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Mayor connects to freshmen

Vicky Moreno | Thursday, January 24, 2013

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg emphasized politics, conversation and cooperation when he addressed Notre Dame students Wednesday night as a part of the First Year of Studies’ First Year Challenge lecture series.

Notre Dame plays a critical role in the economy and industry of the city of South Bend, Buttigieg said, especially in the era after South Bend’s industrial peak, the Studebaker automobile era.

“Just as [South Bend’s] industrial economy began to shrink, Notre Dame became a prominent institution,” Buttigieg said.

Though Notre Dame does not employ nearly as many people as the Studebaker industry once did – roughly 20,000 people before it closed its doors in 1963 – it plays a critical role in the development of local businesses and city culture, Buttigieg said.

After a brief lesson in history and a look back at the culture of South Bend before its intimate relationship with Notre Dame began, Buttigieg said he recognized the benefits associated with living in the city, in addition to the challenges.

“On the one hand South Bend is a very cost-efficient place to live,” Buttigieg said. “On the other hand, however, the city is facing a significant problem with vacant and abandoned properties, poverty, racial gaps and anti-modernity attitudes.”

Much of South Bend’s difficulties stem from the high number of its residents living in poverty, Buttigieg said.

“We have more houses than people and 24 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line,” Buttigieg said. “And we have a whole generation of people that have been lead to believe that the only role they had to play in globalization is that of the victim.”

The young mayor said he is hopeful of the city’s ability to adapt to today’s conditions.

“South Bend has a curious ability to take old things and turn it into something new,” Buttigieg said.

The city’s economy is not the only thing that has changed over the decades. A new wave of immigrants has created an increasingly diverse population, giving the city what Buttigieg said is a distinct “new flavor.”

This cultural shift did not come without its problems, but Buttigieg said the community can and has found common ground to embrace new cultures and new citizens.

“That’s what makes us so interesting! I’m not interested in segregating the problem. I just try to make sure that there are spaces for people to interact,” Buttigieg explained. “That’s why I like food so much. People from different cultures will like each other’s food so long as it’s good.”

While Buttigieg lectured on South Bend’s evolution historically, economically and culturally, the students ultimately guided the conversation. Students, posed questions concerning education, gun control and students’ role in the community.

A South Bend native, Mayor Buttigieg said he realized through his business ventures abroad that a need for his talents and skills existed in his own hometown. He encouraged students to viewySouth Bend as their home, too.

“I hope that you would find that engaging in your community will be beneficial to you,” Buttigieg said. “I bet I can show you some places on the west side that will be no less exotic to you than Uganda. It’s a lot better than those places, don’t get me wrong, but the adventures you will have … will expand your horizons.”

Contact Vicky Moreno at vmoreno@nd.edu