Welcome to another match up in our Sweet 16 Round of the Strongest Town Competition. We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about transportation, incremental growth, adapting to challenges, and more. Please scroll down to the bottom to vote.


Photo by Jenna Wertman

Photo by Jenna Wertman

Greenfield, IN

Entry submitted by: Jenna Wertman

Give an example of an incremental project that has happened in your town.

Greenfield has been building a network of diverse parks throughout our community. We started with your normal, straightforward parks that provide pools and playgrounds, built on that with a series of parks containing sports fields and passive recreation space, and have two newest parks that allow the user to interact with nature and celebrate the beauty of the county. We have been slowly connecting these with a series of trails building off the Pennsy Trail, built on a former railroad line and serving as the linear park "spine" of our community.

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

Like many suburban/rural communities, the majority of commuting and getting around is done by car. We have easy access to major roads and are a short 25 minutes from Indianapolis. We have point to point transportation services open to any resident, and some of our city-sponsored programs like our Senior Center have transportation on demand. We have the Pennsy Trail, which is over 5 miles stretching east-west across the community, and have a budding network of trails that we hope to eventually connect every neighborhood to the parks and schools. We are bisected by two major roads, a state highway and the National Road U.S. 40. We also are one of just two interstate exits in the county.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

Our resident's make our projects great by participating in various coalitions and community groups. We have the Greenfield Coalition, which focuses mostly on the downtown revitalization efforts, and a newer coalition called Healthy365 which is focused on making our community the healthiest in the state. We are always willing to hear and help projects from our Rotary Club, the local Boy Scout troop, and individuals in the community who want to make a difference.

We are passionate about making our community great and always try to look for every possible solution.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

We have many buildings in our downtown that have been in need of repair within the last decade. We have and continue to work on plugging building owners in to grant programs that we offer locally, as well as those at the state level. We recently applied for a large scale grant, and some of our building owners could not participate. We provided our grant administrator as a resource to help those business owners secure funding through another program offered. When a major focal point of our downtown nearly had to drop out of the original grant, we worked on a way to help that owner provide match to the grant in the form of a space to create an incubator. We are passionate about making our community great and always try to look for every possible solution.

Is your town financially strong and resilient for future generations? How do you know?

Yes! Greenfield is a fortunate community that has taken on little debt and ensures that we do not take out more than we can reasonably accommodate all at once. We were proactive in implementing a Tax Increment Finance District for a business park and our downtown, while keeping the boundaries somewhat modest to hopefully avoid a substantial negative impact on our schools. We also implemented park impact fees to pay for future recreation needs, both of which help us pay off debts incurred. We own and administer our own utilities, which allows us to offer competitive rates to our residents but also provides another source of income that many communities do not still have.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Our downtown has come a long way in just ten short years. We have "great bones" in the downtown and still have many of our original historic structures, although a few were lost to fires or tragedies over the years. We have a pedestrian plaza right next to our landmark county courthouse and lawn. We are home to the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum, and host the Riley Festival each year, which is the second largest craft festival in the state.

We have worked on beautification projects to provide street trees and public art, and have recently improved our wayfinding signage for downtown parking. We have a strong Main Street Organization dedicated to promoting Shop Local initiatives and offering grants for ongoing support to historic preservation.

I really feel like I am in a distinct community, and not in “just another suburb” of Indianapolis.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

My favorite thing about Greenfield is that it feels like a hidden gem a world away from the bustle of Indianapolis, but yet it takes just 25 minutes to get there if I want to go. With the thriving local downtown shops, the birthplace of the Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley, and the variety of parks I really feel like I am in a distinct community, and not in "just another suburb" of Indianapolis.


An ice rink in Valparaiso, part of the Central Park Plaza

An ice rink in Valparaiso, part of the Central Park Plaza

Valparaiso, IN

Entry submitted by: Tyler Kent, Mayor Jon Costas, Bill Oeding, and Kim Ranger

Give an example of an incremental project that has happened in your town.

Our most visible success story is in the heart of our downtown: Central Park Plaza! Once a little used parking lot, the park began as an idea. Funded primarily through private donations and grants, the park is a story of partnerships and collaborations as the local hospital, local businesses, and local families have contributed both funding and ideas for the park, which opened in 2011. At that time, the park included a performance amphitheater named for the local hospital, green spaces, a splash pad adored by local children and a bronze statue of Valparaiso’s own Orville Redenbacher, which quickly became the most photographed spot in town. The park was so successful that the community clamored for more.

This “more” became an expansion of Central Park Plaza, opening in 2016. With the help of more ideas and more donations, the expansion extended westward and includes a covered pavilion with temperature-controlled ice skating in the winter, complete with skate rentals, a glass-fronted viewing area/warming space, and state-of-the-art lighting and music which create a magical mood. In the summer, the space provides the perfect spot for events, including a twice-weekly farmers’ market that’s part business/part social.

Both the initial park and its equally loved expansion have gathered the ideas, the funds, and the hearts of the city’s administration, business community, nonprofit organizations, and residents. Central Park Plaza was the site of more than 600 events in 2016, with even more planned for 2017.

Central Park Plaza was the site of more than 600 events in 2016, with even more planned for 2017.

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

The City of Valparaiso, with a population of just over 32,000 residents, provides its residents with five modes of public transportation: the V-Line, a fixed route deviated inter-city bus service, the ChicaGo Dash, an express bus service that provides four bus trips from downtown Valparaiso to downtown Chicago, Zipcar a car share program located at Valparaiso University, and a bike share program that will begin on April 19th 2017. The City of Valparaiso has also installed over 18 miles of pathways in the last 10 years. The 18 miles of pathways are cleared of snow during the winter months in Northwest Indiana and provide residents a safe and scenic connection between neighborhoods and attractions.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

Our residents step up whenever asked! Just a couple of years ago we completed a city-wide vision plan to use as a blueprint for the next 20-30 years. We involved the entire community and were thrilled to have more than 2,000 ideas submitted! Our City Council meetings are well attended, our Chamber of Commerce is bustling and our community is positively engaged. Take a look at our vision plan.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

Our residents recently approved two referendums for Valparaiso Community Schools. The referendums included upgrading the neighborhood schools currently located in well established neighborhoods and a referendum for staff salaries. Valparaiso residents voted 2-1, to ensure that the neighborhood schools remained in the neighborhoods rather than building new schools on the fringe of the City.

Valparaiso is financially strong today and for the future.

Is your town financially strong and resilient for future generations? How do you know?

Valparaiso is financially strong today and for the future. We currently have a Rainy Day Fund in excess of $4 million and our general obligation debt is well within statutory limits.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Definitely! In fact over the past decade we’ve done much as a community to cultivate this downtown. By securing 10 liquor licenses, we were able to create a downtown dining district that attracts diners from our community and surrounding cities every night of the week, stimulating other downtown businesses as well. A façade grant program has enhanced the aesthetics and the city has invested in several key projects, including new sidewalks, lighting, sound system, and even re-bricking a nostalgic street with vintage bricks (after upgrading the underground infrastructure!).

Perhaps the most visible magnet to this downtown though is a downtown park we created in 2011 and then expanded, due to popular demand, in 2016. Central Park Plaza, as it’s known includes an amphitheater, and a covered pavilion which boasts a temperature-controlled ice skating rink in the winter and an attractive venue for farmer’s markets and other events during warmer months. The park also includes green spaces, a water feature and seating. Central Park Plaza gathers us together and allows us to host big-name entertainment and small-town get-togethers. In fact, last year our Central Park Plaza was recognized nationally as one of the nation’s five Best Public Spaces by the American Planning Association, putting us in the company of cities such as Fairbanks, Alaska; Cincinnati, Ohio; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

 Certainly the gorgeous parks, bustling downtown, and thriving infrastructure make Valparaiso an excellent place to live and visit. However, the PEOPLE are what make Valparaiso so special. When we invite people to contribute ideas for upcoming projects, such as our planned Arts District, people show up en masse to participate. When we seek funding for a $10+ million downtown park, businesses and individuals step up to contribute. Valparaiso is built on partnerships and collaboration – refreshing qualities in any community and age.


VVoting is now closed.