One State, Many Places: The HLS Regions
State boundaries matter—for political, economic, and social reasons. But we know that Indiana is not a single community: the industrial workers of Gary face different environmental challenges from the farmers of Grant County or the commuters of suburban Indianapolis. Nor do Indiana’s 6.7 million residents always share the same feelings about how best to respond to those challenges. HRI’s survey data show us localized attitudes toward environmental change and extreme weather—from the statewide level down to the specific experiences of residents of a single community, a watershed, a metropolitan area. Our results can inform a state representative of her constituents’ attitudes toward public spending on environmental remediation, or they can help environmental officials to understand the experiences of the neighbors of a landfill or power plant.
For quick reference, you can find our HLS survey responses grouped into a handful of distinct historical-geographical regions across the state. These regions allow us to "tell a story" of Hoosier attitudes toward environmental change—a story that builds on what we know of the state's 200-year history, and that highlights the diverse challenges facing Indiana citizens in sites from the Ohio River north to Lake Michigan. The HLS regions reflect Indiana’s intertwined history of human settlement and environmental features—a relationship of culture and nature that helps to account for the variety that enlivens our state today. Not meant as a precise or inelastic description of separate Indiana experiences, HLS's regional map helps us to understand at a glance how different environmental conditions, distinct strands of migration, and varied patterns of urbanization or agricultural development have shaped the experiences of twenty-first-century Hoosiers, in turn influencing our varied ways of preparing for environmental change.
Here are the regions (and the counties they comprise) whose residents’ opinions we invite you to compare across the state:
Industrial Northwest (Lake, Porter, LaPorte, St. Joseph, Elkhart)
Along the state's northern fringe, Lake Michigan has long provided an outlet for natural resources and finished goods, encouraging the growth of industrial cities such as Gary, East Chicago, South, Bend, Michigan City, and Elkhart, separated by suburban development or agricultural land. In its economy and its diverse social makeup, this region resembles forms one link along the “Rust Belt” that stretches westward from upstate New York, along the path of the Great Lakes, and west to Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Corn and Soy Belt (Jasper, Starke, Pulaski, Marshall, Fulton, Kosciusko, Whitley, Noble, DeKalb, Grant, Newton, Benton, LaGrange, Steuben, Putnam, Montgomery, Clinton, Tipton, Madison, Delaware, Randolph, Adams, Wells, Jay, Blackford)
The flat glacial fields of northern and central Indiana, with their rich soil and fertile crop yields, epitomize what many Americans think of when they consider our state—and the Midwest more generally. Family farms and (increasingly) industrial-scale agriculture, small- to midsized market towns and manufacturing centers, and, more recently, a new alternative-energy economy characterize this largely rural landscape.
Wabash River Valley (Gibson, Knox, Sullivan, Vigo, Parke, Vermillion, Fountain, Warren, Tippecanoe, Carroll, Cass, Howard, Miami, Wabash, Huntington, Allen)
The Wabash River connected traders from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi Valley—long before the arrival of the European settlers who would call this place Indiana. Native villages along this riverine highway, followed by French, British, and American trading posts and finally towns and cities, have created a distinct linear landscape of small commercial and industrial cities from Terre Haute, on the west, to Fort Wayne, the state’s second-largest urban center, sited just east of the river’s headwaters along the historic portage between Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds.
Metropolitan Indianapolis (Marion, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Hendricks, Morgan, Boone)
Indiana’s capital city, established by law in 1820 at the center of the new state, took decades to develop a scale of commerce and industry that matched its political importance. By 1850, however, Indianapolis would be the state’s largest city, as it remains today. The 1970 implementation of Unigov made a single political entity of the city and the surrounding communities of Marion County; in the decades since, commercial and residential growth in adjoining counties—especially Hamilton, to the north—has turned even this enlarged Indianapolis into just one portion of a metropolitan area of more than two million.
Southeast (Henry, Wayne, Rush, Fayette, Union, Franklin, Decatur, Ripley, Dearborn, Bartholomew, Jennings, Jackson, Scott, Shelby)
The state’s southeastern portion was among its earliest-settled areas in the years following Euro-American immigration. The Whitewater River area lent itself to farming and grew to be a political counterweight to the powers concentrated at Vincennes in territorial and early statehood days. The region was the site for the state’s earliest canal project (along the Whitewater River) as well as the state’s first railroad, which extended north from the Ohio River through Jennings and Bartholomew Counties on its way to Indianapolis. But Indiana’s population and wealth eventually concentrated further north as federal land treaties removed more Indigenous groups from their lands in the central and northern portions of the new state. Today, the state’s southeast quadrant remains a largely rural landscape, with manufacturing centers such as Columbus drawing in continued economic development.
Southwestern/Indiana Uplands (Monroe, Brown, Owen, Greene, Daviess, Martin, Lawrence, Orange, Washington, Dubois, Pike, Crawford, Clay)
The counties served by IU Bloomington’s Center for Rural Engagement (plus adjoining Pike and Clay Counties) share a common heritage shaped by their rugged, broken land and a heritage of upland Southern and German immigration. Long among the state’s poorest regions, the uplands’ timber, coal, and stone resources supported a rising industrial economy from the 1890s through the 1970s, but the area’s growth has, in more recent decades, depended more on Bloomington’s growing knowledge and service economy and nearby tourism sites than it has on the earlier labor base of the region’s small towns.
Ohio River Valley (Ohio, Switzerland, Jefferson, Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Perry, Spencer, Warrick, Vanderburgh, Posey)
The Ohio River was Indiana’s original main street. The state’s first capital, Corydon, lay just north of the Ohio’s shore. The state’s first significant city, Madison, drew its prosperity from river trade. New Albany and Jeffersonville grew as urban centers alongside Louisville, Kentucky, across the Falls of the Ohio. Today, Evansville retains its long-time status as the state’s third-largest city, while two of the state’s three formally designated commercial ports—Jeffersonville and Mt. Vernon—are found on the Ohio’s banks. While Indiana’s Ohio River communities exhibit great diversity from west to east, the river continues to provide them all with both a powerful shared source of identity and a daily environmental challenge.