I saw Richard Longworth’s recent blog article about Muncie, Indiana’s Muncie Action Plan (MAP). Approved by the Muncie City Council and Delaware County Board in 2010, it continues to live on through annual reports and a nonprofit organization tasked with implementing its recommendations.
Muncie is what first drew me to the plight of Midwest midsize industrial cities. I moved there in the ‘80s and lived there throughout my college years. It was there that I first saw how different things could be from Detroit, but still quite the same. It appears Longworth saw and heard many of the same impressions I had of “Middletown”:
“The Plan lays out Muncie’s problems in stark prose– disinvestment, a brain drain, lost jobs, vacant houses, growing gaps between the rich and poor, an aging population. This had added up to a civic malaise, a tendency by residents to bad-mouth their town, an assumption that any kid with gumption will go somewhere else…”“many of the persons I met volunteered that Muncie is split by class, by income, by neighborhood, by race. The north and south sides don’t talk with each other, and neither do whites or blacks.”
Sounds like Muncie is still much like it was when I left it 25 years ago.
But I am heartened to see that they did a plan and are working hard to implement it. Muncie circa 1985 readily believed that, any day now, manufacturing jobs would return and so would its prosperity. It never happened. Meanwhile, the city never developed its relationship with Ball State University, a major university that has the ability to be a true catalyst for development in east-central Indiana. I think finally city leaders have wisened up to the need for some direction.
Longworth hones in on the weakness of the plan:
“Does Muncie today have talents or resources that can be used to create new industries? It clearly has to earn its way in the world, but how will it do that? Any worker applying for a job presents a résumé: what is Muncie’s résumé?Beyond that, the Plan virtually ignores the impact of globalization on Muncie or the fact that the town is now in a global competition. I’d argue that we don’t understand our city, or our state, or even the Midwest these days until we understand where it fits into the global economy. There’s a global niche out there for Muncie, but it has yet to find it.More seriously, the Muncie Action Plan treats Muncie as an isolated community, totally disconnected from the towns and economies around it. If Muncie has a future, it’s as part of a thriving and prosperous region that can only be built by others in the neighborhood: after all, it rose originally as part of the Auto Alley, declined with the rest of the auto industry, and will recover only if this region also recovers.Despite this, the Plan doesn’t mention Anderson, its twin town, equally distressed, 20 miles away. Nor Indianapolis, the region’s biggest economic engine, 60 miles down the Interstate, nor Dayton just across the Ohio state line. Nor does it look north to South Bend, another beat-up old manufacturing town with an aloof university, Notre Dame, that is finally taking some responsibility for its community: it seems to be that Muncie and South Bend would have much to say to each other, but this thought apparently hasn’t occurred.”
Again, Muncie is a community for which communication has been difficult, so answers to these questions may take a while to develop. However, I think Muncie does have an opportunity to be a city that builds its university and health care base, and emerge as an affordable alternative to nearby larger cities like Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Dayton (all within a 1 ½ hour drive of Muncie). I think the model for Muncie is Kalamazoo, MI or Bloomington/Normal, IL.