Midwest Towns are the Strongest
Midwest Cities Dominated this year’s Strongest Towns contest – with the final two towns squarely in the CNU Midwest region: Jasper, Indiana, and Norwood, Ohio.
Strong Towns is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping citizens rebuild their cities from decades of ill-advised policies of sprawl and disinvestment. You can learn more about the Strong Towns Approach HERE.
For the last seven years, Strong Towns has sponsored a nationwide contest to find the “Strongest Town” in America. Citizens of the “Strongest Towns” are hard at work making their city financially resilient and prosperous for all. This year’s competition was dominated by Midwestern cities. Six of the sixteen cities to compete this year are from the Midwest – including 3 of the final 4 cities and BOTH finalists: Norwood, Ohio, and Jasper, Indiana.
Congratulations to both cities. Jasper and Norwood are both champions of the Midwest! In This edition of the CNU Midwest Interview, we asked both Norwood and Jasper to define what makes their cities Strong Towns.
CMU-MW: What makes your city a “Strong Town”?
Resilience! Through various economic hardships, Norwood has remained an independent enclave city that continues to maintain generational residents and attract new ones. Many young families are choosing to root their futures here in Norwood. It is also full of, in Strong Towns terms, bottom-up revolutions with empowered residents coming together to make this the place they want to live.
More and more we're embracing small businesses and walkable infrastructure. We are not ignoring our blighted areas but are working to make the best use of our 3.1 square miles, as can be seen in many exciting new developments, such as Factory 52 (the old US Playing Card factory location being transformed into a mixed-use destination); the Ventura, an old bank that has been redeveloped as a beautiful event center; and the near-complete renovation of each of our school buildings, to name just a few!
We also have strong partnerships among city leadership, resident-led organizations, Xavier University, and solid business partners like UDF and Shepherd Chemical.
Jasper is a city that over the years has continued to focus on investing within the community in order to maintain and improve our quality of life, work, and play. Over the past decade, Jasper has worked on a comprehensive plan for the city that included inputs from the residents, businesses, and local government working together. The result was Impact Jasper, a ten-year comprehensive plan that prioritizes the city's investments while being fiscally responsible. Some examples of this work include the redevelopment of the Jasper Country Club property to the Parklands recreational area with walking trails, activity and exercise stations for all ages, and nature areas, the construction of the train depot, the Spirit of Jasper train, the River Centre development, the City Mill on the Patoka River, and most recently the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center that combines our library and arts center. Today, Jasper is in the process of starting our downtown revitalization project and implementing an intermodal pedestrian and bicycling plan. Finally, based on prioritizing what the residents are wanting, Jasper is looking at options for an indoor aquatic and sports facility.
CNU-MW: What are the most valued public gathering spaces in your city?
Jasper has many public gathering spaces that both residents and visitors enjoy. It starts with our downtown square where during the year many different types of events take place for adults and children. In 2020, Jasper created the Heart of Jasper group to help organize new events like our Downtown Chowdown food truck evenings and an annual farm to table dinner. The downtown is also the site of Jasper's annual Strassenfest, a German street festival.
But it doesn't stop with the downtown square. The new Thyen-Clark Cultural Center is a gathering place for monthly art exhibits, various art classes, events within the public library, and special gatherings in the atrium.
Finally, since the development of the Parklands both residents and visitors have been attracted to this recreational area. The public school facilities are probably the most popular as the support for students in extra-curricular activities is exceptional in our community with family members attending events, coordinating booster organizations, and fundraising.
Victory Park is a resurging public gathering space. In the center of our city, near bus stops, city hall, a newly opened recreation center, and our middle and high schools, Victory Park can be seen filled with people at events such as Fridays on the Lawn, the Off Pike Market, and the fall festival.
Waterworks Park is also a popular gathering space, with our public pool, a new playground, a great sledding hill, and many athletic fields including our newly redesigned basketball courts - a student-led initiative to bring back the game, painted with an impressive art design that was voted on by the community.
Our schools are also utilized as gathering spaces and you're sure to see neighbors gathering frequently on our porches, sidewalks, at one of our thirteen parks, and in the community garden!
CNU-MW: What events happen in your city that brings people out of their homes?
We have several wonderful city events! Perhaps most notably, our annual Norwood Day Parade, our Day at Coney Island in July, and our Christmas Town event in December. We also have an annual Historic Home Tour, a helicopter Easter Egg Drop, the Gem of the Highlands 5k, the Off Pike Market, movies and concerts in the park, Storytime in the Garden, and most recently the annual Gems of the Community Celebration.
Jasper offers numerous events and activities throughout the year that residents of all ages enjoy. From different festivals to the Downtown Chowdown days, Chalk Walk for the children as well as organized recreational events.
Jasper is also home to the Astra theatre which has been totally renovated and brings in music performances of different genres, comedy shows, and classic movies. It is not hard to find something going on almost every weekend that brings people out of their homes as well as visitors into Jasper. Another great example is the frequent walk/run events scheduled throughout the year.
CNU-MW: What makes your city a pedestrian-friendly place?
Jasper's downtown is surrounded by well-established beautiful neighborhoods that make walking to shops and events very easy. Our neighborhood parks are easy to walk or bike to and for families with children to enjoy. Over time as Jasper has expanded, the city has invested in adding sidewalks for easier access to our public schools and other areas of town.
However, Jasper does recognize the importance and need to improve and provide even greater walkable and bicycling access around town. As a result, the city engaged an outside firm to develop and recommend an intermodal pedestrian and bicycle plan that can be developed in phases. That plan has recently been approved to move forward.
This is the current focus of many residents! Our prominent porches and sidewalks and plethora of parks mean we as residents enjoy being outdoors and don't shy away from walking.
We have an exciting Montgomery Road Revitalization Plan that will really heighten pedestrian-friendliness along our main corridor. In the meantime, we have sidewalks everywhere, GoVibrant walking routes, and an increasing number of bikers, especially with the construction of the Wasson Way bike trail and the efforts to extend that bike infrastructure throughout Norwood.
Recently, our council and school district received grants and implemented a Safe Routes to School plan which has made the pedestrian commute to school safer and the areas around the school more attractive for walkers and bikers.
We have a historic corner store provision that has inspired new mixed-use residential and small businesses such as an artist studio, a pay-as-you-can restaurant, a Montessori school, and coming soon a coffee shop and hair salon.
CNU-MW: What are some great reasons you would give Millennials for moving to, or staying in, your city?
Our location is excellent for a Millennial looking for a place to live, with the charm and familiarity of a small town and the proximity to the amenities of a larger city. We have great housing stock with large historic homes and the "missing middle" housing options that make it possible to live in Norwood through all stages of life. It’s also the ideal size of the community to get involved in and know your city officials. As Millennials put down roots, they can keep in mind our good schools and numerous family-friendly activities like parks and sports leagues.
Jasper is a great place for starting a family and raising a family. We pride ourselves in how clean, safe, and friendly a community we have. The city is enabled with high-speed fiber internet connectivity which allows business to be conducted worldwide from the convenience of one’s home or the gathering spaces throughout the community. We have a great mix of businesses from entrepreneurial start-ups to several medium and large manufacturers that offer a variety of employment opportunities.
Our public school system is one of the best in Indiana and the Vincennes University Jasper Campus offers excellent programs including programs focused on fostering innovation. Jasper has great youth sports facilities and two excellent golf courses, Buffalo Trace and Sultan's Run.
For outdoor adventurers, Jasper offers great parks, walking trails and recreational areas. We are also close to Patoka Lake and the Ferdinand State Forest. Finally, Jasper has several quality locally-owned restaurants, a brewery, and other attractions.
CNU-MW: What are 8 words that give the essence of your city?
· Small town in a big city
· Strong community
Norwood’s answers were provided by Alisha Loch, an enthusiastic resident of Norwood, a mom of three, and a Norwood Together board member.
Jasper’s answers were provided by Mark Nowotarski who is a passionate advocate for Jasper, Indiana. Mark lived in Jasper from 1990 to 2004 and moved back to Jasper upon his retirement in 2020. He’s now working harder than ever.