit, Mich., or any other forward-thinking Rust Belt city, Gary desperately needs to reinvent itself to tell a more compelling story. The greatest disservice a community can do is to marginalize its own culture. There is untapped history here that the city should recognize and emphatically embrace.
Case in point: The site at which the launch of the Gary and Region Investment Project (GRIP) took place in October was designed and built by a pioneering and prolific African-American architect who left an indelible mark on the City of Gary, with the Genesis Convention Center in 1981 and subsequently the adjacent Adam Benjamin, Jr., Metro Transit Center in 1984.
The esteemed Wendell Campbell of Wendell Campbell and Associates (WCA) was a Northwest Indiana native, an Illinois Institute of Technology graduate, and a trailblazing urban developer who was one of the founders and first president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). Mr. Campbell, who died at the age of 81 in 2008, occupied office space on the 10th floor of the Chase Bank Building, a prime candidate for adaptive reuse located at the corner of 5th and Broadway in downtown Gary.
Mr. Campbell’s architecture, planning and construction management firm completed award-winning projects seen throughout Chicago (i.e., DuSable Museum, McCormick Place extension) and the City of Gary. Often referred to as the “gentle giant,” Mr. Campbell was drawn to grassroots organizations often displaced by urban renewal projects. During his illustrious career, he racked up several community based awards in planned residential developments, community centers, infrastructure plans and landscaped parks. The body of work left some 30 years ago in downtown Gary is no less than blueprint for a thriving, modern day renaissance.
Interestingly, the GO TO 2040 Plan states that the most important action developers can take is to seek projects in already developed areas, for there are extensive opportunities for profitable development in existing areas across the region. The Plan goes on to illuminate how Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), one of GRIP’s highest priority projects, can support denser, more efficient, and walkable neighborhoods, as well as economic development and jobs. The Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s (NIRPC) 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan dovetails nicely in that it places emphasis on infill development and regeneration of the urban core.
Clearly, Gary’s downtown assets (i.e. bus/commuter transit, highway access gateway, convention center, city hall, courts building, state facility, main library, hospital, baseball stadium, open plaza, park, charter school, post office and bank) rival those of any bedroom city this close to a global Chicago. Gary should flat out be the envy of the development world.
In New Orleans, planner Steven Bingler’s master plan for public schools includes a clustered concept called “Nexus,” which envisions a hub or community center where a neighborhood’s physical, cultural, social, economic, organizational and educational needs are met. If a culture-rich city intimately familiar with devastation and population loss such as New Orleans can slowly and methodically find its way back, so too can a city leapfrogged by prosperity.
Gary, it’s by design. Let’s make it happen!