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?