Gary, Indiana: An Introduction to an Urbanist Love Story

Google Map showing Duluth to Evanston
Little bit of a drive, eh?

During the summer of 2017, I moved from Duluth, Minnesota to Evanston, Illinois to attend university. It was a difficult move and I had a hard time reconciling that I would be leaving “Canada Lite” and trading Lake Superior “grains and trains” for EL cars.

Duluth had not been my first choice or even my fourth choice place to live when I crash-landed in a city whose placement on a map was unknown to me until I was suddenly looking for apartments. However, it quickly became my favorite.

Fast forward to earlier this summer—the lack of a Northern Minnesota winter had given me seasonal depression and I needed to get out of Chicago. My summer work schedule wasn’t conducive to traveling long distances and my bank account was in general agreement with this strategy.

Late one night, I found myself sadly swiping through Facebook Events, until “Gary Preservation Tour” scrolled onto my screen.  It felt like the odd connection back to ‘home’ that I needed.

Gary New Duluth… Gary, Indiana. Same thing?

Located to the south of Duluth’s Morgan Park neighborhood, this area was initially known as New Duluth. Much like Gary, Indiana, Morgan Park was built as a company town for US Steel’s Duluth Works. US Steel would go on to purchase of a portion of New Duluth in addition to other adjacent lands and renaming it for, you guessed it, US Steel co-founder, Elbert H. Gary.

Black and white photo of US Steel Duluth Works
USS Duluth Works around 1953
Want to learn more about Gary-New Duluth? Check out these posts from Zenith City Online.

 

“WHY are you going to Gary?”

This is probably a good time to point out that I was not oblivious to Gary’s reputation when I decided to embark on this adventure. However, I was not expecting the amount of pushback that I got from my immediate group of friends when I floated the idea of traveling to Gary. This pushback escalated once I announced that, despite my many failed attempts to find a companion, that I would not be canceling my trip and would be going alone.

I mean, to be fair, an article listing the “Cities with the highest murder rates in the US” had been making its rounds in my social media feed, with much fanfare. However, after living in Winnipeg and frequenting Thunder Bay, both of which seem to “fight” over being named the “Murder Capital of Canada“, Gary didn’t really seem all that unusual.

Unusual except for the trains! 
Green and brown leather seats on South Shore Line with steel works
Anyone else getting 90s Range Rover vibes?

Real Talk: One of the most enticing parts of traveling to Gary was the opportunity to ride the South Shore Line . Why is the South Shore so swoon-worthy? Because it’s one of the last of its kind. The days of electric interurban trains are sadly over.

Want to learn more about the South Shore?

 

 

“Let me say it once again…”
Melting with the “Melting Pot”

When I first arrived in Gary, it was about 8:30 am on a steamy Saturday morning and the transportation hub was empty. Honestly, I had no expectations for Gary, aside from riding trains and wandering around in a new-to-me place. I also definitely wasn’t expecting to find a 3-story monument of US Steel workers titled, “Fusion.”

I really shouldn’t have been surprised to see a massive piece of artwork that was dedicated to showcasing the ethnic diversity and “mixing” that occurred in this community. For months, I had been following the work of Chicago artists who had been embarking on a similar pilgrimage to bring murals to more blighted sections of the city. Throughout of the day, I heard story after story about various projects, be it traveling CHI artists who were embarking on a sort of art community, or the students from the local charter schools who were painting the boards on abandonments with their art.

When publications, like Curbed talk about the city’s attempt to make a come-back, it’s not joking. Artists, creatives, historic preservationists, are converging on the city not only for the property costs but for the opportunity to rebuild a version of the city it once was. Not only was I excited to find a city with many industrial and architectural similarities to a place that I love, but to find one with many parallels to the makers’ movement. I won’t just be going back to Gary… I’ll be going with bells on.

(Stay tuned, to hear more about the Union Station House Party to celebrate Decay Devil’s acquisition of the property and what they plan to do with it. Or if you’re interested in joining in on the festivities with me!)

 

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