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Innovate Indy: growing grassroots innovation

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Indiana University student, Katherine Boyles, shares one of her ideas with the group. - NATHAN BROWN
  • Nathan Brown
  • Indiana University student, Katherine Boyles, shares one of her ideas with the group.

Almost everyone has some ideas about how to improve their city - the problem is finding a forum in which to voice those concerns.

The Innovate Indy Summit, held Saturday Dec. 3 at the Big Car Service Center, sought to give individuals with ideas a place to voice them and the opportunity to collaborate with others on how to improve Indianapolis.

A sampling of the ideas simmering at the summit includes: develop a babysitting cooperative, create community gardens, bolster the recycling industry for job growth, establish a complementary currency to strengthen the local economy, achieve literacy for all by third grade, and use an organic farm to incubate green business.

The idea for this summit came nine months ago when the Rockefeller Foundation contacted Marc McAleavey, site director for Public Allies in Indianapolis.

"They said they wanted to invest in learning about how a process for innovation can emerge to connect people's ideas from the ground up," McAleavey said. "People who aren't normally included in conversations around innovation."

Indianapolis was one of three Public Allies sites chosen to pursue this idea of innovation. The other two sites were New Haven, Conn., and Cincinnati, Ohio.

"Public Allies believes that everyone leads," McAleavey said. "We are an AmeriCorps program that seeks to connect young adults between the ages of 18 to 30 typically to non-profit organizations across the city for a 10-month apprenticeship to strengthen and develop and empower not only our non-profit sector in Indianapolis, but also our communities and our neighborhoods."

Current Innovate Indy coordinator Alvin Sansuwangul contacted McAleavey to pursue a position at Public Allies shortly after Indianapolis was chosen as an Innovation site. He was brought on after mentioning he was interested in community development and was then put in charge of organizing the summit.

"At first it was huge," Sansuwangul said. "It sounds very big. Like, 'How are we going to get people to bring ideas together?' But, it's based on the philosophy that people have skills and knowledge. They have experience in their communities and that experience is just as valuable, maybe more valuable, than those people who are making most of the decisions of how a city is run and things happening in the city."

About 100 people representing a mix of all ages, races, backgrounds, and neighborhoods participated in the summit.

Ideas were discussed for about 30 minutes each in groups ranging in size. In total, there were 20 groups discussing various ideas. There was no limit to the amount of ideas that could be discussed.

Ideas were written down for the first thirty minutes of the summit on large sheets of butcher paper. - NATHAN BROWN
  • Nathan Brown
  • Ideas were written down for the first thirty minutes of the summit on large sheets of butcher paper.
Some like freelance writer Maurice Broaddus had only one idea he wanted to talk about.

"Right now, I'm toying with the idea of starting something called the 'Phoenix Arts Initiative' where I'll gather artists and take them in to neighborhoods and work with kids to learn how to express themselves," Broaddus said.

Others like property manager Timothy Pelton had multiple ideas.

"I've got six ideas on the board," Pelton said.

His ideas included persuading the city to buy unused FEMA trailers and bring them in to the city for people to rent during the Super Bowl, requiring all children of recipients of Section 8 Indiana housing funds to attend school regularly and rehabbing abandoned houses.

Rik Fuller, field representative at the County Assessor's Office, presented his personal 10-page vision to improve the Stringtown neighborhood. Fuller's plan included an idea to build what he called "The City of Towers."

"A 60-to-80 foot 'observation tower' in your neighborhood will bring customers to your neighborhood for food, coffee, souvenirs, and a great view of the city," according to his plan.

Fuller's plan also details his idea to house the Earth-World International Hostel in an existing building on the corner of Vermont and State streets.

Community Members Nancy Laci and Babulal Banthis presented their ideas together. Laci was concerned about food security in low-income areas. Banthis wanted to develop a large community garden. They presented their ideas as one that they could work together to achieve.

During Banthis and Laci's presentation, others chimed in with more ideas.

"I think we could use Permaculture ideas within the community garden or even start a class," said Indiana University student Katherine Boyles.

The Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, where Sansuwangul and McAleavey both work as Public Allies, has offered to support any groups who want to carry their ideas beyond the summit.

"Each group that wants to continue working together will have the support the of the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center to form a community action team, which we will work with over the next year to make their idea happen, to develop it further," Sansuwangul said.

He added that the INRC would work to help put community action teams in discussions with potential funders or other non-profits with whom they hope to partner.

Five more Innovate Indy Summits are planned over the next 5 months for community action teams to come together once more and refine their ideas.

At that point, the goal is to present refined ideas to INRC and the public and to hopefully involve more Indianapolis community members.

"Oftentimes, whenever innovation is mentioned, it's used to qualify a pretty homogenous group of people," McAleavey said. "In essence, whenever something is quoted as being innovative, it's coming from a real mainstream in our society. We think that the (Innovate Indy Summits are) a real opportunity to listen to everybody; that we need everybody's input; we need everybody's idea."

Sansuwangul said the next Innovate Indy Summit would take place Jan. 14 at the Big Car Service Center. To learn more about Innovate Indy and see notes taken during the summit, go to innovateindy.org.

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