Bloomington Indiana: A Sustainable Living Community

Learn about Bloomington Indiana, a sustainable living community. The residents of Bloomington know how to keep their city growing in sustainable ways. With a strong focus on outdoor recreation, backyard wildlife and music, this is Midwest living at its finest.
By Dave Wann
August/September 2007
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A view of downtown Bloomington from Indiana University.
Photo by BMCCVB

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A great place to live you've never heard of is Bloomington Indiana, a sustainable living community. Bloomington features great outdoor recreation, backyard wildlife and music situated in the heart of the Midwest.

Bloomington Indiana: A Sustainable Living Community

Bloomington residents describe their hometown with words such as “homey,” “affordable” and “politically active.” Developer Matt Press, who went away for college but ultimately returned, says, “This town spoke to me. I can think of few other places that combine culture, nature and community the way Bloomington does.”

You can feel what he’s talking about as you walk through the 100-vendor farmers market that sits in the shadow of the Monroe County Courthouse that towers over the town square.

There’s civic energy here — an unusually strong sense of pride and participation that asserted itself several decades ago when the downtown area had numerous vacancies and buildings were in disrepair. City leaders wanted to create a place where their children would stay and live — a place that would attract sustainable, job-producing businesses. Since then, the city has refurbished or constructed about 200 buildings, breathing new life into the city’s core.

The signature downtown event is the annual Lotus World Music and Arts Festival, a two-day show that rocks Bloomington every fall. Musicians from all over the world offer more than 80 performances in numerous venues. Plus, one of America’s most respected music schools is at Indiana University, and with performances by local and touring bands, you can find music every day of the year — often for free.

Bikes are another icon of daily life in Bloomington. At the Community Bicycle Project headquarters, “gently used” bikes are donated, rebuilt and resold ready for the road. Volunteers “earn a bike” by working for the project, at the same time learning the valuable skills of bicycle repair and maintenance.

And every spring since 1951, the Little 500 has matched 33 qualifying teams against each other in a 200 lap (about 50 mile) bicycle race. Bicycling legend Lance Armstrong calls it “the coolest event he’s ever attended.” Since the first Little 500 race, more than $1 million has been raised to support scholarships for working students.

Repeatedly awarded the “Tree City USA” distinction for meeting forestry stewardship standards determined by The National Arbor Day Foundation, Bloomington is also known for creating wildlife habitat in naturalized back yards and parks. More than 200 homes are certified by the National Wildlife Federation as wildlife habitat — a form of diverse landscaping that includes native plants and provides food and shelter to animals.

“I’ve seen 18 different species of birds in my yard, including cedar waxwings and brightly colored migratory birds,” says Lucille Bertuccio, director of the Center for Sustainable Living, a nonprofit organization formed by Bloomington residents in 1992 to create services, projects and networking opportunities for ecologically sustainable lifestyles.

Do you live in Bloomington? Have you visited? Please post your comments below.

Bloomington, Indiana

Population: 68,779
Climate: Mild, four-season weather. January average temperature: 30 degrees. July average: 76 degrees.
Median House Value: $150,600
Natural Assets: Elevation: 840 feet. Near various large wilderness areas, including Hoosier National Forest. Great hiking, picnicking and fall colors. Nearby lakes are great for canoeing, kayaking and bass fishing.
Sustainable Initiatives: The city signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to meet the standards of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Bloomington also has a major sustainable development program empowered by a citizen/government commission.

Check out the other towns on our 2007 list of Great Places You’ve Never Heard Of.

David Wann writes and produces documentaries about sustainable lifestyles. His most recent book, Simple Prosperity, is a sequel to the bestseller Affluenza that he co-authored.

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Post a comment below.


9/30/2007 5:55:56 PM
I have grown up in Bloomington and still think of it as one of the best places in Indiana. The people there are consistently welcoming and I have always seen the town as very diverse. Going through high school I have yet to see a week where nothing it going on. The thing about Bloomington is that yes there are two Bloomingtons, the college and the town but they are not so separate. Instead they blend together, and the university is part of the reason for why Bloomington is so diverse. The town consistently votes democrat and is also very politically involved. The Lotus festival does draw people from all over, but there are other things such as the IU Auditorium, which draws Broadway performances, and also the 4th Street Festival that draws artists from all over the country. Though I am now going away for High School I always come back a few times a month to have a relaxing weekend, get breakfast at The Village Deli, and play checkers at People’s Park. Bloomington is a place everyone should visit just to have the experience.

9/16/2007 12:10:20 PM
The two of us live here in Bloomington; it is a great place to live. However, it's interesting how the large amount of corporate and big businesses surrounding campus and Kirkwood Avenue was glossed over in the article. It's difficult to understand what is so sustainable about corporate coffee shops and fast food restaurants that serve up their items in styrofoam, paper, and plastic, which fill dumpster after dumpster daily. These businesses are rapidly emanating from the Sample Gates and advancing along our downtown streets. We agree that there are many options for locally minded consumers throughout Bloomington, but WE have a long way to go.

8/1/2007 9:21:00 PM
I lived in Bloomington for 6 years. It is a wonderful community teeming with intellectual activity. The arts and culture opportunities in Bloomington are significant, including the wonderful performances associated with IU's Jacobs School of Music, which is one of the best in the nation. Bloomington is a great college town in which diversity--in all of its forms--is welcomed and embraced. I didn't know what to expect when I first moved to Bloomington, but I quickly fell in love with it. I am able to periodically visit and have been impressed with the continued progress of the city and IU. I am hopeful that, upon retirement, I am able to return to live. Thank you for the very nice recognition that your magazine has provided.

7/30/2007 2:35:19 PM
yes. I still live in Bloomington. And it's still the biggest concentration of PCBs in the world. We did stop the experimental garbage fueled incinerator, but there are still perhaps as many as 2000 unaddressed hazardous sites. Officials don't seem to admit it, but there are many other chemicals, like trichloroethylene, toluene, heavy metals like cadmium, and many more delights, inlcuding that some of these turn to phosgene when exposed to sunlight... and PCBs were burned here creating both phosgene and dioxin. We have many sad stories here, kids with spina bifida, rhabdomyosarcoma, anancephaly (born with brain outside the skull), and many brain cancers, infertility problems, handicapped children, many stillbirths and many other dis-eases. One little girl played in a drainage ditch and died after her skin fell off. Oh, and property taxes just went up, some so high people are protesting for fear of losing their homes. SO I guess the author of this, a former epA person, didn't look a bit closer- or worse, chose to ignore it as Mother Earth did after I called them to say some of this.

7/24/2007 8:11:07 PM
I am a graduate of Indiana University, and my brother lives there, so I visit often. There are actually two Bloomington's - the college part and the town part. Both are nice but are very different. The University is far more "Mother Jones" than the town, which tends to be Conservative and Republican. Nevertheless, it is a place in Indiana I would live, were I to return to the Midwest.

7/24/2007 12:17:26 PM
I grew up in Bloomington. I went to school there from 4th grade on, graduating from University High School in 1966. It was a great town to grow up in! I have many fond memories of riding my bike all around town, going to the Little 500 evnets, playing the piano in the practice rooms at the IU School of Music, playing basketball and football in the old fieldhouse. Although I'm sure Bloomington's still a great place to live, I haven't lived there since I left for Rose Poly in Terre Haute in 1966.

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