Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Industry in Riverside: Progress and Pollution

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the dual nature of the industrial sector in Site 0153 more clearly than this juxtaposition above. Scroll to the right, and an old photo shows the area as a booming factory to be proud of. Scroll to the left, and is becomes apparent that this factory's legacy is an abandoned building and an broken billboard audaciously claiming to have "a reputation you can stand on". This irony, given the fact that industry in the area has polluted the groundwater underneath everyone's feet, succinctly summarizes the history of industry in Site 0153.* It has been a source of both progress and pollution to Indianapolis residents. 

When this area northwest of downtown Indianapolis was first settled by Hoosiers, industry came first (The Polis Center, n.d.). When a local street car company extended its transportation route up to miles north of the circle in 1863, businesses were drawn increasingly to the area. In 1873 alone, for example, "Udell Ladder Works, the North Indianapolis Wagon Works, and the Henry Ocow Manufacturing Company all established a presence in the [northwest] area (The Polis Center, n.d.). Combined with the construction of the central canal, this area was soon a small industrial hub, leading to its plotting in North Indianapolis in 1873 (The Polis Center, n.d.). 

This industry was a major driver of development throughout Indianapolis. When the railroads were built through Indianapolis, population increased four-fold from 1850 to 1870 (Scarpino, 1994). The access to manufacturing jobs and opportunities sustained a growing population, even as it polluted the land around it. Residents around manufacturing in Indianapolis recall "If you rocked on the back porch all morning and then went in for lunch, when you went out again after lunch you had to clean the chair thoroughly again" (Scarpino, 1994). This air pollution wasn't a problem in Riverside because anti-smoking ordinances were passed by the time it was populated by residents, but industries continued to pollute in other ways, including the possible use of Volatile Organic Compounds that now inhabit Site 0153 (Scarpino, 1994; IDEM, 2018). 

It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that residences began to follow industry into Riverside area. According to a commemorative booklet published in 1916, “only a few years back, Riverside Park with all the land eastward to the Canal was nothing but farmland. A mere half dozen houses were about all that could be found in the whole section” (The Polis Center, n.d. ). In one section of Site 0153, this narrative is confirmed by an 1889 map, where only a railroad and a few industries are shown built across Gent Avenue (then Post Avenue) (Freeland, 2018).

Fig 2. - 1889 Map of Center Township (Courtesy of Indiana State Library)

Looking a specific plot of land in Riverside illustrates the way that industry and residences coincided  through the early 1900's. When the electric railway made this area accessible to the rest of the city, Richard Ward bought the plot of land at 1701 Gent Avenue and built his residence in 1916 (The Polis Center, n.d.; Freeland, 2018). Then he built a garage on the same plot, naming it "Just Right Auto" in a 1923 advertisement (Freeland, 2018). In 1925, Hypes & Gropp Metal Spinners, a small recently organized company, began to operated at 1717 Gent Avenue, just in Mr. Ward's backyard (Freeland, 2018). Soon, other industries began to operate on the same block until five of the six plots were occupied by industry in 1933 - Richard Ward's house was the only remaining non-industrial use on the site. 

This increasingly dense industry took a negative toll on residential property value. According to the 1937 Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) maps, the land around 1700 Gent Ave was a "blighted area" and "railroad tracks" were a detrimental influence on future property values (Nelson & Winling et. al, 2018). Driven by the industrial degradation of the area combined with blockbusting practices enabled by HOLC, white flight of the area spiked heavily in the 1950's (see "For Sale Signs Sprouting Like Dandelions"). The Riverside neighborhood changed drastically from 1950-1960 from a heavily Caucasian to a heavily African American neighborhood, but the strong industrial base remained. This apparent racial inequality which resulted in African Americans being disproportionately exposed to pollution resulted not from malicious or intentional industrial siting. Rather, it stems from African Americans' inability to leave the blighted areas due to the racist financing policies of HOLC. 

Once the neighborhood underwent rapid racial change in the 1950's and 1960's, disinvestment in the area followed. While the strong industrial base remained, retail shops withered and entertainment areas closed (The Polis Center, n.d.). By the 1980's, even some of the industry had left abandoned buildings throughout the region (Patriot Engineering and Environmental Inc, 2004). 

But despite this economic disinvestment, the community has remained resilient and shows plans to continue to thrive in the future. To learn more about them, you'll have to wait for the next blog. 

*To their credit, neither Perry Manufacturing or Perry Scaffolding have been identified as site 0153 contributors specifically. 

Sources Cited (by order of appearance)

  1. The Polis Center. (n.d.). UNWA - Narrative History. [online] Available at: http://www.polis.iupui.edu/RUC/Neighborhoods/UNWA/UNWANarrative.htm#5f [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
  2. Scarpino, Phillip. The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1st. Ed. "Urban Environment". Indianapolis: The Polis Center of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, 1994.
  3. Indiana Department of Environmental Management. (2018). Site 0153 Potential Responsible Party (PRP). [online] Available at: https://www.in.gov/idem/cleanups/pages/site0153/map.html [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
  4. Freeland, S. (2018). HI Mailbag: 1701 Gent Avenue. [online] All Things Indianapolis History. Available at: https://historicindianapolis.com/hi-mailbag-1701-gent-avenue/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
  5. Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed November 28, 2018, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=13/39.7865/-86.1605&opacity=0.8&city=indianapolis-in&area=D26&sort=53&text=bibliograph.
  6. Patriot Engineering and Environmental, Inc. Site investigation Report. Indianapolis, Indiana. 2004

Monday, November 26, 2018

"For Sale Signs Sprouting Like Dandelions" - Blockbusting in Riverside

Blockbusting in Riverside

In a 1990 interview, a longtime resident of Riverside neighborhood shared "(I) remember the day back in the late '50s when the first black family moved into the neighborhood. The rest of the neighbors got together that night and the next morning there were 'for sale' signs sprouting like dandelions" (Mannheimer, 1998). By 1990 or earlier, the Riverside neighborhood had transitioned from 100% Caucasian to 90% African American and 10% Caucasian (Mannheimer, 1998). What in the world could cause such a rapid demographic change? 

In the last blog post ("Where Waterlines and Redlines Cross"), it was shown that redlining unfairly associated African Americans with depressing property values, and that it locked African Americans in poorly rated neighborhoods into a property-depreciating spiral. Speculators understood this pattern, and used it to drive their own profits. According to a report on Meridian-Kessler area (just north of Riverside)
...Speculators used the threat of racial change to railroad white homeowners into selling their houses at sacrifice prices... 
As soon as the first negro family took up residence in what, until the early 60's, was an all-white enclave of the Near-Northside, speculators saturated the area with solicitations to sell... 'Take our advice" Dewester quoted the speculators as saying "sell your house while it retains some of its value. The influx of negro newcomers is bound to continue. Sooner or later a house in this section will be all but worthless" 
Castellucci 1978

Speculators could then turn around and sell these houses to middle class African American families at full value. There were many documented cases where speculators would pay $7,000 for a house and resell it for $11,000 later that week (Castellucci, 1978). This then perpetuated the cycle - more black families moved into the neighborhood, convincing more white homeowners that their property values were under threat.

The problem is that speculators were so good at fear-mongering that they soon drove out more white neighbors than there was demand for housing. Soon, speculators were forced to sell these houses at the same sacrifice prices that they had forced upon white homeowners in the area (Castellucci, 1978). The vacuum left by this white flight was filled with lower-income, lower educated residents who often were forced to find financing from sources other than mortgage lenders (The Polis Center, n.d.).

The testimony of Riverside's longtime resident is borne out by census data - this cycle of blockbusting had a rapid, dramatic effect on the Riverside neighborhood.

Housing Trends in Riverside Area

Total Housing Units
Owner Occupied Units
732 (34%)
530 (21%)
111 (4%)
African American
213 (10%)
974 (40%)
1,324 (49%)
Renter Occupied Unit
59 (3%)
305 (12%)
60 (2%)
African American
250 (11%
485 (20%)
942 (35%)
Population in Riverside
Total Population
5,735 (82%)
2,692 (33%)
387 (5%)
African American
1,254 (18%)
5,503 (67%)
7,972 (95%)

Fig. 1 - Housing Trends in Riverside Area from the Riverside Neighborhood InventoryThis data captures trends in the broader census tract surrounding Riverside, so Figure 1 should be appreciated more for the trends observed than exact numbers. The data validates the three trends discussed above - African American occupants increased drastically from 1950 to 1960, and renter-occupied rates increased as residents were unable to find financing to purchase their home. Lastly, the population switched from 82% Caucasian in 1950 to 5% in 1970.

Data from the same inventory shows that while the 55.4% of the adults in Marion County were high school graduates in 1970, only 22.1% of adults in the Riverside area had received their high school diploma (Department of Metropolitan Development, 1980). Additionally, the 1970 mean income was $8,042 in the Riverside area, while it was $12,264 throughout the county. (Department of Metropolitan Development, 1980).*

Additional sources, like the United Northwest Quality of Life Plan, and the Polis Center's history of the United Northwest area, indicate that the city disinvested in this area once racial demographics and income levels changed sufficiently. The Riverside amusement park closed, the school systems lost funding, and in 2015 even the grocery stores have shut down to create a food desert in Riverside (The Polis Center, 2018; McKinney and Rinehart 2015).

*When reading this information, it's important to keep a communication distinction in mind. These lower incomes and education rates are a result of external policies and disinvestment imposed on the community. This is not a reflection of their deficit. The fact that these numbers are not lower is a testament to the resilience that these residents have shown in spite of having the deck stacked against them by the powers that be. 

Site 0153 - Where Waterlines and Redlines Cross

Fig. 1 - IDEM Site 0153 map (2018) & "Mapping Inequality"'s Redlining map (1937)

Scroll between the images above, and you'll notice that nearly every polluting industrial site resides in a "C" or "D" rated neighborhood on the 1937 maps ("C" meant that the neighborhood was "definitely declining" while "D" meant that the neighborhood was "undesirable") (Nelson & Winling et. al, 2018). With eighty years between them, why are the 1937 maps such accurate predictions of future environmental degradation? To answer that question, we've got to explore the financial practice of redlining.

In 1933, the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) was founded by the U.S. Federal government to refinance mortgages that were in danger of default after a 1929 crash in the housing market (Roosevelt Institute, 2012). In pursuit of this goal, the HOLC recruited "mortgage lenders, developers, and real estate appraisers to create maps...that color coded credit worthiness and risk on neighborhood and metropolitan areas" (Nelson & Winling et. al, 2018). From behind the desk that these maps were drafted, this may have seemed all well and good; it was a necessary step to ensure that mortgage money was only given to "worthy" creditors. But several key flaws caused devastating consequences.

The most glaring of these flaws was poor evaluation criteria. When the 1937 HOLC maps were drafted, it was a widely held belief that "Negroes depress property value" (Castellucci, 1978). As a result, those who drafted the HOLC maps declared areas with high levels of African American population to be "undesirable" neighborhoods. In fact, of all Indianapolis neighborhoods rated "A" or "B", only one of them had more than 0% African Americans...only "two negro families" (Nelson & Winling et. al, 2018).

Fig. 2 - Area around St. Phillips Church - the only "Still desirable" Area with African Americans living it in (HOLC 1937)

Another major flaw was the resulting spiral that "C" or "D" neighborhoods experienced. If you were looking to buy a home in a "C" or "D" neighborhood in the 1930's or 40's, it was very unlikely that financial institutions would approve a mortgage to buy a house (Nelson & Winling et. al, 2018). This has a two-fold effect on a neighborhood: (1) investment was prevented from entering the housing market and (2) homebuyers in the area were stranded, unable to sell their home and leave the area (Castellucci, 1978).

A final flaw was unequal application of these criteria. At the time of this HOLC map (1937), many of these "D" neighborhoods were "segregated but racially balanced" (The Polis Center, n.d.). In addition to being rated low because of African American presence, these neighborhoods were rated "D" for heavy industry and railroads that were inconvenient for residents. Most of these segregated neighborhoods include a note saying something like "local institutions will make loans on better class institutions in this neighborhood" (emphasis added) (Nelson & Winling et. al, 2018). In other words, Caucasians were given the ability to escape this spiral by selling to another family, but African-Americans were left stranded in an area that would be subject to increasing financial disinvestment.

Despite this blatant racial discrimination, the northwestern area of Indianapolis (including Riverside) remained "segregated but racially balanced" until the 1950s (The Polis Center, n.d.). So what changed this balanced neighborhood into one that is now only 10% Caucasian?

If the flaws of redlining created the kindling for discrimination, predatory lenders and developers were the spark that set them off. Read the next blog post to find out how.

Sources Cited (in order of appearance) 

  1. Indiana Department of Environmental Management. (2018). Site 0153 Potential Responsible Party (PRP). [online] Available at: https://www.in.gov/idem/cleanups/pages/site0153/map.html [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
  2. Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed November 26, 2018, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=13/39.7960/-86.1821&opacity=0.8&city=indianapolis-in&area=D26&sort=53&text=bibliograph.
  3. "Home Owners Loan Corporation - Roosevelt Institute". 2012. Roosevelt Institute. Accessed November 26 2018. http://rooseveltinstitute.org/home-owners-loan-corporation/.
  4. Castellucci, John. “Redlining in Indianapolis”. Indiana University School of Journalism. 1978. 
  5. The Polis Center. (n.d.). UNWA - Narrative History. [online] Available at: http://www.polis.iupui.edu/RUC/Neighborhoods/UNWA/UNWANarrative.htm#5f [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].

What is Site 0153?

As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, "beauty" translates to pollution... but the meaning holds. The answer you get to the question "what is Site 0153?" will very much depend upon who you ask.

To Indiana's Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), Site 0153 is a technical problem to be solved. This technical problem arose when, in 2013, Citizens Energy Group notified IDEM of low levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) within the groundwater of Riverside (IDEM, 2018). It is a groundwater contamination site spanning from 35th Street to the north, Holt Road to the west, Washington Street to the South, and Central Avenue to the east (IDEM, 2018). There are over 100 potential polluting sites within these few square miles, and the technical challenge is so great that the IDEM commissioner recommended in 2015 that the federal Environmental Protection Agency take the site over for clean up (MOA, 2017). But after two years of public meetings, IDEM assumed jurisdiction over clean-up and has dedicated a $1 million budget annually to clean up Site 0153 (IDEM, 2017).

Figure 1: IDEM Interactive Site 0153 Map

To members of the community, Site 0153 is a community problem requiring collaboration and government accountability to resolve. The Kheprw Institute, which works to promote "Community Empowerment through Self Mastery" in the Riverside area, has held a monthly Environmental Justice assembly to "bring greater attention and scrutiny to Site 0153 Groundwater contamination" (Kheprw Institute, 2018). The Indianapolis Environmental Equity Council (IEEC)  was formed in 2016 as a coalition of neighborhoods, churches, and businesses concerned about Site 0153 (Facebook, 2018). It has since published 8 community newsletters and canvased the neighborhoods throughout the area to educate businesses and residents on the situation (IEEC, 2018). 

Figure 2: Example Newsletter from the IEEC (March 2018)

To a student of history, the contaminated groundwater of Site 0153 is a legacy of booming 20th century industrial growth combined with racist financial policies throughout the 1930's-1980's. The area is predominantly populated by those of lower income, and those of African-American or Hispanic descent (Department of Metropolitan Development, 1980). By looking through a historical lens, a student of history can tell the story of why those of lower income and minority race are disproportiantely dealing with effects of pollution. As will be explored by subsequent posts in this blog, both redlining policies and a strong industrial base amplified the negative effects of the other and lead to a spiral of disinvestment throughout the Site 0153 area. 

These varied answers are all valid because Site 0153 is a complex site with a history spanning the last 120 years. It is the story of more than one hundred industrial sites, churches, and communities tied together by geography and polluted groundwater. As such, Site 0153 is peephole through which to examine the diametrically opposed trends in the City of Indianapolis - racist housing policies alongside tireless community advocacy; generational pollution alongside cultural feats that continue to entertain the nation. It is the story of hundreds of narrative threads passing through one geographic location. Hopefully, by examining these threads bit by bit, this blog can reconstitute the tapestry of Site 0153's history.

*historical note - throughout this blog, language drafted directly from historical documents will retain its original language. I therefore ask in advance for patience with outdated language like "negro" and "white" families when looking at historic racial discussions.

Sources Cited (in order of appearance)

  1. Indiana Department of Environmental Management. (2018). Site 0153 Ground Water Contamination Site. [online] Available at: https://www.in.gov/idem/cleanups/pages/site0153/index.html [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
  2. MOA: Memorandum of Agreement Between United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 and Indiana Department of Environmental Managment for the 0153/Riverside Ground Water Contamination Site, Indianapolis, Indiana: EPA Publications, 2017.
  3. Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Site Investigation Strategy - Site 0153 Plume (formerly Riverside Groundwater Contamination) Indianapolis, IN EPA ID# INN000510936. (Indiana, 2017). https://www.in.gov/idem/cleanups/pages/site0153/files/0153_site_strategy.pdf [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].  
  4. Kheprw Institute. (2018). Environmental Justice Assembly. [online] Available at: http://kheprw.org/environmental-justice-assembly/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
  5. Facebook. (2018). Indianapolis Environmental Equity Council. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/pg/IndianapolisEEC/about/?ref=page_internal [Accessed 17 Nov. 2018].
  6. Indianapolis Environmental Equity Council. (2018). Site 0153 Groundwater Investigation and Clean-Up Newsletter. Print. 
  7. Department of Metropolitan Development. Marion County Division of Planning and Zoning. Riverside Neighborhood Data Inventory. Indianapolis, Indiana, 1980. 

Industry in Riverside: Progress and Pollution

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the dual nature of the industrial sector in Site 0153 more clearly than this juxtaposition above. S...