The strategic planning of forty years ago has effected what many outsiders see as an extraordinary rebirth of a rust-belt city. Indianapolis has received headline raves from newspapers and magazines throughout the country. This city is now world-class in amateur and professional athletics, bio-medical research, medical care, the arts and several specialties in education. Downtown is welcoming; many youth and seniors are moving to the inner city.
I’m proud of Indianapolis. We enjoy living here. We like to show people around. Among the organizations we have supported: the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Eideljorg, the Indianapolis Symphony, Indiana State Museum, the Children’s Museum, Indianapolis Repertory Theater and local galleries. My spouse is assistant manager of a fair trade store (Global Gifts) on the vibrant Mass Avenue.
One may accurately observe in this modern history, however, that power has concentrated itself among the wealthy. Thus one might venture to say that at times the political mode is that of a plutocracy. Indianapolis, too, has its 1% and its 99%. One may argue with plenty of evidence that the big money derived from sports hasn’t trickled down the whole way.
Yes, there are many pleasant communities, both upper and middle class communities that benefit from city leadership and city wealth. We live in one such community, Irvington, that is as friendly and cohesive and alive as Goshen. Nonetheless, it is quite clear to us who travel through blighted areas to get downtown that we’ve got a lot of people who do not live in The Good Society. The photos below were not hard to find. I took those photos along the route we travel from our house to Global Gifts.
What percentage of Indianapolis’ 850,000 are poor? My guess is that a third of the adult population would say that they do not live in The Good Society. Rust-belt factories have closed, leaving lots of people without jobs. Unemployment is especially high among African American males. Drug use is blamed for much of the gun violence that kills more than 100 people each year.
When I travel by city bus I learn of the inadequacy of food stamps, medical problems that won’t be treated because of cost, children who have been educated in the streets rather than at school or church.
The city has thousands of empty houses, some of them clandestinely occupied by homeless families. Homelessness has escalated in recent years, now to include many entire families. A nighttime huddle of street people sleeps under an elevated train track.
Indianapolis Public Schools have deteriorated to the point that many responsible parents stretch their dollars to send their children to private school. On our street with many children, not one of them attends IPS, thus hurting the schools even more. The state will be taking over several schools this next year.
Because of the widespread use of coal for power, the city’s air does not meet acceptable health standards. And conservative politics has not as yet banned smoking in public establishments.
The mayor is now addressing the infrastructure which has been disregarded for decades. Many streets, curbs, sidewalks and bridges must be repaired. (Poorer communities lack sidewalks and curbs.) The storm sewer is outdated.
Indy has one of the worst public transportation systems among the nation’s large cities. This deficit contributes to highway gridlock and further isolates poor people, making it difficult for them to hold jobs, to go shopping and in general to be mobile.
The police have given to themselves a compromised reputation due to charges of police brutality, drunkenness while on duty, and unprofessional behaviors while off duty.
The state family and child care programs have come under fire because of the number of young children who have died at the hands of abusive parents.
Prostitution had been centered in a motel several blocks from our house. That building has been shut down finally, but this simply means that the issue has migrated to another part of the city.
City parks and the public library with its many branches have curtailed hours of service due to lack of funds.
Both the African American and the Hispanic American communities speak of their being excluded, not by overt discrimination but rather by systemic racism.
Because of the shift of advertising dollars to new media, The Indianapolis Star, which has historically performed a valuable watch on government has been weakened. There has been no replacement. I find this troubling in a city where too many government officials and legislators have been cited for corruption.
I do not intend a jeremiad. Rather, I am insisting on presenting an accurate view of a successful American city wherein not all are created equal, not all are given equal opportunity to live fulfilling lives, and not all benefit from glory of hosting a Super Bowl.
Indianapolis Colts games cost more than many an Indianapolis adult earns in a week. Pacers games aren’t quite as expensive yet beyond many middle-class budget. Two people can expect to pay $500 for two season tickets for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra or Indiana Repertory Theater.
The Super Bowl activities will be beyond the reach of thousands of us. No seat can be purchased for $1,000. Low-end hotels are charging $500 per night with a four- night minimum. Parking fees have doubled and tripled. Restaurant prices have jumped. Downtown parties are charging $1,000 + entrance fees.
Meanwhile, the plutocrats gain. For every soft drink sold downtown, the Colts get 50 cents. For every beer, $1.00. For every mixed drink, $1.50.)
Often I find myself asking, “How might a city do quality strategic planning to ameliorate the suffering from poverty? Could Indianapolis ghettos be reborn just as the downtown has been reborn?”
So it is a tale of two cities. Yesterday I took a walk downtown. I saw and heard the stage programs, watched shouting people move high overhead on the zip line, eyed the 33 racing cars lined up on South Meridian, saw the lines at the bars. There was a lot a good will, lots of happy faces, lots of community spirit, many families having fun. But the poor people weren’t there.