As the Indianapolis mayoral debate focuses on taxes, crime, economic and downtown development, and other questions, it is worth noting again that the key question that must be answered has been out there a while, and neither the Republicans nor Democrats seem inclined to answer it. The question is: Why would anyone choose to live in suburban Marion County?
Clearly, the inner city of Indianapolis is stressed. There are definitely some strong neighborhoods such as Meridian-Kessler, but vast tracts of the “old Indianapolis” are very run down and in bad shape. Nevertheless, such areas hold the prospect of revival because they are built in an urban style. Urban living is not for everyone, but it will be for some people, and and I believe an increasing number. For those people, the central city is the only place they can shop, basically. We aren’t building new traditional urban areas anymore.
The real problem is suburban Marion County, which is seeing large net domestic outmigration, much of it to the collar counties. Much of this is built out in a similar style to the collar counties, and so there are plenty of good substitutes. Consider:
- The school systems of Marion County, even in the townships, are generally far inferior to collar county districts and often are closer to IPS than they are to Carmel or Zionsville.
- Taxes are higher
- The infrastructure is older, and in much cases inferior and crumbling.
- Indianapolis is experiencing a financial crisis.
- The housing and commercial stock is largely older than the collar counties, and much of it is built on obsolete 1980’s or even earlier paradigms of the good life.
It should come as no surprise that, outside of select areas such as Keystone Crossing, a lot suburban areas are struggling, as we witness in news articles about the difficulties of redevelopment. The city of Indianapolis has to give people a reason to want to live there.
Now I’m not going to suggest that the new suburbs were wise when the old ones were stupid. When today’s new suburbs get built out, they are likely to experience the exact same problems. With suburban development, there is always a shiny new place on the fringe that you can move to, leaving your old decaying areas behind. This is a national conundrum and one nobody has solved adequately, but I believe that there has to be a solution.