As regular readers have undoubtedly noticed, I frequently use this blog as a platform to vent–and that’s what I plan to do today. Usually, my rants are political, but despite political overtones, this one is personal.
First, some background.
I use Facebook primarily as a method for “pushing out” this blog–I very rarely post about personal matters, and because I am essentially viewing the site as a marketing tool, I have accepted lots of Facebook “friends” I’ve never met. Recently, one of them posted about the prosecutor’s race in my county, and that led to a string of dismissive (and easily disproven) comments about crime and downtown Indianapolis.
I have lived in downtown’s historic neighborhoods since 1980, and eighteen months ago, my husband and I downsized to an apartment in the heart of downtown’s central business district.
I now live barely two blocks from a Starbucks that the company is closing, a decision accompanied by pious declarations to the effect that closure was impelled by concerns for customer safety. Believing that excuse requires ignoring contemporaneous Starbucks closures in SIXTEEN other cities, and the fact that safety concerns seem not to have affected the other NINE downtown Starbucks locations. (Given the enormous number of competing coffee shops operating in just the Mile Square, my guess is over-saturation…)
Several people commenting on the post used the Starbucks closure to assert that downtown Indianapolis is not only unsafe, but–and I quote– a “shithole.”
Let me describe that “shithole” for those who don’t live in my neighborhood.
Saturday night, I attended an event at the downtown History Center. On my way home (four blocks), I passed restaurants filled to overflowing with diners inside and out (it was still a balmy evening, and downtown is blessed with numerous eateries offering outside dining.) Throngs of young couples were strolling up and down Massachusetts Avenue–a revitalized stretch of street hosting bars, restaurants, retail shops and theaters– all of which my husband and I frequent.
On foot. We also walk two blocks to our preferred grocery, cleaners and hardware store…
Counterintuitively for a “shithole,” downtown Indianapolis attracts ongoing construction of apartment complexes and condominiums. People keep moving downtown to occupy them. (For the past few years, new construction has been so constant my husband and I joke as we pass a new complex: “Gee–that wasn’t there last Tuesday!”) As a recent report from the Indianapolis Star put it, renters and buyers continue to show a “high demand for Downtown living, a trend driven by amenities such as walkable streets, contemporary restaurants and bustling nightlife.”
If there’s a legitimate concern about downtown living, it’s the cost:a lot of people are paying top dollar to enjoy the ambience and amenities of our downtown “shithole.”
Visit the website for Downtown Indy and find lists of residential options (both affordable and “wow, that’s pricey”) along with lists of the dozens of festivals, venues and events enjoyed by the 30,000+ of us who currently live downtown– as well as the thousands who come down to attend them.
Indianapolis does have a crime problem–as most cities do–but it is primarily located in outer, impoverished neighborhoods.
That said, I’m pretty sure I know what accounts for the ignorant accusations about downtown Indy.
When I look at the throngs of people on the streets, most are young, and many are Black, Brown or Asian. A number of couples are interracial. Unfortunately, depressing numbers of Americans continue to equate nonwhite races with crime and decay. I’d be willing to bet good money that the people posting sneering comments about downtown Indianapolis hold stereotypes that equate “downtown” with “ghetto” and “scary.”
Prejudice can work both ways, of course.
For years, when my husband and I would drive past those grim, cookie-cutter, tree-less suburban developments that clearly require long commutes to work or shop, he would observe that “this is the environment people are willing to accept in order to avoid Black neighbors.” I would have to remind him that not every resident of suburbia or exurbia is a bigot–that there are non-racist reasons nice people might want a big yard or a quiet neighborhood.
I’ll end this screed by taking my own advice, and conceding that downtown living isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The vitality, walkability and street life I treasure can be off-putting to others, and those differences are just differences–they don’t necessarily reflect ignorance or prejudice.
On the other hand, when someone describes the center of my city–my neighborhood–in demonstrably inaccurate, pejorative terms, I’m pretty confident I know where that opinion comes from. And it isn’t pretty.
It’s just one more data point demonstrating the prevalence and persistence of American racism.