The BIG Things

Delaware-Muncie’s Key Issues and Top Priorities

Why prioritize?

One of the hallmarks of a good plan is that it gets the “big things” right. It identifies a few issues that are so important to a community’s future that they require focused attention and resources to ensure they are handled correctly.

When this doesn’t happen—when communities fail to prioritize—limited resources are spread too thin over too many issues to make a meaningful and lasting difference on anything in particular. When attention and resources are scattered, inaction or half-measures become the norm.

What are Delaware-Muncie's "Big Things"?

Three ‘Big Things’ emerged during the TogetherDM process.

An online survey, input from the project’s Steering Committee, and small group conversations facilitated by committee members all pointed to three broad issues that became focal points for TogetherDM.

Improve quality

of place

Strengthen housing conditions and options

Cultivate opportunities for upward mobility

Each is a reaction to population loss, job loss, soft demand, and the consequences of those trends

Improve quality of place

What does this mean?

There is a widespread sense that the community does not exhibit pride of place and ownership to an acceptable level—nor does it perform basic upkeep in a manner that instills confidence. Public properties, private properties, and the spaces that connect them—major corridors, gateways, streets, parks, etc.—send an overall message that the community has low standards for itself. There are certainly exceptions to this impression, but prevailing conditions raise an important question: If the community doesn’t seem interested or capable of investing in itself, why should anybody else (potential businesses and residents included)?

In the context of TogetherDM, ‘quality of place’ has a broad definition and will mean different things at different scales. But it all boils down to one’s experience of their community and how the physical environment influences that experience:

  • Block-level: Absence of litter, condition of private property, condition of streets and sidewalks, quality of public fixtures, attention to visible details large and small

  • Neighborhood or corridor level: Sense of arrival and identity, condition and quality of amenities and assets (parks, schools, etc.), consistency of property conditions and built form, apparent capacity of residents or businesses to manage their shared spaces

  • Rural area: Quality of rural atmosphere and character, depending on context (pastoral, agricultural, small community)

  • Downtown or Main Streets: Quality and vibrancy of civic spaces, sense of arrival and identity

Why is this a priority?

Low standards are a self-fulfilling prophecy. They discourage people within the community from working to improve the quality of their homes, neighborhoods, and civic spaces, and they discourage people and businesses with numerous options in nearby counties from moving in. Over time, this dampens the community’s tax base—and with it, its fiscal capacity to improve and maintain itself.

What do we know about this, or what are we trying to find out?

Residential Property Condition Survey

A 2021 condition survey found that 23% of residential properties in the City of Muncie, the county's incorporated towns, and unincorporated residential clusters show signs of moderate or severe physical distress. These conditions have an influence on the quality of place experienced by residents and visitors.

Corridor Audit

A 2021 assessment of Delaware County's major corridors and gateways, which considered a range of factors and the overall urban, suburban, or rural context of the corridors and gateways, found that 57% rate poorly or very poorly for quality of place. The most significant factors in these low ratings are poor quality building and site design, streetscape design, and road conditions.

Street/Road Maintenance Analysis

A 2020 assessment of roadway pavement conditions in Delaware County found that 34% of the county's streets and roadways need reconstruction and 29% need major rehabilitation. This represented a slight improvement from a 2016.

Parks Assessment

Muncie's park system suffers from decades of disinvestment. While funding has been increased for parks in recent years, the per capita spending levels in 2021 by the City of Muncie for parks maintenance ($24) was well below median spending levels for cities of similar size in the U.S. ($88).

Strengthen housing conditions and options

What does this mean?

The softness of local housing markets—with supply exceeding demand and leading to stagnation of prices and rents relative to inflation—has produced two phenomena that are noticed by the community.

One is the deterioration of the existing housing supply as owners hold back on major upgrades and defer basic maintenance, either because they lack confidence in the wisdom of investing in their homes or they are unable to afford such improvements. The result is an overabundance of housing that is increasingly unappealing.

The other phenomena is the market’s inability to stimulate production of new housing products (rental or ownership) because the community is accustomed to prices and rents that are below what it costs to build new. While the construction of new apartments with modern amenities, for example, will require rents of $1,300 or more to cover acquisition, construction, management, and financing costs, the typical rental unit in Delaware County is less than $800 per month.

Why is this a priority?

Combined, the deteriorating quality of existing housing and the dearth of new housing types result in a supply that makes it hard for the community to compete for residents and businesses that can locate in places with a wider range of appealing options.

This also directly influences Big Thing #1 because deteriorating residential properties dampen quality of place throughout the community, and areas that might become more vital with new types of housing (especially downtowns and Main Streets) experience limited development.

What do we know about this, or what are we trying to find out?

Housing Market Analysis and Typology

A variety of local and federal data sources have been used to develop a preliminary picture of Delaware County’s housing market geography – where it is relatively strong and where it is relatively weak. This will be refined and can be used to help identify strategies appropriate to different market conditions.

Residential Property Condition Survey

The 2021 condition survey found that 42% of residential properties in the City of Muncie, the county's incorporated towns, and unincorporated residential clusters are currently in excellent or good condition. On the other hand, 23% were found to show signs of moderate or severe distress, and 35% were in average condition and are vulnerable to decline over the next decade.

Existing Policy Review

A review of how the governments and non-profit agencies in the community spend existing housing resources—and the outcomes they achieve—will be conducted to identify baseline housing policies.

Cultivate opportunities for upward mobility

What does this mean?

As in most communities with a similar economic background, decades of deindustrialization have made it harder for individuals with low or outdated skills to climb the economic ladder in Muncie and Delaware County and created concentrations of high poverty that are difficult to escape from. Cultivating opportunities for upward mobility is about expanding the chances that individuals and families have to advance their economic position and contribute meaningfully to community goals.

This ‘Big Thing’ ties into a number of spheres, such as the quality of educational and training infrastructure, access to work opportunities to build skills and experience, and improvements to household stability. But it also ties into matters of housing policy (does it alleviate or exacerbate concentrated poverty?) and the degree to which community decision-making is intentional about creating a sense of agency and ownership in areas of high need.

Why is this a priority?

Creating opportunities and tools for economic advancement has the potential to reduce concentrated poverty, strengthen the county’s workforce, and build the capacity of the community to invest in other priorities (such as Big Things #1 and #2).

What do we know about this, or what are we trying to find out?

High and Concentrated Poverty

The household poverty rate in Delaware County (22% in 2019) is 1.6x higher than the state and national rates. When the influence of college students is largely removed by looking only at family poverty rates, Delaware County is still 1.5x the state average.

Within Delaware County, poverty is most pronounced within Muncie (with a household rate of 31%), especially on the city’s south and east sides. But four of the county’s six incorporated towns also have poverty rates that are above (sometimes well above) the state average.

Limited Opportunities to Advance Generationally

Long-term research on generational economic advancement by Raj Chetty at Harvard (creator of the ‘Opportunity Atlas’) reveals that children born to low-income families in Delaware County can expect to make $26,000 per year as adults—the second lowest income expectation among counties in Indiana.

Learn More!

Access the adopted plan in the Library to learn more about these Big Things and how they were translated into outcomes to achieve and specific strategies to undertake.