Ball State University and Muncie Residents Address the Challenges Wrought by Deindustrialization
Muncie, Indiana, developed rapidly during the mid- to late-nineteenth century following the discovery of natural gas in southeastern Indiana. Despite waning natural gas production at the end of the nineteenth century, the gas boom attracted industry and manufacturing that made Muncie an industrial hub through the first half of the twentieth century, including Ball Corporation, which made mason jars; General Motors; and the automobile parts manufacturer BorgWarner. Since the 1970s, however, and again during the 1990s and 2000s, deindustrialization has hurt Muncie. Currently, the city’s poverty rate is 32.2 percent, and the median household income is $31,044. Blight is another challenge; the city has hundreds of foreclosed and abandoned homes and factories, some of which are structurally unsafe or sit on contaminated land. In 2010, the community founded the Muncie Action Plan (MAP) organization to create a strategic plan to address these issues. Now in its second phase, MAP brings together residents and Muncie’s key anchor institutions, including Ball State University’s Office of Community Engagement, to address the city’s health, economic, educational, and community hardships and improve residents’ quality of life.
A Strategic Plan Driven by Residents
More than 2,000 residents participated in 4 community meetings to devise the first phase of the MAP strategic plan, which established 5 initiatives: linking learning, health, and prosperity; fostering collaboration among Muncie neighborhood associations; strengthening the city’s pride and image; creating attractive and desirable places; and managing the community’s natural and cultural resources. Ball State served as a consultant to MAP when the community created the organization, according to Aimee Fant, MAP’s coordinator. Since 2014, the university has provided more assistance. The Office of Community Engagement, which manages the university’s anchor activities in the region, has marshalled the university’s expertise in urban planning to help MAP with its initiative to improve the built environment. The university’s assistance with redesigning MAP’s website and creating a new communications strategy directly supported MAP’s initiatives to strengthen city pride and foster collaboration among neighborhood associations.
One of MAP’s early outcomes was Building Better Neighborhoods (BBN), a program stemming from a 2014 partnership between Ball State’s Office of Community Engagement and MAP to support the city’s neighborhood associations. Based on conversations between neighborhood representatives and the Ball Brothers Foundation, BBN was conceived as a vehicle for the university to provide residents with more assistance in their revitalization efforts. Originally funded with a 3-year, $200,000 grant from the foundation and now financed by the university, BBN matches university resources with community needs. The community, rather than the university, decides what development efforts BBN should address. “We’re not coming in to tell the community what we’re going to do,” says Heather Williams, program manager, BBN, Office of Community Engagement.
Since its inception, BBN has helped 25 neighborhoods initiate or improve their neighborhood associations through capacity building. For instance, Williams, a former Muncie code enforcement officer, helps neighborhood associations develop bylaws and connect with police officers. Although Williams is officially employed by Ball State University, her office is in downtown Muncie to further facilitate relationships among neighborhood associations and the university and to learn about community needs.
BBN also provides capacity building to the community through a partnership between the Office of Community Engagement and the Shafer Leadership Academy, a nonprofit that trains individuals, communities, and other nonprofits in East-Central Indiana. This training includes workshops in social media and geographic information systems as well as sessions on how to use these tools to market a neighborhood. The academy also teaches leadership and conflict management and resolution, which are useful techniques for implementing the MAP initiative of working collaboratively. In addition, BBN has twice hosted the Intentional Development and Education for Association Members (IDEA) conference in partnership with the Shafer Leadership Academy and Ball State. The annual conference has trained more than 100 community members in code enforcement, civic engagement, and other skills to address MAP’s initiatives.
A third component of BBN involves the university’s immersive-learning projects that are directed toward community improvement. Ball State faculty lead about 30 of these projects each semester in partnership with local groups such as the Delaware County Historical Society, neighborhood associations, and local schools. Some of the most effective, data-driven projects have been neighborhood plans prepared by College of Architecture and Planning classes led by professor Lisa Dunaway. Dunaway and her students have completed nearly two dozen such plans, including the Old West End Neighborhood Action Plan, which won a 2014 American Institute of Certified Planners Student Project Award from the American Planning Association (APA) and a 2015 Hoosier Planning Award from APA’s Indiana chapter for Outstanding Student Project. Other immersive-learning projects include architecture students rehabilitating houses that a nonprofit will sell to first-time homebuyers and anthropological students assessing neighborhood change, often including “scanning parties” in which residents bring photographs and documents to be digitally recorded. These projects give students the opportunity to practice knowledge learned in classrooms, Williams says. Residents who participate express a renewed interest and pride in their neighborhoods, which translate into greater participation in neighborhood meetings — all of which further MAP’s initiatives.
Evolving MAP Programs Benefit Ball State and Muncie
BBN and other implementation activities are ongoing priorities while MAP enters its third phase. To prepare for this phase, MAP wanted to reinforce the need for Muncie’s residents, businesses, organizations, and government to work together to realize their vision of the city. In March 2017, MAP, Shafer Leadership Academy, and other groups hosted a TED talk with Peter Kageyama, the author of For the Love of Cities. Kageyama’s book is a community read, and his talk brought together city stakeholders to share ideas. This next phase of MAP, Fant says, will address two specific problems requiring a broad coalition of partners: drug addiction and lead poisoning. Muncie’s chief goal for addressing drug addiction is to see a drug rehabilitation center built in Muncie. MAP’s second area of focus is lead poisoning, which has affected children in Muncie’s Southside neighborhood. Since the city’s water has been found to be safe, MAP intends to identify and treat the sources of lead, which might be coming from old homes, paint, or contaminated soil. As MAP pursues these priorities, its partnership with Ball State will continue to address the effects of deindustrialization in Muncie.
James Glass. 2000. “The Gas Boom in East Central Indiana.” Indiana Magazine of History, 96:4, 313, 333–5. Accessed 14 April 2017; Delaware County Indiana. n.d. “History of Delaware County and Muncie, Indiana.” Accessed 17 April 2017; Ball State University Center for Middletown Studies. n.d. “Documenting Deindustrialization.” Accessed 17 April 2017; U.S. Census Bureau. QuickFacts. “Muncie City, Indiana: Income and Poverty, 2011–2015 American Community Survey, 5-Year Estimate.” Accessed 14 April 2017; Muncie Action Plan. 2010. “Muncie Action Plan: Vision and Action Plan for Muncie, Indiana.” Accessed 14 April 2017; Interview with Aimee Fant, coordinator, Muncie Action Plan, 16 February 2017.×
Interview with Aimee Fant, 16 February 2017; Muncie Action Plan. n.d. “Muncie Action Plan.” Accessed 14 April 2017.×
Interview with Heather Williams, 13 February 2017; Muncie Neighborhoods, “About: Building Better Neighborhoods Initiative.” Accessed 14 April 2017.×
Muncie Action Plan, n.d., “Task Force 2.” Accessed 14 April 2017; Interview with Heather Williams, 13 February 2017.×
Interview with Heather Williams, 13 February 2017; Shafer Leaderhsip Academy. n.d. “About SLA.” Accessed 14 April 2017; Interview with Heather Williams, 13 February 2017; Muncie Neighborhoods, “IDEA Conference.” Accessed 17 April 2017.×
Interview with Heather Williams, 13 February 2017; Interview with Aimee Fant, 16 February 2017; Muncie Neighborhoods. 2014. “Old West End Neighborhood.” Accessed 14 April 2017.×
Interview with Aimee Fant, 16 February 2017.×