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What do residents of South Bend, Ind., home of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, think of him? After decades of blight, South Bend has undergone significant change during Buttigieg’s tenure as mayor.

Window World South Bend

Window World South Bend

It was Jacob Titus’ favorite route to run when he was training for high school track: along the railroad tracks to the machine shops, assembly lines and warehouses on the south side of town, then to the ‘these institutions were abandoned by themselves.

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Ten years ago, these buildings were at work – and none other than the Studebaker Auto Co., which made South Bend prosperous.

“The situation – it’s just stupid. Just so big and empty and so completely black,” he said. “They are very beautiful.”

If Titus, 27, tries to go back this way now, he will run into some obstacles. The Studebaker factory is now the South Bend City Church. Color labs include businesses including biotech startups and private schools. The six-story assembly line, once known for its broken windows, is the anchor of a large commercial manufacturing project fueling the city’s booming tech scene.

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No city has been as important to its mayoral campaign as South Bend has produced its first mayor. The 38-year-old, who has a shorter resume than his predecessors, presented his tenure as a testament to his leadership experience and vision.

But as most of the national coverage settles on yes or any question “Did Mayor Pete do a good job?” Residents of South Bend have grappled with the broader question that Buttigieg must face: What does it mean for the city to reinvent itself?

Downtowns and gleaming parks are physical signs of change led by government officials and business leaders. But many residents describe a profound change – a collective exercise in constructing a new identity.

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“How can South Bend come back when so many working families here are struggling, when the school system is failing, when black people are in so much trouble?” asked professor and activist Jorden Giger. Hundreds of vacant buildings like this one were torn down instead of repaired under Buttigieg’s plan.

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“I’m not here because the buildings have been renovated,” said Titus, a graphic designer and podcast host. “I’m here because there’s a vision I’ve set for what we can do here, and how I can be a part of it.”

But in a city that’s been in decline for decades, some South Benders can’t help but wonder if this comeback will last. Change has entered the city the wrong way, with many in the black and Latino community feeling left out.

“He has control of the narrative — the narrative is ‘South Bend is back,'” Jorden Giger, a Black Lives Matter activist, said of Buttigieg. “Well, how is South Bend going to come back when so many working families here are struggling, when the school system is failing, when black people are in so much trouble?”

Jason Miller is the pastor of South Bend City Church, located in the former Studebaker church in South Bend. He says that the state of the country is “hopeful, strong – and uneasy.”

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The situation, according to Jason Miller, lead pastor of the non-profit South Bend City Church, is as complicated as his story.

The artwork on the Michigan Street overpass is proud and welcoming, welcoming motorists to South Bend with displays of various city structures such as Egyptian columns at the city courthouse and park at the entrance to the local emergency room.

When Buttigieg was a teenager, he was passing through St. Josef, the bridge is not very walled and weak, famous for its paint and many powder pigeons.

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Rich, of Cambridge, Mass., reflects Elizabeth Warren’s strategy and the issue of inequality at the center of her campaign.

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A comparison of the South Bend of his youth and today comes easily to Buttigieg, who lives a block from his childhood home. Her current residence is a large white Neoclassical house that she shares with her husband, Chasten. The block is part of the historic district; His house was built at the beginning of the 20th century and others were built even earlier.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of downtown South Bend in January 2019, when few people outside his hometown even knew his name.

All houses face River St. Joseph, a major character in South Bend history. The banks of the Lake Michigan harbor were established by the Potawatomi tribe, and later by fur traders from European tribes. The name of the city comes from the southern end of the river.

The river also fueled the rise of the South Bend factory, a rise that Studebaker achieved. The car factory was the pride of South Bend, traditionally known for its manufacturing capabilities that included Singer sewing machines and Bendix brakes. The country is full of middle-class workers, who can count on a solid work life right out of high school.

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Until December 20, 1963, when Studebaker closed its doors for good, leaving thousands of jobs in a city without its anchor.

Hundreds of vacant buildings were demolished in areas less than repairable under Buttigieg’s “1,000 Properties in 1,000 Days” plan, which left the land empty.

The closure is a surprise that residents still talk about in terms of horror films – “the disaster” or, simply, “the event.”

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The city, which had grown to about 130,000 people in the early 1960s, lost more than a quarter of its population; As of 2010, it is about 100,000 people. Those who could do it fled to the countryside.

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“People in the ’80s used to talk about it, ‘Can a business like Studebaker be revived in this town?’ said Shane Fimbel, a tech entrepreneur whose grandfather worked for the auto industry in the 1940s. “We’re still in that mess for a long time before it’s like, no, that’s not going to come back.”

South Bend was still in decline when Buttigieg was growing up. The son of two University of Notre Dame professors, he and his peers believe the country’s best days are behind him.

South Bend suffered a major setback when the Studebaker car factory, left, closed in 1963. Parts of the factory and neighboring buildings like Union Station, right, were renovated and put back into use.

“He grew up, certainly in my generation, [received] the message that success is related to being in the community,” he said.

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He went to Harvard University, then Oxford and finally a consulting job in Chicago. In his memoir, he describes moving home for a reason: to save money on rent while spending more time on the plane as a consultant. He used South Bend as a base for a failed Indiana state treasurer in 2010, and a successful Democratic run for mayor the following year.

Between his two campaigns, a Newsweek article called South Bend one of America’s “dying cities.” To hear Buttigieg tell it, the story changed the country.

“More than anything, it inspires or perhaps hurts a sense of pride that we didn’t know we had,” he said.

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In fact, the country’s changing economy has changed. Notre Dame, a prestigious university that has been around for a long time, decided to get more involved in the surrounding community, explaining the success of South Bend is crucial to attract the necessary talent to advance its own goals. Buttigieg’s predecessor tore down some of the abandoned Studebaker buildings, allowing new development in the former industrial area. The strong recovery of the national economy has added fuel to the South Bend area’s growth.

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“A lot of these seeds were planted, even before Pete,” said Jeff Rea, president of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Then Pete kind of fertilizes them and helps them grow.”

Pete Buttigieg grew up in South Bend, the only child of two professors at the neighboring University of Notre Dame.

Kevin Lawler, who worked on Buttigieg’s 2011 campaign and now owns a restaurant, “It’s important in terms of setting the tone that this is where you should come back to, that you can pursue your dreams here. “

Miller counted himself among the unsuspecting residents of South Bend. A self-described “uninterested pastor,” he has plans to start a church in a vibrant city. But the jurisdiction of South Bend gave him the freedom to try to build a religious community without paying expensive rent. He helped shape the iconic South Bend City Church, through what he called “promiscuous behavior”.

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