Matt Tully’s column yesterday addressed the reasons prompting families to move from the city to the suburbs. It was a reasonable analysis of a trend that is probably older than he is–unexceptional, so far as it went. For many residents, family or job considerations may limit them to this choice between living in town and moving to, say, Hamilton Country, but for many others, city versus suburb does not exhaust the available options.
A number of us value and prefer urban living. Indeed, a not inconsiderable number of people find the prospect of huge yards, distant neighbors and miles-long drives to the nearest grocery distinctly unappealing. For us, the choice is not between downtown and the suburbs, but between cities. Indianapolis can’t compete with the suburbs for people who want suburban lives. It can and should compete with other places that offer urban amenities and lifestyles. We’ve come a long way down the road that Bill Hudnut built during his four terms as Mayor, but we’ve lost ground the past few years. My son made that point in a response to Tully’s column, on which he copied me.
Here’s his response.
Matt: I read your article about the choice people face between Indy and outlying counties. You make some good points… But as a longtime downtown dweller, I come at this from a different perspective: the challenges we face, and the failures of our leadership to honestly confront them, make me wonder whether we should consider a different CITY, not a suburb.I grew up downtown Indy, mostly in historic Lockerbie — I thought I’d never return to Indy after leaving for college (in 1987). After college/living/working in Chicago and years of travel, I moved back to Indy – largely because Indy’s downtown had come so far, and Indy’s city experience had improved so much. Finally, Indy had a mix of urban amenities, shopping, culture (and I am not referring to sports venues, though they are nice, if overly dependent on taxpayers) and, importantly, an easy environment in which to raise kids. Today, we live downtown in the Old Northside (where we’ve lived since I returned to Indy)… our kids, 9 & 11, go to IPS’ CFI #2 (which we love), and we have a great, and diverse, community of friends, and family nearby.As I see it, Indianapolis faces two major problems, one of which you allude to in your article. First, our kids educational experience is not available to everyone: great public schools, like CFI, have too few available slots. And while Indy must address this deficiency if it is to succeed and thrive, our City suffers other problems that (*gasp*) require resources to address: crime, infrastructure, affordable and dependable public transportation, among other things. Which highlights the second major problem — a lack/failure of leadership. Our leadership fails us when they buy into (and promote) the notion that Indy needs lower taxes more than it needs better schools, lower crime, or better/workable public transportation that meets the needs of our residents and workforce. While government needs to operate “efficiently,” we should not try to compete with Boone County to be “low tax” place, a fight we can’t win and shouldn’t try to win; instead, we should recognize the strength of our “product” — the CITY — and its amenities. We need to recognize the need for (and fight for) the resources to make it great.Instead, in the name of “efficiency,” the city gives away to a contractor literally millions of dollars every year (by some estimates $500 million over time) of potential city revenue that could be used to fight crime, build/maintain infrastructure. Why? Either because it lacks the imagination or operational competence to see that the city can upgrade parking meters (inexpensively) and operate them for ourselves… And while it would be nice to see the political courage to argue for more resources, the city administration fails to even try to lobby/work the legislature to alter the formula for distribution of income tax revenue so that it is not distributed 100% to the county where people live, but instead is shared, even if just a little bit. These are just two of many examples…The failure to even try … The failure of vision and the lack of any attempt is frustrating. A friend recently moved out of state because he sees in our political leadership the operating mantra of “mediocre is good enough.” As you noted the other day, Guv Pence states his “ambition is the status quo” (and while he said it of gambling, he might as well have said about everything, since his most active push is for a tax cut for which there is NO evidence it will create a single job). This is not a critique of the many dedicated public servants who “try,” but of the political class that doesn’t.Unlike those readers who assume its a choice between Indianapolis and Hamilton/Johnson Counties, it isn’t for me. It’s a choice between an Indianapolis that withers on the vine and a better city where more of the residents and their leaders “get it” — and fight for it.