The Real Choices

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.


  1. Your son is wise in his observations. My observation regarding lower taxes is that this is a need of Pence only – hoping to leave a fond memory when he is gone. It all gets down to “to each his own”; suburban Indy is an option along with Hamilton and other surrounding counties. All shopping and downtown work locations are within a short drive. I would hate living downtown but do see the lure and benefit to those who choose it as home. But, at almost 76 years of age and disabled, the “joy of home ownership” anywhere is long gone and has now become a burden. My home is paid for but my income will not support rent anywhere – I have looked. Indianapolis, despite square mileage, is not a big city and most residents do not have big city mind set – tax support for sports venues vs. symphony, museums, ballet, live theater – prove countrified preferences. Before anyone complains, I am not putting down anyone as I am a big stock car race lover even though I can no longer attend races but also had season tickets to our wonderful symphony for a number of years. Thanks to Daniels, one of our claims to fame was reported in the Star recently, the sun rises later and sets later in this city than in any other city in the country and school vouchers are also the highest. Kudos, Daniels. He has probably ignored the needs of more tax payers than governer in any other state and Pence will follow in his motorcycle trail. Yes, I have become bitter and jaded in my dotage and believe I have earned the right to whine, cry, piss and moan about living conditions in this city I have no say in and no control over…even though I have not missed one election day since my first vote at age 21.

  2. One does not have to read much to come across articles that talk about the rising prevalence of narcissism. It’s often discussed as an annoyance that stands in the way of good relationships, but it is much more dysfunctional. When people believe that their narcissistic needs are primary, they become blind to the common good, thinking instead of “how I can benefit from this”. When the public focuses on short term self-interests rather than a vision of how we can create and maintain a civil and democratic society, they also lose touch with the dream that motivated the founders of the country who made it no secret that they needed people who were willing to sacrifice for that dream. Otherwise, we end up with people fighting for their entitlements, often with their precious guns, focused on making money instead of producing, refusing to support common sense projects designed to contribute to the common good and focused on the few dollars they might get back if and when a governor and legislature panders to their wants. This problem is magnified when the society is marked by inequality and lack of opportunity. It is a significant and unfortunate commentary that those who talk most about their “freedoms” are the ones who are least willing to fight for the common good that would ultimately serve to support the foundation and maintenance of liberty. The founders of this country were not glorifying the guy holed up in a shack ready to shoot trespassers while mumbling about his “freedom” to grab and keep as they were the people who were willing to sacrifice and work to create a future for citizens who would wear the mantle.

  3. My wife and I are selling the big Carmel house and moving to a bungalow that we’re renovating in South Broad Ripple – and we’re so happy to make the move. We’re tired of the bland lifestyle that the suburbs offer — combined with long commutes, stay-at-arms-reach neighbors and the feeling of isolation brought on when we enter our local polling place on election days. When we ask for a Democratic ballot on primary days, we’re treated like the aliens that we probably are to our neighbors. Ultimately, we’re headed to the West Coast as we watch Indiana become more and more regressive in both its politics and policy. We see little hope for change on the horizon and our well-educated and progressive children are already long gone from this state.

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