If he were to walk its streets today, Charles Dickens would surely recognize Indianapolis, even 160 years after “A Tale of Two Cities” was published.

It truly is the best of times in Indy. The tech sector is booming. Life sciences, logistics, and advanced manufacturing continue to generate wealth and opportunity for entrepreneurs and workers. Unemployment is at a half-century low. The housing market is sizzling in many neighborhoods.

And yet, it’s also the worst of times for many of our neighbors.

Take, for instance, the neighborhoods encompassed by the 46201 Zip code. In this Near Eastside area, not far from the high-rent apartments and $50-a-steak restaurants of downtown, the median household income is only half of the national rate and more than $23,000 below the state’s median of $52,182 a year.

More than one-third of people who call the 46201 home live below the poverty line, even as gentrification begins to transform parts of the Eastside that have been in decline for decades.

To the north, in the 46218 Zip code, the numbers are even worse. The poverty rate at 38.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, is nearly three times the national mark. Citywide, one in five people who call Indianapolis home live under the burden of poverty.

In the months ahead, I plan to explore through this blog the dual realities that mark this time in our city. I want to take you inside the 46201 and other neighborhoods to show the good and the bad, the signs of hope and the pockets of despair. As an outsider myself – I live on the city’s far Westside – I plan to explore, to listen, and to share with you what I learn.

Along the way, I hope to inform and inspire, and perhaps prompt a few of you to get involved – or more deeply involved – in making a lasting difference in the lives of families who struggle every day to meet basic needs. They are our neighbors, and, if we take a chance, may well become our friends.

I want at the outset to thank Jay Height, founder and executive director of Shepherd Community Center, who asked me to take on this project. Jay, his family and ministry partners have been pouring their lives out in service on the Near Eastside for nearly a quarter of a century. It’s as fine of an example of sustained leadership and love as I’ve seen.

So, please, come with me as we explore together the deep needs in our city, the changes and the challenges that gentrification is bringing to many neighborhoods, and the many signs of hope to be found in both the best and the worst of times.

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