NewAllen Alliance communities identify themselves as being small, rural, friendly and family-oriented. Future growth and development should allow for the retention of these characteristics while creating healthy, thriving communities. Quality of place investment strategies include preserving and capitalizing upon authentic heritage, revitalizing downtowns, and improving the quality of and access to parks.
Strategy: Preserve and Capitalize Upon Authentic Heritage
Economic development strategies should be aligned with a community's identity, which, if not already established, should be based upon area attributes that have previously or currently exist. This identity can be supported through the preservation of places and buildings that reflect historical context. Public spaces, shops, design, as well as signs and logos can then reflect the established identity in an effort to promote heritage tourism. The NewAllen Alliance communities each have several qualities to build upon including agricultural heritage, Amish culture, proximity to rivers, and transportation history including canal, rail and the Lincoln Highway.
An additional source of identity and pride for NewAllen Alliance communities is the belief that each is a great place to live. While there are several aspects that can be improved upon to enhance livability, the communities provide a valuable contribution to the larger, regional goal of attracting and retaining a talented workforce. Although the City of Fort Wayne is the economic hub for jobs, commerce and housing, rural Allen County communities provide an alternative place to live for people interested in being part of a small community while also having easy access to the center of a metropolitan area.
Identity is something that needs to be established and articulated within each community so that individuals, groups and organizations can support and promote the concept. The NewAllen Alliance desires to develop a collaborative branding and marketing strategy that promotes both the individuality and the commonality of the NewAllen area. This strategy will build alignment within communities and awareness throughout Allen County and the Northeast Indiana region.
Strategy: Promote Identity and an Improved Quality of Life through Investment in Centers of Activity
Downtowns: Downtowns are most often the genesis of any community. They originated due to being a central, strategic location near roadway crossroads, a railroad stop, a canal passage or a riverside settlement. They are often historic, compact, and are places of commercial, institutional and residential use where infrastructure and public services are already in place. It makes sense to reinvest into downtown areas as opposed to allowing for its deterioration in favor of new development and sprawl on the outer perimeter of the community.
Investing in downtowns improves the quality of life of a community through the preservation of a sense of place. Revitalized downtowns portray economic vitality, progressiveness, and civic pride which provide a positive image to those seeking to live, visit, or do business within the community. Downtown design can be varied and complex in consideration of uses, density, streets, alleys, parking, buildings, signage, public spaces, art, infrastructure and utilities. The assistance of a landscape designer and/or engineer is often needed to create a dynamic, pedestrian experience.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation developed the Main Street program, which focuses on the elements of organization, promotion, design, and economic vitality, to help local communities revitalize their downtowns. Indiana communities can form local Main Street organizations with the assistance of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and each of the NewAllen communities are exploring participation in this program.
Parks: According to the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), parks and recreation are essential public amenities offering economic value, health and environmental benefits, and social importance to a community. Among the many benefits of parks, they improve the local tax base and increase property values, are often cited by businesses as a primary reason for relocation, and provide indirect revenues to local and regional economies from sports tournaments and special events such as arts, music, and festivals. Parks help to improve water quality, protect groundwater, prevent flooding, improve air quality, provide wildlife habitats, and contribute to the physical health of the community residents. From a social perspective, the availability of parks and recreation services is often cited as a major factor in community livability surveys, has been strongly linked to reductions in crime and juvenile delinquency, and provides a sense of public pride and cohesion.
Communities are often benchmarked by how many acres of parkland there is per capita, and ensuring the adequacy of park facilities for the population is a function of planning, zoning, and development guidelines. The Indiana Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan 2016-2020, published in December 2015, recommends that there be 20 acres of public land per 1,000 people for local parks (County, Township, City, or Town-owned). In Allen County, that amounts to a need of 7,318.36 acres. As the current acreage is 6,228.69, it's clear that the County is at a deficit. In addition, the Allen County Parks and Recreation 2013-2017 Master Plan has identified an area of southeast Allen County encompassing Woodburn, Monroeville, and Hoagland as being in need of additional park land and new facilities.
Throughout the planning process, each NewAllen community identified park rehabilitation and development as a priority. Even for those communities with adequate park acreage, the facilities are often aged, in disrepair, do not meet ADA requirements, and/or do not have safe, walkable passages leading to the park from surrounding residential areas.
Tying Together Heritage Branding, Downtown Revitalization, and Park Improvements for Maximum Benefit: The NewAllen Alliance will lead an initiative that ties together individual and collective community heritage identification, downtown streetscape enhancements, and local community park improvements throughout East Allen County based on a collective branding program and quality, landscape design.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, large and mid-sized cities across the U.S. established large park systems that included parks, parkways and boulevards. For example, the City of Fort Wayne's Park and Boulevard System, designed by landscape architect George Kessler between 1911 and 1912, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Louisville, Kentucky's Parks and Parkways were designed in 1891 by Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect for such places as Central Park in New York City, the U.S. Capital Building, and the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina.
Although the practice of designing large park systems has all but disappeared, in 2005, Louisville embarked upon an ambitious plan to build off of Olmsted's work by adding thousands of acres of park land and greenspace into a "greenprint" of the metropolitan area. The initiative involved the acquisition and development of new park land, trails and open spaces on the edge of the city, and the over 100-miles long Louisville Loop shared-use path that ties together parks and neighborhoods, outdoor recreation and nature education programs.
There are many examples by which county-wide park systems have established a commonality through the use of design elements and signage. However, tying together well-established individual communities by a collective identity using gateways, downtown streetscapes, and park improvements is somewhat unique. Such an initiative can be supported through the establishment of collaborative contracts for goods and services for downtowns and parks among communities and Allen County. A focus on safe, accessible sidewalk, trail, and bike lane connectivity both within and between the individual NewAllen Alliance communities, to include links to downtowns and parks, will enhance the experience and overall investment.