If you haven't lived or worked on the south side of Fort Wayne, you might get the idea it's a dangerous place.
When Dan Swartz opened Wunderkammer Company art gallery in the old Casa D'Angelo building on Fairfield Avenue, his friends from the north side of town thought he might have issues with crime. After all, the south side has been making headlines for drug busts, thefts and even fatal crimes. But when Swartz opened shop, he noticed something entirely different.
“People are more neighborly here,” Swartz said, mentioning several times that random members of the community have dropped by just to see how he's doing.
It's something I noticed myself when I moved into the 46807 ZIP code last fall – an area of south-central Fort Wayne between Creighton Avenue and Tillman Road, west of South Calhoun Street and east of the St. Marys River.
I had neighbors offering to lend me lawn tools or help shovel my drive when it snowed.
The week I moved in, there were 11 reported burglaries in the area, and my parents were afraid I wouldn't be safe. Even so, I was surprised how safe it seems when you experience it firsthand.
The serious crimes I read about in the paper appeared limited to drugs and gangs, and my neighbors only a quick shout down the street have come over several times just to tell me they're watching out for me.
It's led me to think there are more positive things happening in the south side of town than we usually hear about. If you can look beyond the headlines, you'll see the south side is actually a place where people of different ages, races and incomes are coming together and enriching each other.
Take the Reclamation Project on the corner of Pontiac and Calhoun streets, for example. Angie Harrison, who moved to the area from the diverse shores of Southern California, started the Reclamation Project to play off the 07's rich cultural community. Part of the project's work involves reclaiming and redeveloping space, and the other part is connecting newcomers with seasoned locals who can help them make the transition to Fort Wayne.
The locals help the newcomers learn English and share networks of people and opportunities around town. But it's not a one-way street of giving that creates dependency, Harrison said. It's more of a give-and-take process of valuing others for who they are and enriching our own culture at the same time.
“It's helped us understand the value of people connecting with people,” Harrison said. “The way people interact with each other makes things happen.”
And the 07 is a prime place for making things happen because it was purposefully designed to get people out of their cars with parks, boulevards and winding sidewalks, according to Julie Donnell, founder and co-president of Friends of the Parks.
German-American land architect George Kessler, who died in 1923, had much of this part of town in his vision for a pedestrian-friendly, human-scale landscape that's community-centered.
“It's not an accident that Foster Park is on one end of Rudisill Boulevard and McMillen Park is on the other end,” Donnell said. “All you have to do is drive down Rudisill to see the beauty (Kessler) felt and knew.”
It's a beauty that makes the south side conducive to community and strengthens neighborhoods. And as our city becomes more diverse, we should play off plans like Kessler's and projects like Harrison's to bring people of all walks of life together in ways that encourage interaction.
If we had more opportunities to interact with people who were different from ourselves, maybe we'd learn we're more similar than we assumed. And if we found more similarities, maybe we wouldn't be afraid. And if we weren't afraid, maybe we'd see so-called dangerous neighborhoods as places teeming with potential.