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Newsweek: South Bend a ‘dying city’

Sam Stryker | Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The city of South Bend is suffering an identity crisis.

On Jan. 21, Newsweek named South Bend as eighth on its list of “Dying Cities.” However, the National Civic League also recently recognized South Bend as an “All-American City.”

University spokesman Dennis Brown said Newsweek’s ranking system, based on negative population shifts, is misleading.

“We think South Bend and other cities that were singled out by Newsweek have been mischaracterized with a negative label that is based on a narrow, random, flawed methodology,” he said. “We think it’s wrong.”

Don Bishop, associate vice president of Undergraduate Enrollment, said he felt the magazine’s ranking failed to grasp the true characteristics of what makes a city great.

“I think it was overly simplistic,” he said. “They didn’t even reflect on the deeper understanding of what it means to be a great city.”

He said such attributes garnered recognition for South Bend in 2009 when it was chosen as a finalist for the National Civic League’s All-America City competition.

South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke said in an interview with The Observer that Newsweek’s article does not reflect on the vibrant culture of the city.

“If people come to know the heart of the people of South Bend, and come to see great opportunities we have with recreation, cultural, entertainment opportunities, and now even more so with job opportunities coming based on research parks, they can form a different picture of South Bend,” he said.

Brown said people often do not realize the positive influence higher education has in regions such as South Bend.

“The University believes there is a lot going for [South Bend],” he said. “What I think is lost sometimes is South Bend has an anchor — one of the preeminent universities in the country, and we are not going anywhere.”

Brown said this effect is created not only by Notre Dame but also by the five other colleges in the region.

He said even though South Bend faces challenges, students continue to apply to the school in record numbers.

“The fact of the matter is, the problems cities like South Bend face aren’t new. This past fall, we attracted 16,000 applicants for the incoming class,” Brown said. “That broke the application record by 2,000 [applicants]. It wasn’t just barely beating the record.”

Brown said the article also does not seem to have impacted the interest of faculty the University is currently recruiting.

Bishop said while prospective students and their parents are more drawn to Notre Dame than the surrounding area, these potential faculty are interested in the relationship between the city and the school.

“Notre Dame itself is a destination that people come to,” he said. “One of the thing they like is the increased relationship between Notre Dame and the city.”

Bishop said most applicants are more interested in what they can do for the surrounding community rather than what the community can offer them.

“Today’s students want to be more public service oriented,” he said. “They’re not looking so much at the services of the city as much as can they be of service to the city.”

Students applying to the University focus on Notre Dame as a college rather than South Bend as a city, Bishop said.

“Most families considering Notre Dame are more concerned with whether they can get admitted, whether financial aid will be sufficient and whether our programs are better than their other choices,” he said.

While applicants and their parents may be interested in dining, housing and shopping options in South Bend, Bishop said they recognize what the Notre Dame campus itself can offer.

“They understand at Notre Dame there is more entertainment on campus then at most colleges,” he said.

Bishop said students looking for an urban campus probably should consider options other than Notre Dame. However, he said what the campus does offer is special even though it is not in a metropolitan area.

“With the defined campus today, [students] want it to have a relationship with the nearby city,” Bishop said. “They like the best of both worlds. They like having their own defined space and the ability to get out of that space.”

Brown said there is a tendency among students to not recognize all that is offered in South Bend. Brown is originally from San Diego and has lived in South Bend for 20 years.

“This kind of community is not for everyone. If you want a big city or warm weather all the time, this is not the place for you,” Brown said. “But if you want a place that has great values and is centrally located, close to big cities, has a great cost of living index, then South Bend is the place to live.”

Brown said one of the most exciting things about South Bend is the growing relationship between the city and Notre Dame.

“The community and Notre Dame are working together to reinvent the city. Everyone knows it was a blue-collar based city for decades,” he said. “Now there is a new move towards technology and service.”

Luecke said the city certainly is well situated despite some struggles.

“The South Bend that I see is a vibrant community,” he said. “It certainly has challenges, but I believe they are in our capacity to deal with, and continue to grow and improve.”

Working together, Brown said Notre Dame and South Bend have the capability to make the city a better place.

“There are a lot of things happening. It is not a place that is sitting back and throwing its hands up in the air asking, ‘What are we going to do?’”

Madeline Buckley contributed to this report.