Next Steps for the Northwest Indiana Lakeshore
By assembling transformational projects, piece by piece, we can ensure a muscular new economy for Northwest Indiana.
One important piece is the Marquette Plan. This project began over a generation ago with the purpose of preserving areas of our lakeshore for open, public use in order to improve our quality of place and encourage the expansion of the Northwest Indiana economy. The Plan anticipates the continued robust presence of our essential steel and manufacturing capabilities, while taking actions to expand and preserve public spaces along Lake Michigan as efficiencies allow for a smaller industrial footprint.
As they have evolved since 1985, the current guiding principles of the Marquette Plan are as follows:
- At least 75 percent of the lakeshore should be available for public use.
- Development should be set back from the water’s edge by a minimum of 200 feet.
- Create a continuous walking and biking trail along the shoreline from the city of Portage to the Indiana/Illinois state line.
I would like to draw your attention to the italicized word above.
The criteria of specifying a 200-foot minimum stemmed from a general agreement with the lakeshore cities in Lake and Porter County more than a decade ago. Today, it is more clearly demonstrated that expansive and open, public spaces stimulate the maximum amount of economic investment and social vibrancy. Therefore, I believe that our guiding principle should evolve to state that development is set back from the water’s edge by at least 1,000 feet.
Additionally, the original principle established over a decade ago when there were far less trails, was that there should be one trail along the shoreline. Today, we should not look at the value of just one trail, but must consider the entire connected trail system. Therefore, I believe that our guiding principle should evolve to support multiple perpendicular trails that stretch far inland from the beach, allowing residents from neighboring southern communities to leave the car behind and power themselves to Lake Michigan.
I believe that now is the time we should think beyond the initial principles of the Marquette Plan, and develop a new foundational structure to realize its full economic potential.
We are able to do this now because of the important successes that have been achieved to date. I am thankful for the leadership over the years of all of our lakeshore communities, including the cities of Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago, Gary, Portage and Michigan City. I would add that we would not be where are today without the dedicated support of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA), the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and the members of environmental advocacy organizations. I also appreciate that ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel continue to be willing to discuss how we can best use potential areas of their unused property as they improve their production efficiencies.
Because of the willingness of those mentioned above to invest and support open access to the lakeshore areas, our shoreline communities have reimagined their lakefronts and created welcoming parks in Whiting, Portage and East Chicago. Public spaces have been enhanced at Marquette Park in Gary and Wolf Lake in Hammond. But this is just the beginning.
There is much work that remains, and we need not look far to see the examples of actions other lakeshore communities have taken to preserve public, open access to their environmental resources.
For example, the city of Chicago approved the Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which establishes explicit criteria for the City to follow in reviewing and receiving proposals for development with proximity to the Lake Michigan shoreline. Specifically, they require in the criteria to maintain and enhance lakeshore parks and to protect and develop areas for wildlife habitation. Fittingly, the city of Marquette in Michigan requires structures between the shoreline and public streets to not exceed 15 feet in height and to serve a public purpose. Burlington, Vermont, has designated zones reserved for public use with little private development, and other zones permitted for private development to help finance the revitalization of public zones.
I am not saying Northwest Indiana should exactly follow any one of these examples, but we should consider following their lead and find a binding legal and workable regulatory process for our lakeshore that establishes a long-term framework to expand and preserve public access and grow our regional economy.
I would add that our lakeshore is but one piece of an interlocking process. There is much work that remains to realize the benefits of the investments made at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, as well as investments to expand and recapitalize the South Shore Rail Line. The expansion and improvement of a regional bus system through the Gary Public Transportation Corporation and others is also essential to connecting residents throughout our region to jobs and recreational opportunities along Lake Michigan.
The Marquette Plan is an intergenerational project that will continue to grow over this century and evolve in the next. It will not be fulfilled by one person, one city, or one group. It will not be fulfilled by one generation, which is perhaps its most inspiring aspect.
As our generation has put pieces of the Plan in place, it is time for the next round of actively engaged leaders to become involved by identifying opportunities and working toward their implementation. I believe that the challenge of putting the Marquette Plan together and connecting it with pieces of other transformational efforts will inspire our youth to remain in or relocate to our region. It is our combined effort that is necessary to guarantee that at some future date, people will look toward the southern shore of Lake Michigan and explain the economic success of our Shining City on the Lake.