Tag Archives: quality of life

I Guess This Doesn’t Include Indiana

Macleans has identified cities it dubs a “new brain belt.”

These are the places where they think the greatest innovation is happening today. Sometimes they are classic rust-belt cities but mostly they are university or hospital towns in the vicinity: Waterloo, Ont., instead of Windsor.

They identify characteristics of such places: high-tech facilities, quality educational institutions, taxpayer support for research, appealing living conditions and, most important for them, cultures of free thinking, in contrast to the “hierarchical, regimented thinking so prevalent in Asian and MIST [Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey] countries.”

Or states like Indiana.

We have had several robust discussions on this blog about my theory of “paradigm shift.” Call it that, or focus on the narrower question (posed by MacLeans) whether your own city or state is “innovative” or “future oriented”–the question is one with which every Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development organization is wrestling: how does my city/ metropolitan area/state continue to compete and thrive in a world that is constantly changing? How do we get from here (wherever that is) to there (wherever that is)?

I was struck by the list of characteristics identified by MacLeans: of the five, four focused on human capital–more precisely, the development of an intellectual culture.

  • High tech facilities are built in places having workforces that can operate and manage them, places where both technical skills and comfort with technical innovation are plentiful.
  • The phrase “quality educational institutions” suggests the sort of yeasty and challenging environment that deals in questions, not answers–the sort of educational environment that produces new ideas and new ways of thinking about the traditional ones. (Quality is not defined by job placement statistics–sorry, Indiana Commission on Higher Education.)
  • “Taxpayer support for research” certainly doesn’t call to mind the penny-pinching, “I’ve got mine, Jack, and I’m holding onto it” attitude that has long characterized my own state of Indiana. It certainly doesn’t describe a state that would constitutionalize a cap on property taxes, lest those taxes somehow get raised and then–horrors!–spent on a common civic good like education. Or a better quality of life.
  • When you think about it, a culture of “free thinking”–the fourth intellectual attribute of forward-looking places–really leads to the only characteristic listed that doesn’t immediately connect to the life of the mind: a good quality of life. I don’t think you can have a good quality of life without such a “free thinking” culture.

People who enjoy engaging with ideas, with the arts, with people unlike themselves–people interested not only in acquiring new skills but in using those skills to improve their communities–are people who understand the organic nature and human importance of those communities, and the importance of their own connections to them.

There are people in my city–and I’d wager in yours–who are working hard to create a community that looks like that.

But at this point, my city– and most definitely my state— have a long way to go.

More Lessons from Canada

Yesterday I shared Canada’s approach to management of government contracts–an approach American government officials would do well to emulate. Today, I want to share two examples of good urban policy from our neighbors to the north.

First, from Vancouver:

In Vancouver, Canada, walking, cycling and public transit are now viable alternatives to driving. Todd Litman blogs on Planetizen that recent data indicate that Vancouver’s “automobile mode share” represents about half of all trips.

By contrast, in most North American cities, personal vehicles are used about 80 percent of the time. Litman is executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Vancouver’s urban planners have worked to make the city easier to navigate without a vehicle. As a result, in addition to the obvious environmental benefits,  Vancouver’s residents spend less money on transportation than urbanites elsewhere, have more opportunities for active lifestyles, and are less likely to be killed in an automobile accident– Vancouver has experienced a sizable drop in traffic fatalities.



Can’t find Place Jacques-Cartier? Curious about the history of Mount Royal? Ian Hardy reports for MobileSyrup that Montreal’s CA$23 million  (US$18.4 million) “smart city” plan would provide easy answers via free public Wi-Fi. The 70 projects to be completed by late 2017 would include real-time updates about buses and subways and digital access for citizens to municipal data.

The city promises to deploy free wireless connectivity at 750 locations. It also would require all major urban development projects to include superfast, wired fiber optic Internet connections, the article says. In addition, Montreal hopes to attract companies and startups that specialize in innovation that improves how cities govern and interact with citizens.

I served in city government “back when”–in an administration committed to making Indianapolis a place where people would want to live, a forward-looking city with a great quality of life. That was back when we still had planners…back before the entire focus of state and local government became keeping taxes low by providing only the most essential services at the lowest possible cost, before we took to selling off public assets to make budgets work.

Before the word “government” became a sneer.

From Accidental to Delusional

When Greg Ballard was first elected, many people dubbed him the “accidental Mayor,” in recognition of the fact that virtually no one had voted for him; they had voted against Bart Peterson, who had the bad luck to be in office when the General Assembly raised property taxes. (When voters don’t know that there’s this thing called federalism, they also don’t know who raised their taxes.)

Subsequently, Ballard actually won an election, and we are stuck with him for at least the next couple of years–perhaps more, if the Democrats can’t find a viable candidate pretty soon.

On the one hand, it’s hard not to feel sorry for this or any Hoosier mayor. There is no money to do much of anything. The brutal winter has exhausted snow-removal budgets. The Department of Metropolitan Development is down to three planners. The police force is seriously understaffed. The list goes on.

The problem is, this Mayor came into office not knowing anything about urban policy or administration, and he has not proved to be a quick learner. So we have watched his numerous “economic development” junkets, his enthusiasm for cricket, his lack of enthusiasm for the legislative battles over measures that adversely affect a city in a state with no home rule…again, the list is lengthy.

Now we are told how the Mayor wants to solve the systemic problems that are strangling our city and depriving us of needed revenues: we’ll do it by encouraging higher-income folks to move to Indianapolis and grow our tax base.

Can you spell delusional?

Read my lips: people with the means to decide where they want to live make those choices based upon quality of life. They don’t move to cities with horrendous and growing homicide rates, poorly-maintained parks and streets, badly managed snow removal, struggling schools, abysmal public transportation and dwindling city services. They don’t wake up one morning and say, “Wow, I hear Indianapolis has a cricket field. Let’s move there.”

We’ll be lucky if local people who can decide where they want to live don’t continue to leave Indianapolis. (Marion County had Indiana’s largest absolute net outflow of population over the past decade.)

Our city faces truly monumental challenges. It would be nice if we had an administration capable of understanding those challenges.

Back Home in Indiana…

If our legislature paid half as much attention to job creation and economic realities as it does to time zones, same-sex marriage and teaching cursive, Indiana’s economy might actually improve, and state agencies might not have to lie about their performance.

If our lawmakers took an honest look at the results of ideologically-driven measures like tax reductions, constitutionalizing the tax caps and “right to work” legislation–we might  encourage the kinds of economic activity that would work for everyone.

Honest to goodness.

Instead, Indiana continues to underperform on a wide range of measures. In a recent column, Morton Marcus highlighted one of those– a significant increase in the gap between the average weekly earnings of a Hoosier worker and that of the average American worker– and he asked a pertinent (and impertinent) question:

 In Dec.’07 that gap was $20.74; by Dec.’13 the gap between Indiana and the nation grew to $58.99 per week. Is this the economic progress our elected legislative and executive leaders travel the world to advance? Is this consistent with those boastful press releases we read about how well Indiana is doing because of our low business taxes and slack regulation?

Elsewhere in the country, it is dawning on elected officials that it is quality of life, not tax rates, that drives relocation decisions. A state that boasts of its “slack regulation” is advertising its resemblance to West Virginia, where  drinking the water has gotten hazardous.  A state touting its low taxes is communicating where its priorities lie; increasingly, when businesses being courted are told “we have low taxes,” they hear “we have substandard education, poorly-maintained roads and parks, and not enough police officers to protect you.” And they’re right.

Amazing as it may seem, people smart enough to run a successful business are smart enough to know that states, like people,  get what we pay for. And back home in Indiana, we aren’t willing to pay for much of anything.

Honest to goodness, Indiana.

Myths Die Hard

Andrea Neal’s editorial in the Indianapolis Star yesterday was a reminder that evidence is no match for strongly-held beliefs.

Neal seconded Governor Pence’s ill-considered call for a ten percent reduction in Indiana’s income tax. Even the Republicans in the General Assembly have recognized how harmful such a tax cut would be in a state where cities and towns are already strangling, thanks to the even more ill-considered tax caps Mitch Daniels managed to enshrine in the Indiana constitution.  Neal made a familiar argument: lower taxes will lead to more economic growth and more job creation.

This argument sounds logical. Leave businesses with more cash and they’ll spend it to expand and hire. I remember being persuaded by that theory myself when I first became involved in policy and political life. The problem is, the evidence refutes it.

A recent report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic policy confirms previous research. As the Institute reports,

States that levy personal income taxes, including the states with the highest top rates, have seen more economic growth
per capita and less decline in their median income level over the last ten years than the nine states that do not tax income.
As any economist will confirm, the factors facilitating economic growth and job creation are varied; despite the almost religious belief in the supernatural power of tax policy, most studies suggest that tax levels are only one of a large number of factors that influence business decisions. The availability of an educated workforce, a location near suppliers or large customers, the existence of a market for one’s goods or services, cost of living, and the general quality of life  all play a part.
For many employers, the availability of public transportation so that employees can get to their place of work is extremely important; indeed, decent public transportation would do far more for the Indianapolis economy than a tax cut that further erodes public services and the quality of life.
Think about it: how low would taxes need to be before you’d move your business to Mississippi?