The South Bend Department of Community and Economic Development's New Director

By+Kathy Jonas

Scott Ford is like a Doctor of Internal Medicine – a physician trained to prevent, diagnose and treat a patient. The only difference is that his patient is a city – the City of South Bend.

The 33-year-old architect is the new Director of the City of South Bend’s Department of Community and Economic Development (proposed to be changed to a new name – Community Investment).  He has spent his academic life and career working to improve the life and health of cities.

He said he always has been interested in the interrelationship of things, particularly the way design, policy and planning come together.

“Growing up in Detroit, I was acutely aware of the physical impact of separating and segregating people.” He said he remembers being envious of Chicago and DC cousins who could hop on a train and go wherever they wanted to go. “I lived at the end of a cul-de-sac,” he said.

New South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg appointed Ford to the position in May. Ford did not know the mayor before some informal consulting on urban issues during the campaign. 

The new South Bend administration is young, fresh and smart. Ford is no exception. 

He said being a fresh face is positive because he has no agenda, no backstory, no prior context. The downside is that it is taking him some time to learn the historical context and the history of the business community.  He has been meeting with neighborhood associations, community groups and other organizations in an attempt to learn as much as he can about the city.

Ford noted that Pete and the new administration have a deep commitment to the community. “This is my adopted hometown,” he said of South Bend. “I’ve spent a third of my life here.”

He noted a national movement of 20 to 30-year-olds settling in places like South Bend, Pittsburgh and Detroit, his hometown.  He said the country is changing and young people are more entrepreneurial and not immediately drawn to Wall Street, as previously was the case. “There is a renewed culture of civic service and civic awareness.”

Ford noted that South Bend is a more affordable place to live and young people are realizing that there is a future in this community. 

The Department of Community and Economic Development is being restructured and he said it is going to be proactive, responsible, transparent and operating with a sense of urgency. An Economic Summit at the end of June was organized to bring everyone together to discuss the future of the city. 

He said they are planning to have the department be a single point of contact with the business community – to be a group that gathers public requests and information.

Ford’s vision of the city is like his background – he values an integrated view of economic development with consideration for the physical, social and economic factors.  He said South Bend stands out for many reasons:

SCALE

It ‘s a good scale – it is the right size to know your neighbors, be active in your community.

THE RIVER

Ford said the St. Joseph River has a rich tradition and is an important part of the city’s cultural history. The riverfront has been underutilized and is going to be more of a focus.

NEIGHBORHOODS

The diversity of the place is demonstrated in the 35 neighborhoods, which he said offer cultural diversity and a sense of history.  The tree-lined neighborhoods are not all that common anymore and he said South Bend has them in abundance. While he acknowledges there are some neighborhoods that have deteriorated, he said the city is committed to revitalization of these areas. 

COLLEGES

He said while people tend to think of Notre Dame, he is cognizant of the other colleges, including Indiana University South Bend and Bethel College, just to name a couple. He said energy and ideas flow through all those institutions of higher learning and can be utilized by the community at large. 

CULTURE

The great cultural institutions such as the Morris Performing Arts Center.

 

“The city’s best resource are the people,” Ford said. “I have been so impressed by the people who attend the Mayor’s Night Out and the Vacant House Task Force.”

Improving the quality of the workforce and improving the schools are just a few challenges. He said Ignition Park has tremendous potential.

He studied philosophy, politics and economics at Notre Dame, graduating in 2001 with a bachelor’s in government and international affairs. He then worked for a firm in DC that specialized in the pre-design feasibility of sports stadiums, campus housing and student unions.

He applied for a scholarship and received one as a part of the urban economics program as a Cambridge Overseas Society Fellow, where he intended on getting a PhD. “I met the most incredible people there,” he said of his time in England. “But I realized I was most interested in urban thinkers who had an architectural background.” In 2004 he earned a master’s in urban economics from Cambridge.

Ford made the decision to come back to the states and pursue a degree in architecture at the University of Miami, where he took part in a redevelopment project coinciding with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  

He finished at Notre Dame, where he earned a Master of Architecture degree in 2009. He worked for a company in Washington, D.C. in the summer and went to Rome as a part of his studies. “Living in Rome is transformative,” he said. “In so many ways, it is a model city.”

After graduation, he worked in city planning in California and was recruited back to Chicago. And now he is back in South Bend.

Ford, who is engaged and plans to be married in Peoria in October, spent the summer months living in between the two cities.  “I have driven to a lot of breakfast meetings across the time zone,” he said with a laugh. He met his fiancé, Susan Howard, on a blind date. She works at Russell Reynolds Associates in Chicago. She went to Vanderbilt University and has a graduate degree from the London School of Economics - so they have a lot in common.

He recently purchased a home in the Near Northeast neighborhood and is excited about being a South Bend homeowner.

Ford understands the gravity and the challenges ahead of him in his new position. “We have the opportunity to repair the social fabric with the physical fabric,” Scott said of his efforts in South Bend. “It is a huge opportunity.” The doctor is in.

Photography: Steve Toepp / Midwest Photographics