West Side

West Side Out of the High-Tech Loop?


New super-high-speed internet, phone, and cable service planned for Bloomington will not extend to the residents of the city's west side -- at least not in the near future.

MetroNet, an Indiana-based service provider, had promised in April to install a fiber optic network throughout the city. 

A map the company released showing its service areas excludes the racially diverse and economically struggling west side.

The company's plans seemed to catch city officials off guard.

"This is absolutely not what the city bought into when I signed the documents [approving the project]. This not at all what I had in mind, it is not what was presented to us, and if it were, I would have vetoed it," Renner said.

Renner said the company needs to follow through on its original commitment.

"We are going to increase public pressure on them to liveup to what we thought was going to be provision of services to the entire city of Bloomington, not just a part of it," he said.

He said MetroNet received approval for the project as a public utility.

A spokeswoman for MetroNet said the company hasn't ruled out expanding service to the west side, but could not say when that might occur.

The communications gap: Socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and schools further disadvantaged?

The communications gap: Socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and schools further disadvantaged?

A map the company released shows where construction has been completed, is on-going or planned for the future. That map shows no future construction planned for Bloomington's west side.

Alderman Scott Black, who represents the west side on the Bloomington City Council, said he was "shocked" when he saw the map.

Black noted that not having the same Internet speed as the rest of the city will place the public schools and businesses on the west side at a particular disadvantage. Bloomington Alderman Karen Schmidt points out public schools on the west side receive high-speed internet from Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network (CIRBN). But she said children who attend those schools will not have private physical access to high-speed connections available elsewhere in the community.

Black said he expects MetroNet to eventually follow through on its original commitment to cover the west side, "but it's the speed at which it's built" that remains an open question.

"If we are providing those services to some areas of our community and not others, we are disproportionatelydisadvantaging those areas versus other areas," Black said.

Black noted that installing an underground fiber optic network is more complex on the west side because of easements, zoning issues and the way streets are laid out.

He said that should not, however, be an excuse for not providing the same service there.

"It's a matter of really ... keeping the pressure on MetroNet to not forget the west side, to not put excuses on table, and make sure construction is put on the calendar and followed through," Black added.

Renner said the news is a further disappointment for a part of the city that often struggles to achieve parity with other more affluent areas.

He cited the public library's traveling Bookmobile that last yearpulled out of several centraland west side neighborhoods. It has since reinstated some stops in those areas.

"We are a community of many different neighborhoods and it shouldn't matter where you live when it comes to providing service," Renner said. "I'm committed to insuring equal access here."

Alderman Kevin Lower, who also represents parts of the west side on the City Council, described MetroNet's action as a business decision.

"They will likely follow the market as the market will demand services," Lower wrote on Facebook.

"This is the way an open market operates. If enough customers are willing to pay the fare, I am sure the service will follow," he added.

Block Party Survey Aims Toward Better Policing on the Block

As Bloomington residents partied on the block last weekend, volunteers at the 18th annual West Side Block Party canvassed celebrants on the best ways to better the beat.

At Saturday’s block party in the Bloomington First Christian Church parking lot, McLean County YWCA mission impact director Jenn Carrillo and her team surveyed Twin Cities on police-community relations and public attitudes toward law enforcement, as part of a larger YWCA/Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal project.

While locally, “we’ve been very good at responding when events happen,” Carrillo stressed continued need for a proactive approach in exploring “what work needs to be done so we aren’t ‘that incident’ on the news.”

“As you know, there’s been a lot of very publicized violence in the (national) news, and we want to figure out the patterns, the attitudes here in Bloomington-Normal,” she related. “We’re asking folks very neutral questions – basically giving them an opening to talk about experiences they’ve had with law enforcement here.

“Our hope is to get a lot more of these surveys filled out -- this is just kind of our dry run to see how people respond to questions. Once we have some good information, we plan to sit down with heads of law enforcement, share our results, and talk about some solutions we can collaborate on. I think it all starts with community policing, and the only way to have community policing is to have the community involved in defining exactly what that looks like.”

Rather than offer surveys online, Carrillo hopes to continue having volunteers share one-on-one, “face-to-face time with community members.”

The block party has over the years provided a range of community services, this year alone including distribution of 1,066 free school kits as well as school-approved free dental checks and dental supplies for low-income and other local children. Guests also had the opportunity to visit with representatives of community organizations, Unit 5 and District 87 school district officials, and emergency responders.

“We have shown though actions, through words, through relationships, that we want to be good neighbors, that we want to be more than ‘that church on the corner’ that people come to once a year to get school supplies,” related First Christian Associate Minister Kelley Becker, leader of NIOTBN’s Faith and Outreach effort. “We care more than about pencils – we care about their lives.”

April 1 Taste of the West Rustles Up Great Local Grub

The great chefs and eateries of Bloomington's west side will show off their multicultural wares during Taste of the West, Friday, April 1 at 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM at First Christian Church of Bloomington, 401 W. Jefferson Street.

The free competitive tasting event -- sponsored by the West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WRBP) -- will feature dishes by Romelia Aza, Annie Foster, Selina Gunn, Reve Jackson III (Jackson's Soul), Chef Jose (Rosy's Grill), and Kelly Mathy (Kelly's Bakery & Cafe).

"This is an opportunity to taste the rich diversity in food and cultures in Bloomington -- Not Your Average Chain Restaurant here," Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal Steering Committee member and Bloomington City Councilwoman Karen Schmidt noted. "West Bloomington is where our city started, and it embraces the wonderful diversity of cultures that many Bloomingtonians don't even know exist."

The WRBP Annual Meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the church.