Feature

Not Your Typical Redevelopment Board

With little else to do, teenagers in the rural Indiana town of San Pierre have found a new place to hang out: community meetings. But they're not just hanging out, they are actively participating in the planning and revitalization of their community.
January 21, 2008, 5am PST | Therese Schmidt
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Photo: Therese Schmidt

On a typical Friday night in America teenagers hang out with their friends on their neighborhood corner, or at the mall, or maybe at the local movie theater. But for teenagers living in San Pierre, a small, unincorporated rural farming community located 80 miles from Chicago in northwestern Indiana, this isn't the case.

Despite its small size, San Pierre was once a thriving community. It was home to more than 34 different businesses, and was surrounded by farmland and people gainfully employed in agriculture, retail sales, banking or other service industries. Unfortunately, like many other small rural communities in America, San Pierre has experienced a long streak of economic decline; it is now the second most distressed area in the state. Today there are no gas stations, grocery stores, elementary/secondary schools, pharmacies, hospitals, movie theaters, baseball leagues, or manufacturing plants, and the population of San Pierre has dwindled to just 156 people. Buildings stand vacant and dilapidated, and what infrastructure remains is crumbling and in desperate need of repair. And for teenagers, finding a place to hang out isn't that easy.

An Unconventional Teenage Hangout

But some of the teenagers of San Pierre have managed to find a place to meet, though it may seem a little unusual. The youth of San Pierre can now be found at community meetings, where they take an active part in the planning the redevelopment of their town. They ended up there with the assistance of the Center for Rural Outreach & Public Services (CROPS), a group on a mission to bring together intergenerational volunteers for the benefit of the community. CROPS was founded in 2004 as a grassroots nonprofit organization that provides services to rural communities such as grant writing training, board development, strategic planning, and capital campaigns for building and redevelopment. CROPS launched the San Pierre Revitalization Project in 2005 and created several committees to carry out the project which are made up of adult and youth members, including: the CROPS Board of Directors (4 youth and 5 adults), the San Pierre Revitalization Project Committee (3 youth and 3 adults), and the Youth Leadership Committee (20 youth).

The Role of Youth in San Pierre's Revitalization

The youth members played an integral part in determining the scope and phasing of the Project, which will consist of multi-phases that capitalize on San Pierre's existing community assets, including:

  1. A rich history of railroading
  2. The annual sandhill crane migration to the nearby Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, where up to 28,000 birds roost on peak evenings between October and December – an event that brings out an estimated 30,000 tourists each year
  3. The area's unique farmland, where farmers produce alfalfa, peppermint, spearmint, sunflowers, soybeans, and corn
  4. The area's oak savannas, which support the region's biological diversity; and
  5. Youth who care about their hometown and want to make a difference.

Phase One of the Project involves improving existing community facilities to provide basic programs and services that will lay the foundation for future project activities, promote tourism, and improve the quality of life for residents of the community. Projects planned in Phase One include:

  1. Creating a bicycle and pedestrian loop trail system that connects the town of San Pierre with the surrounding farmlands, oak savannahs, and wildlife preserve
  2. Installing sidewalks and streetlights
  3. Landscaping along US 421 and SR 10
  4. Renovating the Lions Club Building to become a Community Center; and
  5. Making necessary facility improvements at the San Pierre Park.

Even with limited resources, results of the community's revitalization efforts are evident. In just two short years the youth of San Pierre have made huge strides in completing Phase One of the Project. In the process they have gained a sense of civic pride and a desire to continue to improve their community. The intergenerational model developed in San Pierre provides small communities with an opportunity to utilize all of their resources including the creativity and fresh perspectives of their youth.

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Therese Schmidt is an independent consultant providing current, long range, and environmental planning; historical assessments; and grant writing services throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Her professional planning career has included positions in both public and private agencies as well as an internship in Russia. She is currently coordinating publication of a book, The History of Menlo Park, with Arcadia Press for their Images of America series.

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