by Marion Simon Garmel
In an unusually productive collaboration between the anthropology department at IUPUI, the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation (MFCDC), and the Mid-North Quality of Life Health Action Team, the neighborhoods of Mapleton-Fall Creek and 38th and Illinois in Midtown are being mapped in a new way.
Thanks to old-fashioned research and new-fashioned technology, digital posters of the areas have been created that map access to food, public art, greenspaces, senior citizen amenities, and physical activities.
“Mid-North Health Matters” assists in ongoing efforts to reduce obesity in the area by encouraging healthy eating and increased activity and creating mapping tools residents can use to locate resources for nutritious food and physical activity.
“The idea is to come up with health solutions—grassroots solutions—and these are the tools we need to do it,” said Leigh Riley Evans, MFCDC’s chief executive officer.
“The students interviewed residents to find out their perceptions of what we have and what is needed. We use the information to tell our story and to help in raising funds for projects that benefit the neighborhood,” she said.
There’s An App For That
The project began in Spring 2015 when Dr. Susan Hyatt, chairman of the anthropology department at IUPUI, was looking for a community partner for her urban anthropology students. She found a kindred soul in Evans.
The inspiration for the collaboration was a study of life expectancies in 100 ZIP codes in metropolitan Marion County, conducted by the POLIS Center at IUPUI. Published in 2015, it showed Mapleton-Fall Creek to be one of two neighborhoods with the lowest life expectancies and highest rates of chronic disease in the metropolitan area.
Posters created by the students based on their research were unveiled at an open house at the MFCDC’s office on East 30th Street in May. The posters are available at the office for anyone who wants to view them any time the office is open. Or click on image for a larger view.
Most important about the posters is the digital basis of the information included. Thanks to financial support from the Indiana Clinical and Transitional Sciences Institute’s Community Health Engagement Program, with matched funds from the Indiana State Department of Health, the project has the money to collect the students’ research findings in a digital mapping application called Mappler, which Hyatt said is more sophisticated than the free mapping programs they had been using.
“Mappler will let us put the maps on phones as well as computers, and eventually will give us the interactive capacity to let users not only look at data but also input data of their own,” said Hyatt.
A Sense of Connectivity
What kind of information did the students uncover? One example: The story map for the Food Group, “Access to Food,” shows that residents have increasingly relied on CVS Pharmacy, Family Dollar, and Dollar General for their groceries since the Double 8 Foods closed all its stores. While some pharmacies and dollar stores carry basic grocery items, many lack foods necessary for healthy eating.
In documenting public art, the students included everything from murals to graffiti to quirky lawn decorations that one homeowner creates. The greenways poster shows public parks, trails, and other areas where residents can walk, run, bike, or exercise, and rates them for safety, cleanliness, and ease of access. One purpose is to enhance knowledge of the “green necklace” of walking and biking trails and pocket parks that are sprinkled throughout the area. “It gives people a sense of connectivity,” said Evans.
The map for 38th and Illinois streets is more elaborate, documenting every piece of property in the area. Differently colored balloons indicate locations of commercial properties, schools, industry, churches, and more.
The collaboration between Hyatt’s urban anthropology classes and the MFCDC is a win-win situation, she said. Not only does the neighborhood get valuable information on reducing obesity, but students also get the benefit of seeing how their work has impact on the real world. “It’s not just an academic exercise,” she said.
“I should also add,” Hyatt said, “that because the class is a methods class, I try to familiarize the students with lots of different ways of presenting data. Mapping is an increasingly important strategy for visually presenting community issues and for documenting inequality.”
Next year the project will continue with a new focus: Health care. “Where do residents go for health care? What is available in the area? What more is needed? We’re working on getting a grant for that,” Hyatt said.
Long-time Midtown resident Marion Simon Garmel is retired arts journalist and serves as secretary of the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana.
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2016 issue of the magazine.