New York, New York

When I told a coworker that I was coming to New York for the weekend, he shuddered. He hasn’t ever been there, he said, but he hates big cities.

I LOVE big cities. And therein lies a political challenge for those who would be mayor. We talk about the need for our candidates to demonstrate a vision for the city, but we have very different ideas about what sort of vision we’re looking for.

The virtues of urban life that seem so off-putting to many people–and so appealing to me–are multiple: the diversity of the people (and the tolerance for difference that is a necessary consequence), the multiple thriving arts scenes, the great public transportation, and the endless choices of everything–neighborhoods, retail establishments, food.

With all of this, of course, comes a certain anonymity, which delights some people and deeply troubles others. The virtues of community, which are accessed more easily in smaller cities and towns, have to be actively created in larger cities. And the mix of people–diverse in beliefs and attitudes as well as religion, skin color, national origin and the like–creates a culture that celebrates messages and behaviors that would be upsetting or shocking in smaller venues. (For example, we were able to get tickets to Book of Mormon–a smash hit–only because my nephew “knows people.” We loved it, but I imagine its irreverent message about all religion–not just Mormonism–would be received differently in more pious venues.)

What is our vision for Indianapolis? I doubt there is much consensus. Even people in my downtown neighborhood are divided about the virtues of urbanism; some still want the big lawns and low densities of suburban life, just closer to the city’s core. They fail to recognize that supporting the amenities they do want requires the urban characteristics they don’t.

We are in the middle of electing a new mayor and council. Ideally, we would evaluate all the candidates on two separate measures: their visions, and their capacities to achieve those visions. The best elections, from the standpoint of us voters, would offer us equally qualified candidates with competing visions. My colleague could vote for the person whose vision of Indianapolis is pastoral; I could vote for the candidate promising more urbanism. Unfortunately, we rarely get that sort of choice, and this election is no exception.

For mayor, we get to choose between a feckless incumbent whose management skills are invisible and whose vision of urbanism is a faux Chinatown, and a candidate with demonstrated management skills whose vision–better education, public safety and economic development–is solid, but hardly soaring.

Well–there’s always an occasional weekend in New York.