What’s it like to be mayor of a post-industrial era city like Detroit or Flint trying to comeback from the depths of decades of disinvestment?
How does water fit into that recovery?
Great Lakes Now sat down with Gary, Indiana Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in Chicago recently where she was presenting at the Chicago water summit along with other Great Lakes mayors.
Freeman-Wilson was elected mayor of Gary in 2011. She has a law degree from Harvard and also served as Indiana’s attorney general.
Freeman-Wilson puts clean water in the same camp as public safety services like police and fire.
“Clean water is about quality of life,” she says and nothing is “more important than your health and it factors into the health of the community.”
She says Gary is also not just looking back when it manages water, it’s looking forward. In 2014 Gary received a $250,000 grant from the U.S. EPA to develop green infrastructure.
Freeman-Wilson told Great Lakes Now that the grant allowed Gary to pursue green infrastructure on a wider scale than just esthetics. It provided the financial resources to let the city be very practical – to go beyond appearances.
Freeman-Wilson says she can empathize with Flint’s problems. She said Flint’s issues “could easily be Gary.”
“Flint’s a legacy city, Gary’s a legacy city,” she says, and both have challenges with old pipes and an aged infrastructure. She said she immediately knew it was important to check Gary’s water supply.
Freeman-Wilson says Gary’s water supplier does “robust testing and frequent testing” so she knows the water supply is “free of lead.” She said Gary does additional testing beyond what the water supplier provides.
Gary will “absolutely” use the city’s proximity to Lake Michigan as an economic development tool Freeman-Wilson said.
She cited Gary’s “beautiful lakefront park” which hosts a variety of events including marathons and an air show which attracts 100,000 people.
Freeman-Wilson was quick to tell Great Lakes Now that joggers on Gary’s lakefront course say it’s one of the “most beautiful courses in the Midwest.”
She wants people in the far reaches of the Great Lakes region to know that Gary has “a beautiful beach and a beautiful lakefront” on Lake Michigan’s shores just like Chicago.