Monday, September 8th, 2008

Miscellaneous Musings

The Muncie Star-Press has been running a short series on the future of that city and what it needs to turn around its economic decline. You can read it here, here, here, and here.

Several Ball State people pointed to the poor town-gown relations as a sore spot. The university could be an engine of growth, but Muncie doesn’t have the feel of a college town. I agree with this sentiment. Manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back to Muncie. Its future is probably as a smaller city too as it downsizes to reflect that diminished base. But unlike a lot of suffering small industrial cities, Muncie is fortunate to have a sizeable university. Embracing the college town identity is one possible way to address the future. I also suggest, as I’ve noted many times before, that places like Muncie have to find ways to plug themselves into the greater Indianapolis economy. The university can play a role in that. Ball State has planted its flag in downtown Indy. Perhaps that connection can be the start of a reciprocal flow of ideas and people that will help lubricate that connection. The reality is, change in Muncie is not going to be a short term thing. This is a long term project to reinvent the city on a new economic base.

Interestingly, Michael Hicks of the Ball State Business Research Bureau backs me up on the claims I made yesterday that for the new economy, ultimately the primary factor in success is being a place people want to live. “Places that are attractive to live are going to attract commerce … If people want to move here, employers will want to move here.” and “In the short run, people to go jobs. But in the long run, employers are going to go to places where people want to live.”

The Miller family is nearing an agreement to give the J. Irwin Miller house in Columbus to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which has a Columbus branch. This is contingent on the IMA raising an endowment to pay for the home’s maintenance. This home, which is a National Historic Landmark, is a modernist treasure designed by Eero Saarinen. The IMA would preserve the home and offer some limited tours, but try to avoid turning it into a major tourist attraction out of respect for the neighbors.

The Miller family recently made headlines when they auctioned the home’s $135 million art collection off to raise funds to pay estate taxes. Anyone who thinks the “death tax” doesn’t have consequences, and that only rich people like the Miller’s are affected, should think again. This sale means that this one of a kind collection, which included a rare water lily painting by Claude Monet, is gone from Indiana forever. It’s a shame that the Miller family could not or would not arrange for this collection to be donated or loaned to the IMA or its Columbus branch as well. While taxes may well have been the driver, the fact is, this art auction will end up as a dissonant coda to a life that was spent doing so much good for the state.

A hat tip to On the Cusp for pointing us to this Arizona Republic editoral in favor of better civic architecture in Phoenix. It is advice that would apply to any city.

“Historically, every culture that has risen to prominence has spent the extra money on good architecture, because those rising cultures see their pride in themselves expressed … If all you need is a box to hold people, you don’t have to care what it looks like. But it’s the equivalent of arriving at the job interview in sweatshirt and jeans. Good architecture is a function of civic will … But our new construction too often is safe, boring, predictable and cost-efficient. Perhaps we simply don’t have the moxie to build better buildings. After all, we talk constantly about being the ‘fifth-largest city’ in the United States. It becomes a boosterism mantra, as we discuss everything from our urban planning to our professional sports teams.”

“The well-tailored suit or the better-engineered car carries a message of pride and self-respect, an awareness of how others see and judge a person. Further, it says something about a person’s awareness that others expect more from him. Architecture is a city’s wardrobe, and the question is, will we spend the extra money for something distinguished?”

I think the Bard put it best: “For the apparel oft proclaims the man”. What is your city proclaiming?

An FT writer editorializes against the recent trend of selling naming rights to every scrap of public infrastructure. While the target of his ire is NYC, it would equally apply anywhere. Every city, desperate to raise funds for major projects, is eager to sell naming rights to everything, often for donations that are only a small fraction of overall project cost. Of course everyone always protests that the donor never wanted it this way. Right. I personally don’t mind auctioning naming rights, but please be clear on what you are doing, and be sure to maximize the value of those rights. This is more akin to auctioning naming rights to a stadium than a traditional donation. And both provide branding benefits to the purchaser. One thing I do think cities need to do: insist on pleasant, easy to pronounce names. The “Stephen A. Schwartzman Building”, for example, is more than a mouthful. Can’t it is just be the Schwartzman Building?

INDOT is not going to do the SR 267 for Ronald Reagan Parkway swap after all. The state says finishing the road would cost $420 million. The state wants to build it to interstate standards, something Hendricks County, which is now looking for a Plan C, doesn’t feel is necessary.

More good news about Major Moves. The private consortium that leased the Toll Road has a $250 million project underway to reconstruct and widen a segment of the road through Gary. Anyone who has had the “pleasure” of driving this crumbling, pothole-ridden elevated segment knows the project is about 20 years overdue.

Louisville got its arena financing package completed. The bonds are sold and the money is in the bank. Construction is already underway.

The governor and lieutenant governor of Ohio have an op-ed in the Journal touting Ohio’s economy. This is basically some text that was re-purposed from the state’s new strategic economic development plan. Now I understand that the governor needs to be a booster for the state. Clearly, CEO’s can’t go out sending a negative tone. So I would certainly not expect Gov. Strickland to say the sky is falling. However, Ohio faces very serious problems and needs to make major changes to make itself a more attractive business destination. Part of that involves telling painful truths to the citizens and aggressively making the case for change. I don’t see any of that here. This strategic plan was not that impressive, IMO (perhaps a full review will be forthcoming). And the idea that “Ohio’s economy is doing fine” is a dubious proposition. Richard Longworth noted how Ohio seemed to be in a state of denial. This would be seem to be something more along those lines. Again, you can be optimistic about the future and be a booster for your state, but you can do it in a way that allows you to be direct about the problems that have to be faced. I think Gov. Strickland has it in him to do this, since he already claim clean on the ODOT funding problems. Similar tough truths and strong action are warranted here.

6 Comments
Topics: Arts and Culture, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

6 Responses to “Miscellaneous Musings”

  1. Gary says:

    Once again sounds a lot like the case I presented for the “city region” (CI). I think I actually mentioned Delaware County (Muncie) in the discussion. That gives the region 4 universities (knowledge centers) with much to offer,and build on. With the ability to educat via the internet, move people quickily via rail for both jobs and education that actually does include some on campus time you have a very attractive card to play to corporations. Especially the ones that need knowledge workers readily available, near by and retrained quickly in a fast moving global economy.

    Side note: Nice article in Time this week about the roundabouts being builit in Carmel/Indy.

    The Fringe Festival conitnued to grow it’s attendence from the previoius three years.

    LOS for all it great bells ans whistles is still horrible to navigate once inside and looks like a terrible death tramp if a true emergency every really did happen inside the Stadium.

  2. Gary says:

    Again, let’s talk to some Europeans that actaully know or at least have experience in doing this.

  3. Gary says:

    sorry meant to type trap LOL

  4. thundermutt says:

    Urbanophile, I think INDOT wants RR Parkway built to interstate standards so that it can be the future west leg of the someday-necessary second outer belt highway. (Gov. Daniels’ now-abandoned plan was close to connecting the county seats of the first-ring counties with a new ring road around the northeast-to-southwest arc, and RR Parkway would have pretty much closed that loop.)

    It’s an article of faith (for me, anyway) that the engines of growth in an older metro like Indianapolis are the “next county out” towns, often county seats, that get drawn into the metro orbit. Think about Carmel, Zionsville, Greenfield, Avon, Danville, Brownsburg. The new “edge cities” are Franklin, Lebanon, Anderson, Shelbyville…and they’re not new cities, simply old cities being reborn as something else.

    So in this case, INDOT may be “thinking big”. What would be beyond cool is requiring all new “interstate grade” highways to have provisions for high-speed rail or express bus designed in.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “the someday-necessary second outer belt highway”…and then the 3rd outer belt and the 4th…and before ya know it Indy is just one big ol sprawl from border to border. With gas at $4/gallon plus sounds like quite a great idea…

  6. Jefferey says:

    The Irwin Miller house is more famous for the grounds, as it is a master-work of modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley.

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