Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Indy’s Increasing International Population

Guess which city is growing its foreign born population at a faster rate than Chicago? That’s right, it’s Indianapolis. Now it is easy to get a high rate on a low base, but as with population, jobs, and other stats, Indy is leading the pack in the Midwest in terms of an increase in its foreign born population. And that is reason to celebrate locally. This was discussed in a major article in Sunday’s Indianapolis Star. (There are plenty of companion articles linked off the main one, so don’t miss them).

The foreign born population of the Indianapolis area is up 69% since 2000, to about 100,000 people. My math says this is about 40,000 people added in the last few years. This outdistances regional peers like Louisville, Cincy, Cleveland, Milwaukee and St. Louis, and beats even Chicago and Detroit. Indy’s not a truly polyglot city by any means, but it is definitely getting more diverse. The Midwest challenge now is to bring other similar sized cities up as well while Indy keeps improving its own game.

This superior performance in immigration is clearly linked to the city’s economic out performance. Jobs attract immigrants. Immigrants attract jobs. And in the process, these newcomers are transforming the city in a positive way. Imagine what the state of Lafayette Rd. and West 38th St. would be without all of the ethnic businesses there. Clearly the immigrant communities have already done a huge service to Indianapolis by pumping life into this failing retail zone.

You don’t yet feel the change in the city’s demographics on the streets of downtown. But that’s not unusual these days. The way immigrants settle in the 21st century is different than it was in the 19th. Even in places like Seattle, it’s become a truism that if you want good ethnic food, you need to head to the suburbs. So it is with Indy as well, though many of those “suburbs” are the older suburban areas of Marion County.

The really good news here is that this is a very diverse immigrant population. It’s not just Latino. There are 26,000 Asians and 10,500 Africans as well. The Indian population has doubled to 6,000. The Pakistani and Nigerian populations have tripled to hit 1,000. There are close to 1,500 Burmese. There are about 5,600 Chinese. Even among Latinos, the city is not monolithically Mexican. There are many Central American nationalities represented, for example. In Pike Township Schools alone, children speak 74 languages from 63 countries.

Why is this level of diversity good? First, these immigrants bring a diversity of skill sets with them. And it boosts the number of types of ethnic retail offerings out there, a boon to those non-immigrants who might be interested in the product. But most importantly, what draws immigrants is other immigrants – friends, countrymen, etc. The more communities that exist locally, the more groups that can be leveraged to attract others. If I were the city, what I’d encourage these various immigrant groups to do is tell all their friends about Indy. The most important thing these new arrivals can do is bring a bunch of their fellows along with them. The war for talent is fierce, and other cities are fighting hard to lure immigrants.

The cloud on the horizon is that immigration appears to have slowed after 2006. In part this may be a reaction to the economy, and thus prove a short term blip. But it is a bit worrying.

To pivot in a totally different direction, and one I normally stay away from since it smacks of the political, this article really highlighted to me one of the elephants in the room of Indianapolis: the incredible lack of official recognition given to gays and lesbians.

Gov. Daniels took time out of his busy schedule to pay a visit to a local Sikh temple. Mayor Ballard served as the grand marshal of a cultural parade in the Lafayette Square area and has a department of international affairs. But have either of these two shown up at Indy Pride? Lest we think this is a partisan affair, Mayor Peterson never put in an appearance either, IIRC. Supposedly he sent some letter in his stead, but that’s virtually no gesture at all. Again IIRC, Gov. O’Bannon likewise did nothing.

I think it is fair to say that there are more gays and lesbians in Indianapolis than there are Sikhs or Chinese. The figures I’ve seen put the local gay and lesbian population at between 4-5% of the local population, which is comparable to the total foreign born numbers above. But where is the official recognition? Where is the mayor or the governor on this one?

I’m no Floridian. I don’t suggest that gaydar be added to the metro index of leading economic indicators. Creativity and tolerance are clearly very important in a city’s success, but they are only two values among many that go into a successful city. Yet when you consider how invisible Indy’s robust gay and lesbian population is, it’s troubling.

Indy is doing well, and out performing most of the rest of the Midwest. But its growth badly trails national growth leaders like Charlotte and Austin. And IMO the city has not yet reached the point where it has a self-sustaining critical mass for the new economy. It’s not inconceivable that Marion County could ultimately implode, taking the region and probably the state with it. The city and region need to be firing on all cylinders. It is going to take everything the place has got to put it over the top. That means immigrants of all stripes, gays and lesbians, African Americans, life sciences, motorsports, conventions, a new airport, high tech, distribution, traditional white Hoosier families, religious people, advanced manufacturing, non-profits, arts and culture, and things we probably haven’t even thought of yet. The city needs everything and everyone. Slighting the gay and lesbian population is like trying fight with one hand tied behind your back. The places that don’t make this mistake are going to have a big advantage.

So I’m going to encourage the governor and mayor to use some the political courage that they’ve shown they have to step up to the plate, and bring the same level of official recognition to the city’s LGBT community that they have to the various immigrant groups that now call Indianapolis home. No one is asking for a personal endorsement of a lifestyle politicians might disagree with. But when you are the chief executive of a government, your duty is to all citizens, not just those who share your personal views. And I think the public ultimately get it on that point. I don’t think anyone believes Gov. Daniels is about to covert to Sikhism just because he showed up at that temple, for example.

If you are the mayor and the governor, why not ask to serve as co-grand marshals of Indy Pride 2009? There is probably nothing that would cost so little that would do so much for the city’s image. As much as any new airport terminal or sports stadium, this is how you send a signal about being a real 21st century city.

Bonus Transit News

Christopher Lineberger had an op-ed in the Star this week exhorting the city to implement transit. While I’m certainly a fan of better transit for Indy, this op-ed did not make an effective case for it, relying on traditional but weak arguments. Consider:

1. He never once talks about transit in terms of mobility for riders. It’s all about changing urban development patterns. Clearly, transit is something he sees as a means to an end, not anything with inherent value itself. But if you don’t create a compelling mobility solution that gets people where they want to go in a manner that is competitive with alternatives in terms of cost, end to end journey time, and quality of experience, people aren’t going to ride.

2. He gives the “brain drain” rationale. “Ever wonder why so many of your young adults move to Chicago? If you do not build what the rising generation wants, it will leave or not be attracted to Indianapolis in the first place. Losing young adults also will hurt the economy if people in their most entrepreneurial time of life go elsewhere to start new businesses.” As I’ve said before, the entire concept of brain drain is flawed. The real challenge facing places like Indianapolis is not retaining home grown talent. Chicago didn’t get to be Chicago by keeping its talent at home. It did it by hoovering up everybody else’s talent. I’ve yet to see any Midwestern city outside of a tiny handful like Chicago that even dreams that someone without a pre-existing connection to the city might want to live there. But as with the immigrant example, that’s what it really takes to succeed. You have to get people to choose to move to your city for reasons apart from an existing connection or a too good to pass up job opportunity. Then they’ll bring their friends and family along with them. Indy has to find a way to do for domestic talent what it is doing for immigrants.

3. The idea that Indy will be a competitive city with Chicago in terms of urban walkable neighborhoods if it builds rail transit, and that this will cause people to choose to live there instead of Chicago, is not realistic. By any measure, no matter what Indy does, it will never match Chicago’s dense, transit oriented, walkable neighborhoods. In fact, Indy is among the more poorly positioned Midwest cities to even try because it is among the lowest density. Unlike say Cincinnati, it never had dense urban neighborhoods to rival Chicago, even in its urban heyday.

You simply cannot compete against an entrenched competitor by taking them on at their strongest point head on. Saying that you’ll take Chicago on by trying to out transit them and out walkable neighborhood them is to decide to fight the battle on Chicago’s terms. That’s a losing strategy. Rather, you’ve got to put out a differentiated offering that is unique to you and let Chicago try to beat you at your game. Indianapolis will never be Chicago. But you know what, Chicago will never be Indianapolis either. Great cities, like great wines, have to express their terroir. To be a world class city, Indy has to first and foremost be a world class Indianapolis, not a wannbe Chicago.

Having said that, I do think the city needs to densify and needs to have more walkable neighbhorhoods. But it isn’t about linear “streetcar suburbs” of the types of find in larger cities. Rather, it is a complex web of nodes. I don’t have to go into my proposed vision here, but it is something along the lines of “100 Monument Circles”. Think about the nodes at 56th and Illinois or 52nd and College and you get what I’m thinking about. But those neighborhoods are not the core of a competitive response to Chicago. Again, designing that responses is beyond the scope of this post. But I do want to highlight the flaws in the model of thinking that the Midwest’s small cities can only be successful by imitating the largest urban centers in America. That just ain’t so.

So while I agree with some of Mr. Lineberger’s prescriptions, his rationale is dubious at best.

14 Comments
Topics: Demographic Analysis, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

14 Responses to “Indy’s Increasing International Population”

  1. Kevin says:

    I agree with you on both points. The New Urbanist article sounded too much like a lecture, which is a shame.

  2. Jason266 says:

    I agree that much could be gained by embracing the gay community more. I was in St. Louis over the weekend and there was a protest against California’s Prop. 8/rally for gay rights. I was incredibly impressed that the Mayor of St. Louis came to the rally and spoke very loudly for expanded gay rights. That image is blazed in my memory. St. Louis will now always be highly regarded by yours truly.

  3. CoryWilson says:

    Aaron, as always, great comments on the immigration as well as the need for more diversity. Your willinginess to discuss the importance of reaching out to the gay community is appreciated as well!
    Indy has had a bad history of turning its back on the gay community. That is no more apparent than the recent murders of an elderly gay couple living in Decatur Township. Apparently the couple had their phone lines cut serveral times and on numerous occasions homophobic slurs written on their house!

    Further, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Indy had a serial killer on the lose that was going to the gay bars and killing men and then disposing their bodies in his back yard in Carmel. This got very little media attention too and I can’t understand why the local media hasn’t learned from that. Indy is pushing 2 million people. We are definitely coming of age and the City is a “gay magnet” for the midwest. The local community is organized and even has a couple of emerging “gayborhoods.” I agree that our Mayor and Governor need to come out to support us too, not just Andre Carson.
    Indy will nevwer live up to its potential if it does not embrace the gay community. FACT.

  4. Josh says:

    I truly disagree on the transit issue.

    1. If you build TOD, which is what he is basically advocating, people will by definition live at stations. This is actually a big incentive to ride transit, more than a cool train logo or nice finishes.

    2. Yes, not just brain drain, but attracting people, but this is not an argument against transit, bus or rail. This is about being attractive as a city in general and especially in the national media.

    3. Adding walkable, dense places is not about offering something that only Indy has. Its about Indy not offering something that every other city that attracts people has. Intelligent and urban-minded people already move to our more walkable, urban places. This isn’t competing with someone else population numbers at all. And – the best argument for TOD is that land along lines is actually able to be assembled for development because much of it is low-use or abandoned industrial.

  5. Jefferey says:

    The gay serial killer story was first reported on by Gaybeat, which was a bar rag from Cincinnati. The reason why is that the killer started disposing the bodies over on the Ohio/Indy state line, so it was getting some attention in the Cincy/Dayton area. There is a sort of interaction between the regional gay communities as we read others bar rags and do road trips to each others towns.

    This is just not a good part of the US for gay folk. Things are better but we are 10 years behind the coasts. Dayton just passed it’s gay anti-discrimination law last year. For politicians to publicaly embrace lesbians and gays is a political liability, which is why they don’t.

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Jeff, Indy does have a human rights ordinance that protects gays and lesbians, and is even one of only two I believe in the state that covers transgendered peopled.

    Chicago and Minneapolis have prominent and well-supported gay communities. It’s not coincidental that they are considered two of the shining stars of the Midwest. Indy’s “twin city” of Columbus, Ohio also appears much more gay-friendly, even though the stats would suggest it does not have a significantly larger gay population.

    I agree with Cory. There is simply no way that Indy will ever achieve its potential as a city without the gay community being a big part of it.

  7. kevin f. says:

    I encourage all of you to attend Indy’s annual Gay Pride. Its the second Saturday of June and this past June we had 40k in attendance. The parade itself is worth coming downtown to.

    Some politicians who have marched in the parade include: Scott Keller, Jackie Nytes, Joanne Sanders, Dane Mahern, Brian Mahern, David Orentlicher and of course the late Julia Carson.

    Bart Peterson was always conveniently “out of town” during his tenure and Greg Ballard had “a full schedule” the day of Pride his first year in office.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Just a mathematical correction. A 60% increase would mean an increase of about 30,000 people since 2000.

  9. The Urbanophile says:

    anon, thanks for the tip. You made me realize I’d listed the base instead of the increase in the article.

  10. Anonymous says:

    “I agree with Cory. There is simply no way that Indy will ever achieve its potential as a city without the gay community being a big part of it”

    I have to say that this comment is somewhat crazy. Why must the gay community be such a large part of Indy for it to achieve its potential? What is its “potential”? You can be respectful of gays but that doesn’t mean that there has to be a large gay community for Indianapolis to be successful. Anyway…just a comment.

  11. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 5:45, this is where I part ways with Florida. I don’t think Indy needs a disproportionately large gay population to be successful. But it will never be successful it if turns its back on large segments of its population, regardless of who they are. Indianapolis is not NYC, which can afford to cater to a narrow stratum of society. Indy needs to, as I said, be firing on all cylinders, and making sure the entire community is both a part of creating and benefits from success. In short, I’m not asking for special dispensation for the gay community, only that it be accorded the same recognition given to every other similar sized group. And BTW, take a look at many of the near downtown neighborhoods and you’ll see that gay people were a big part of turning them around. Plenty of rainbow flags around Mass Ave, Cottage Home, Herron-Morton, etc.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I think you can attirbute much of the Mass Ave success directly to the gay community in Indinaapolis.
    They pioneered the revitillization there. Addtionally, Fall Creek Place and much of the near north side and downtown has a high gay density. The gay community of Indianapolis is probably one of the most forward thinking and progressive urban oriented segment of Indy’s population.

  13. CoryWilson says:

    Anon 5:45-

    I would like to elaborate on what I posted and why. As somewhat noted by the Urbanophile and Anon 8:26, I am not advocating "special rights" for gays (though I fully support equal rights for them, but that is a much different topic for a different time), but the City must step up and recognize the significance of the gay community and fully support the community the same way that it supports any other minority group. It has been shown numerous times by many, many different studies and outlets that gays are typically more educated, more "worldly," are a much more mobile/urban-oriented crowd and in any neighborhood where there is a higher concentration than normal, property values are much higher and more stable.

    I would argue that if Indy does not support its gay community while our neighborinig peers do, it will have a negative affect on the community and our regions ability to continue to stay ahead of the perverbial Midwestern Pack. If the City appears supportive (not just "tolerant") of the gay community then more artists and thinkers will be inclined to remain here & the neighborhoods in and around downtown will contiue to flourish and revitalize.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post here. It’s not clear to me what constitutes the gay community. I could start this from a lot of different angles, but to make it short I’ll take the case of Andy Warhol. He was at the center of what might be considered the first openly gay community in New York City. He is often described as being gay. Yet it seems he lived out his entire life without having a sexual relationship of any kind with anyone, male or female. So what is it about him that makes him gay? Instead of Indy being 5% gay we could also say it is 100% gay. If you just hang a rainbow flag out your window does that make you gay?

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