When the Company Leaves the Company Town

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South Bend’s net cost model, shown above, depicts net positive parcels in black, rising up, and net negative parcels in red, sinking down. This map is a view from the ground looking at South Bend’s revenue net losses and gains in 3D. Closer to the city’s center, there are many spikes of positive revenue, but when considering how many net negative parcels are spread throughout the city, one begins to wonder if the net positive is enough to cover the net negative parcels.

Thanks to Urban3’s analysis, South Bend was able to understand the scope of the issue and was given the tools necessary to start to fix it. The city began to realize major changes needed to be made, in order to have the funds to cover things like fixes to the failing stormwater and sewer systems. South Bend grew up as a suburban city, with miles of road networks connecting single-use zones to each other. This expensive style of building has resulted in tremendous maintenance costs that a city with a declining population struggles to afford. 

A common issue with infrastructure spending is deferred maintenance, putting off the problem until it becomes unavoidable. This is a challenge in many cities, not just South Bend. Cities often start a pattern of expanding and annexing without making critical considerations into how they will maintain their roads, bridges, and pipes over time. This leaves places without the financial resources to maintain the foundations they were built upon, creating compounding issues for the city to solve.

In South Bend, this issue of deferred maintenance is present, along with growing vacancy and a declining population. After the Studebaker factory closed its doors in 1963, many people left the city for other places with manufacturing jobs. After the immediate exodus, there continued to be a steadily declining population and when people leave, so do their tax dollars, resulting in a city without enough money to pay for its expansive infrastructure networks. 

Today, South Bend is dealing with a big vacancy problem, as well. The city is aware that they need to thicken up their existing neighborhoods to survive. Along with the net cost model above, Urban3 mapped South Bend’s vacant parcels, giving scope to the vacancy issue. After seeing this map, there was no denying the city needed to act now to make sure South Bend survives. 

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