In his role with Purdue Extension, now going on more than 16 years, Okantey addresses community needs by providing decision-making resources and expertise on planning and visioning. His focus is offering science-based and systematic learning approaches that identify enterprising opportunities. He helps assess needs, collaborates with other agencies, and implements intervention strategies.
The Polis Center is the first place I think of when I’m approached by someone needing specific information within a geographic area. SAVI has the most comprehensive, up-to-date, place-based information available.
He also delivers learning experiences on leadership and civic engagement, talent development, and organizational learning and collaborates with principal decision- makers, organizations, businesses, and schools to develop, implement, and sustain these programs.
“So few cities and states have this type of research-based resource available to them right in their backyard,” said Okantey about SAVI. “The Polis Center is the first place I think of when I’m approached by someone needing specific information within a geographic area. SAVI has the most comprehensive, up-to-date, place-based information available. The tool not only pulls together important information that helps people see what is going on in a broader perspective, but it creates great maps, charts, and tables that show the story. It’s a no-brainer.”
Okantey has used SAVI data and visualizations to show the assets of the Southeast Indianapolis community, Mid- North and presently, Maple Crossing. He finds that the data from SAVI provides critical intelligence that helps focus training programs that meet community needs. The Southeast Leadership Development Program and Mid-North Leadership Program — both supported by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) — encompass topics including meeting management, team dynamics, and managing conflict effectively.
Recently, Okantey used SAVI to support efforts by committee members for the Mid-North and Midtown Quality of Life Plans, LISC, and the Great Places 2020 initiative. “There are several quality of life neighborhood plans in the works across Indianapolis,” he said. “The Purdue Extension of Marion County is collaborating with LISC and the Mid-North and Midtown plans by providing vital information the organizers need as they consider the area’s business environment.”
The plans also look at aesthetics, issues related to basic needs, crime and safety, education, health, housing, senior advocacy, and youth engagement elements. The Mid-North plan includes six neighborhoods: Crown Hill, Highland Vicinity, Historic Meridian Park, Mapleton Fall Creek, Meridian Highland, and Historic Watson Park. Mid-North is part of Midtown which also includes the neighborhoods of Broad Ripple, Butler- Tarkington, Canterbury, Clifton on the River, Forest Hills, Golden Hill, Keystone-Monon, Meridian-Kessler, Meridian Street Historic District, Rocky Ripple, and Warfleigh.
“The business development component is a very important factor in forming the plans as it contributes to an improved economic situation for local residents and local businesses,” Okantey noted. “Specifically, the planners are focusing on encouraging entrepreneurship within the Mid-North area, creating an environment that supports and grows area businesses, and identifying and growing speci c neighborhood-serving commercial centers.”
The current trend in quality of life planning is improving mixed zones of residential space and businesses in an appealing way so people can live and work close enough that they can walk or bike. The Great Places 2020 committee is concentrating revitalization efforts on three distinct sections of town: Englewood Village (E. Washington St. & Oxford), Maple Crossing (38th & Illinois Streets), and River West (W. Michigan & MLK).
“I worked with The Polis Center and SAVI to create maps of current businesses in the Mid-North and Midtown districts and a table showing crime trends in the neighborhoods so that the committee knows the lay of the land as they consider improvements,” said Okantey. “It’s important to understand where you are now so you can create a realistic plan to get where you want to go. SAVI can help you get there. I encourage anybody working on place-based projects to use SAVI. There’s power in using data and maps to make a difference in planning. People recognize the geography of their neighborhood. That has a huge impact on the outcome.”