Gary, Indiana is Chicago's urban neighbor to the east. Gary is known for two things, steel and the birthplace of pop idol Michael Jackson.
Gary was founded by United States Steel and is named after Elbert Henry Gary, the corporation's chairman. At one time U.S. Steel was the largest steel producer and the largest corporation in the world. Until the economics of the steel industry changed Gary was a thriving small city.
Some claim Gary's fall from economic grace was U.S. Steel refusing to innovate as the economics of steel manufacturing and distribution changed. During the late 1960s and early 1970s foreign competitors produced better quality steel and even with shipping costs were able to sell it for less money.
Gary is also known, along with Detroit and Liverpool, England as one of the cities selling off foreclosed homes for as little as one dollar (One pound in Liverpool). Zillow, a real estate website, has homes listed or sold in Gary from $1 to $50. The idea is to eliminate the blight of boarded up homes, get them back on the tax rolls, and give some people a chance at home ownership.
Like many neighborhoods in Chicago, Gary has its share of foreclosed homes. Though parts of Gary resemble suburbs, there is the same air of desperation and depression one finds on the west and south sides of Chicago.
Young Black men have the same frustration and anger of their counter parts in Chicago. They cannot understand why their local, state, and federal elected officials do nothing to bring economic development and private sector jobs to Gary.
One gentleman became angry when he learned there were homes on the market for as little as one dollar. "Why don't they tell us about this? People from the community could buy those homes and fix them."
Michael Jackson's boyhood home is fenced and gated. It sits on a manicured corner lot. The home is tiny, about the size of a two car garage. Most of the homes on the block are small and tidy. One block over there are boarded up homes and throughout the neighborhood are more foreclosed homes.
While driving through several parts of Gary, I did not see one police car patrolling the streets. Residents informed me that it sometimes takes hours for police to arrive, even for serious incidents.
Gary is a quiet city during the day. The silence and few people on the streets give it the appearance of a mid-20th century abandoned city. The silence was punctuated on some blocks by lawn mowers and crews rehabbing homes. On blocks where homes are boarded up, residents appeared to take particular care that their homes show pride of ownership.
Gary, like many impoverished Chicago neighborhoods, is situated on transportation crossroads. It has an airport, railroads, and highways. Like some Chicago neighborhoods, it appears Gary's political leadership is not taking advantage of its assets.
What could be a pleasant place to live is devolving into a worn and dreary place. Gary has a tired feel and look. The only energetic bright spots are near the highway ramps, where transportation related businesses thrive.
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