“Good Enough”

Morton Marcus once identified the major barrier to progress in our state as the widespread belief that mediocre is “good enough.”  He was right. It may be that our persistent disinclination to aim high is linked to a contempt for “elitism,” or it may be that we’ve decided that we aren’t willing to expend the effort needed to escape second-rate status.

Whatever the reason, the results of our lack of civic ambition can be seen everywhere: our neglected parks, our under-resourced public schools, the pathetic bus system that passes for our version of public transportation.

What I remember most about my tenure in the Hudnut Administration, back in the late 1970s, is the effort to change that attitude. Mayor Hudnut was determined to make Indianapolis “no mean City”–and that meant paying attention to the built environment’s design and maintenance, among other things. Back then, streets in the Mile Square were swept daily, and the “Clean City Committee” encouraged attention to other aspects of civic tidiness. The improvements to Monument Circle were made during Hudnut’s tenure, as were numerous other brick-and-mortar projects intended to strengthen the city’s core and improve the physical environment we share.

Design matters, and during the Hudnut Administration there was recognition of that fact. Today, the creation of urban amenities depends almost entirely on the generosity of philanthropists. The Cultural Trail is a good example.

It has been over thirty years since the improvements to Monument Circle, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those improvements are a bit tired. It is time for some refurbishing–some attention to a public space that has been recognized as one of the best such amenities in the country. So the recent announcement by the Ballard Administration that such a refurbishing would be undertaken was welcome–until the details emerged.

The City intends to hire engineers to oversee the project. Not architects.

A decision to hand over the redesign of one of the most important civic spaces in Indianapolis to people whose focus and training are on traffic flow and structural integrity is more than disappointing. It is yet another signal that Indianapolis has reverted to the “good enough” mindset that characterizes so much of Indiana.

Apparently, the Ballard Administration thinks Monument Circle is just a traffic roundabout that periodically needs repaving.

That’s good enough, right?


  1. Sheila: Thanks for this reminder of the significance of long term thinking. Two thoughts: first, I was in Indianapolis this weekend for the North Central Sociological Association meeting. Having grown up in Indianapolis until I left for college in the early 70s, I’m always amazed at the significant transformation the whole city centre concept has brought about. I was really proud to have my students walking around downtown. Second point relates to mediocrity. In the mid-90s I moved from Kansas to Oregon. Having experienced both cultures, I often joked that Oregon was populated by people who set out on the great trek west and overcame obstacles to get there. Kansas, on the other hand, was populated by people who started for the great trek, got tired, and decided to just stop and open up a little store to serve the others coming through. It’s a reminder of where failure of vision leaves us.

  2. I am still angry that the English Hotel and Opera House were demolished on Monument Circle and replaced with a modern J.C. Penny department store. The historical value of those stately buildings should have been maintained. I have always believed traffic, and especially parking, should be banned from the Circle along with the first block in all four directions. The bricked streets, installed during the Hudnut administration, have lost much of their beauty due to tire tracks and oil spots. How can engineers possibly oversee the refurbishing of one of the most historical landmarks of this city? Why must everything be a conglomerate, cramming the most into inappropirate settings, losing much of the beauty of downtown Indianapolis? The mention of negleced parks reminds me of what I was told 11 years ago when I moved back from Florida where many of my days were spent in public parks with my iced tea and a book. When I asked which park on the east side would be the best for me to head for; I was told not to go to any of them because a woman alone would not be safe. The same is true of too many of once well maintained neighborhoods Progress doesn’t always mean improvement.

  3. The amount of money expended on our parks has fallen 34% (without adjustment for inflation) during the Ballard Administration. The more we spend on professional sports the less we spend on sports for every day people.

  4. Louis – not to mention the number of IMPD officers is down, in spite of the local income tax increase.

    Every tax bump gets swiped for sports and hotels, a process that hasn’t led us to economic nirvana.

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