Tag Archives: civic challenges

What Makes a Community?

Last night was the second in our three-part series “Electing Our Future.” The panelists were great, and I will post a link when WFYI uploads the video. In the meantime, here are my opening remarks introducing the panel:

What is the difference between cities that are collections of homes and businesses and cities that are genuine communities?

The last forum in this series described the systems we’ve developed—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not—to govern Indianapolis. That forum tried to answer the question: what does Indianapolis look like today? What’s its structure? How do we elect the people who manage the services we expect government to provide? How do we decide what those services are, and—not so incidentally—how do we pay for them?

Whatever we think about our city—what works well, what doesn’t, what isn’t getting done, what is getting done that perhaps shouldn’t be—one fact is inescapable: there aren’t enough resources to do everything that everyone would like to see our City do. Indeed, increasingly we find ourselves trying to stretch limited dollars just to do the very basic sorts of things that all citizens expect.

All cities have to set priorities, and we in Indianapolis are no different. Those priorities need to be informed by those of us who live here. And I want to suggest that those priorities tell the people who live here and the people who might want to start businesses here or live here or even visit, a great deal about us.

If we want Indianapolis to be a genuine, healthy community, rather than a collection of unrelated inhabitants—if we want to marshal the talents and goodwill of our neighbors in ways that will build on our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses—we need to consider what it takes to create that community, and we need to ask ourselves which of those tasks are properly the job of our municipal government.

Setting priorities requires us to agree on the elements that make for a good quality of urban life. In an era of scarce resources, that process also requires us to decide which services are essential, and which fall under the category of  “would be nice if we could  afford it.”

The process of setting priorities requires us to decide what trade-offs are worthwhile, and which ones shortchange us as a community.

Most of us want to feel safe in our homes and on our streets—but we don’t want that security to come at the cost of people’s civil liberties. 

We want to send our City’s children to schools that will prepare them for life in the 21st Century, that will give them critical thinking skills, because we know that great cities don’t exist without great schools and educated populations.

We all want a government that represents us, that is trustworthy and transparent and responsive to its constituents.

Most of us want to live in a city that is inclusive and welcoming, with a citizenry that sees diversity as an opportunity and difference as enriching, rather than a city that is a collection of separate communities walled off from and suspicious of each other.

And most of us want the amenities that make cities such wonderful places to live and work: parks and trails, libraries, museums, great public transportation, clean air and water, well-tended streets, roads and bridges—the social and public infrastructure that facilitates urban well-being.

The question is: how do we pay for all that? And if we can’t pay for it all, which of those public goods must take priority?

Our panelists have been selected because they are in positions that make them ideally suited to address those questions.

Julia Vaughn has been working with Common Cause to fight for good government for many years. She has been a voice for ethical governance and sanity at the Indiana Statehouse and in City Halls around the state.

Kelly Bentley, who is serving her 4th term as a member of the Board of Commissioners of IPS, has been a longtime ardent supporter of public education and educational reforms that serve our city’s children.

Judge David Shaheed recently retired from the bench; he has long been one of the most thoughtful observers of issues in the community involving re-entry,  disadvantaged populations, and diversity in general.

Troy Riggs recently left his position as Indianapolis’ Director of Public Safety, and has a uniquely informed perspective on the issue of crime in our city.

Through her work with Health by Design, Kim Irwin has come to understand that civic health involves far more than the physical health of its inhabitants, important as that is; healthy cities are cities with a great quality of life.

And finally, John Ketzenberger of Indiana’s Fiscal Policy Institute knows better than most of us the challenges we face in paying for our priorities and funding that good quality of life.