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Health district vision: Improve lives in community

INDIANAPOLIS — Dying young. Bleak job opportunities. Unhealthy food options.

How do you change the fate of a community facing those systemic challenges for decades? IU Health thinks it has the answer.

A new News 8 series is doing a deep dive into the health provider’s solution to those problems.

Construction is happening on the new multibillion-dollar IU Health Campus at 16th Street and Capitol Avenue. IU Health sees the project as a rising tide to possibly lift all boats in the surrounding community that has faced decades of economic hardship.

Jamal Smith, director of government affairs at IU Health, compared the campus to the JW Marriott Indianapolis hotel and other tall buildings in downtown Indianapolis. “You know the JW? And how tall those are? Imagine three of those right next to each other.”

Smith told Fisher that, according to census data, people who live within walking distance around the future IU Health Campus don’t live as long as people in surrounding areas. “Currently, they’re scheduled to die roughly 15 to 20 years prior to those who live 8 to 10 miles north of them in Carmel or Fishers.”

“When you see that statistic, how shocking is that?”

“When I first saw it I was like, ‘That’s not true,’ but the data is. The numbers don’t lie.”

Smith told I-Team 8 that 40% of the reason is socioeconomic challenges. “There’s a lack of a health food option within this footprint. There’s what people call a pharmacy desert. There’s a bank desert, and the communities been screaming this for quite some time.”

That’s why IU Health is stepping up.

It wants to transform the community and the lives of the people who live in it. The vision is a health district that reaches from as far south as St. Clair Street, up to 35th, and from Dr. Martin Luther King Street to Meridian Street.

“Multifamily housing. Some single-family housing. We absolutely need some more affordable housing. There’ll be ample food options, both, kind of, grocery as well as retail. The schools would be strengthened in that space, both academically through their curriculum but also through their physical space. Child care would be adequate in the space. One’s ability to move about the district would be easier, trails and bike paths and things of that nature. There’ll be ample green space for people to enjoy.”

IU Health doesn’t own all the land in the envisioned health district so it plans to use its influence to achieve its vision.

“Our hope is that, as developers approach us wanting to take advantage of the development known as the medical center, we use some of our influence to ensure as best we can that they buy into the vision of accomplishing the goals within the district that community has been asking for. Accomplish the goal of making Indiana a healthier state.”

The goal would be to keep people who currently live in the neighborhood right where they are.

“I’d argue that, in doing all of this, displacement doesn’t happen. If I had a magic wand, if I’m a genie, displacement doesn’t happen. I’m careful not to say ‘gentrification’ because in its purest form gentrification isn’t necessarily the issue. The issue is the displacement that comes as a result of gentrification. Typically, that lens that gentrification tends to happen doesn’t take into account the culture of the people who live work and play in the space presently, but, if we do this right, it absolutely does,” said Smith.

The vision for the health district is long term. It won’t happen overnight.

News 8 will be following its development every step of the way so people know how it will impact them and their families.