Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings

The Philadelphia Fed released an interesting research study on the impact of amenities on urban economic development. Among their conclusions is that cities that cities with twice as many leisure trips (a proxy for consumption amenities) grew population and employment at a rate 2.0% higher than the base case. It was the third most important factor they identified. It’s an academic study, but there is a lot of commentary on the web out there about it. This Boston Globe article is a good example. They aren’t afraid to ask politically incorrect questions. For example, “The question is a politically unpalatable one: If the goal of a stimulus package, or any economic development plan, is to stimulate growth, does it make sense to continue investing in places that will never be attractive? Many of the 15 variables that Carlino and Saiz have identified as triggers for new growth – like coastlines, historical buildings, and a lack of rainy days – are not something a city can choose to build. Rather, they are permanent elements of place based on irreconcilable fates of history and geography. Why send another federal dollar to bolster manufacturing in Akron when it could support a golf course in sunny Phoenix?”

I’ve said many times here that the Midwest largely lacks the stunning geography and more hospitable climates of many other places. This means our built environment plays an enormous role in shaping the perceptions people have of Midwest cities. Quality of space if of paramount importance when you don’t have natural features to fall back on.

Harvard’s Ed Glaeser blogs on New York, the resilient city. Speaking of New York, the city published a very interesting Sustainable Streets Index.

Ok, I’m sorry, but the city of Indianapolis needs to take a major mulligan on its stimulus list. The city only asked for $268 million in projects, a very low sum compared to other major cities. Heck, it is even less than the $281 million Ft. Wayne asked for. We’re talking about a city that has billions in unfunded infrastructure needs. The city of St. Louis (smaller than Indy) wants $2.4 billion. The city of Atlanta (smaller than Indy) wants $1.8 billion. Las Vegas wants a billion. Kansas City wants $781 million. Louisville wants $620 million. Charlotte wants $421 billion.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to cash in on major federal funding and Indianapolis isn’t even in the game. Maybe the city tried to play nice and follow the rules and only put in truly shovel ready projects. But nice guys finish last. Other cities are throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Even Hamilton County asked for rail transit funding even though it couldn’t start anytime soon. You may not get thing if you ask, but if you don’t ask, I can guarantee you won’t. It’s like Richard Layman said over at Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, “When you ask for nothing, that’s what you get. When you ask for the world, you don’t get it, but you get a lot more than nothing.”

So I suggest going back to the drawing board and coming up with a serious list of at least $1-3 billion in projects to put on the table. How about things like $25-50 million to redo the poor public plaza and quality of streets around Lucas Oil Stadium? (Contrast the area around the Luke with the area around Conseco, and you can see what budget overruns do to a project). And strip out “red flag” projects like an employee workout room.

You might not notice it, but beyond the governmental consolidation proposal up in the General Assembly this year, there’s another redrawing of the political map ongoing in Indiana that could shape the pattern of growth for years to come. Just as Unigov was seen as a catalyst for re-emergent growth by the city of Indianapolis back in 1970, this new trend could likewise be setting the stage for the next phase of regional growth.

I’m talking here about the large scale annexations and mergers going on in the suburban Indianapolis counties. In the recent past, there have been a number of these and they show no sign of abating. In Hamilton County, Carmel has effectively annexed all of Clay Township. Westfield has annexed a large area of Washington Township and is filling in the “doughnut holes” in the town. Fishers is in the process of annexing the Geist area, and has said wants to full consolidate its territory in Delaware and Fall Creek Townships as well. Over in Boone County, Whitestown undertook a huge series of annexations. As a defensive measure, Zionsville merged with Eagle and Union Township to create a gigantic town. Lebanon, as a pre-emptive move to sieze the remaining parts of the I-65 corridor, just annexed six square miles, doubling the size of the town. Down in Johnson County, Greenwood, Bargersville, and White River Township are debating how to carve up some of the remaining unincorporates areas there.

What these actions are doing are creating a far larger type of suburban city than previously existed in Indianapolis. As these newly annexed areas build out, these new towns will have significant size and scale seldom seen in Indiana outside of its largest cities. Carmel and Fishers are both pushing 70,000, and are targeting buildouts over 100,000, which would make them as big as places like Evansville, South Bend, and Gary. By 2020, it’s possible that multiple Indianapolis suburbs will rank in the top five cities in Indiana.

In short, Indy appears to be poised to soon be surrounded by the types of large square, township sized suburbs that feature prominently in places like Detroit, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. I can’t say for sure what the implications of this will be, but like Unigov, I do believe it’s possible that one day we’ll look back and see this as a watershed period in the metro region’s growth.

The Indy Star reports on a controversy at the new airport over an exhibit designed to showcase the city’s diversity. I actually hadn’t seen this exhibit, so I was pleased to see what was going on. This is exactly the sort of I think the airport should be doing to show people that the reality of the city is not always what people would expect from its brand reputation. The controversy is over one photo and caption that was removed after a complaint. It was from an Israeli who made comments about the bombing Gaza and the American Jewish community. Now, if the paper has it right, the airport authority hasn’t actually decided yet to permanently remove the entry. They have it under evaluation. This is one where I think it is important not to jump to polarized conclusions. In a government sponsored exhibit in a major public place, clearly an enhanced level of sensitivity is warranted. It should also be noted that there is an ongoing military conflict in Gaza, probably post-dating the time the person gave his quote, and the city probably doesn’t want to be seen getting involved in something that politically sensitive. I would like to see the city become more open to points of view that might be someone controversial. However, we’ve got to walk before we can run. I’m glad to see we have an exhibit like this in the first place. It will be interesting to see what the Airport Authority does. I can see the arguments either way. One thing is for sure, I don’t believe they are cowards on things like this. They already took some public heat for including foot washing basin for Muslims in the new terminal. So they haven’t been afraid to take controversial stands. Stay tuned for further developments.

Chicago. Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin blogs about his “rogue’s gallery” of the worst architecture of 2008 in Chicago. While Chicago has a lot of great architecture, it also has a lot of absolute junk. I’m glad to see someone calling the city to account. Of course, Chicago has an architecture critic who will do this. What other Midwest cities have this robust review of architecture and design featured regularly in their local paper? Anybody? Anybody?

INDOT is fast tracking a new interchange in Crown Point at I-65 and 109th St.

Columbus. The city looks to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against the transgendered.

The pace of annexations is slowing.

Detroit. The conservative Weekly Standard runs a lengthy feature on Detroit. Pretty amazing.

Figuring out what to do with all the vacant land in Detroit.

Shrinking population creates challenges in Michigan.

Indianapolis. The Terre Haute airport is joining the Indianapolis free trade zone. The best route to economic success for Indiana’s small manufacturing cities is to forge closer economic links with Indianapolis, so I see this as a very good thing. What’s more, this is saving $40,000 and months of time, showing the tangible short term benefits of expanded regional cooperation.

INDOT is looking at leasing right of way along the Indiana Toll Road for fiber optics, a move that would both raise revenue and create digital infrastructure. Sounds like a great move to me. Someone also sent me this article about the possibility of using highway right of ways for solar power collection. Sounds like another possible good idea to explore.

While I was away, the city imploded the RCA Dome to make way for a convention center expansion. The Indy Star looks back at the dome with a special section. The construction of this stadium was arguably the riskiest and yet most important downtown development project in the city’s history. The impact of the Dome on Indy simply cannot be underestimated.

Louisville. In a major milestone, the $100 million waterfront project is nearing completion after a decade of work. This effort replaced scrap yards and industrial uses with a new riverfront park.

Mayor Jerry Abramson touts his top 10 accomplishments of 2008.

The library system unveils a scaled back $120 million master plan. Funding is still not identified.

The airport is extending a taxiway and otherwise continuing development. The most interesting part of this article is that the airport authority has now relocated 3,600 families. Wow. There has certainly been a high price to pay for the decision back in the 80’s to expand the airport in its current location rather than choosing a greenfield site. Here’s an interesting thought experiment. Had city-county merger been in place then, is that the decision that still would have been made?

Pittsburgh. The inimitable Joel Kotkin slams the Burgh.

Topics: Arts and Culture, Economic Development, Public Policy
Cities: Indianapolis

9 Responses to “Miscellaneous Musings”

  1. Anonymous says:

    St. Louis and Atlanta are in no way smaller than Indianapolis. That is laughable. You’re kidding yourself if you’re strictly looking at the “city” population numbers.

  2. The Urbanophile says:

    The stimulus lists are only for the core city, not for the entire metro. Suburbs, as in Indy, submitted their own lists. The core city of Indianapolis is bigger than Atlanta or St. Louis though of course the MSA is much smaller as you note.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Okay, but you’re still comparing two different things – Indy is the merged government and St. Louis and Atlanta are not.

  4. Ahow says:

    The three “Water” items at the bottom of the stimulus list are pretty generic sounding. Do you know of any details on these three items? Specifically, I live in Fletcher Place and the water pressure is terrible around here because the pipes are over 100 years old. They can’t even flush the fire hydrants for fear that the pipes won’t stand the pressure changes.

    As for Louisville, how long will it be till they get that dang north bypass bridged and connected. I’ve been waiting for that thing for 15 years now!

  5. D says:

    Anon, you are an idiot. Stop posting. Do you understand what the political entity of a city is? The point is that ones that are smaller than Indy requested more money. It’s not that complicated.

  6. Anonymous says:

    John Gallagher at the Detroit Free Press writes regularly about architecture, preservation issues and urban design. A recent article:

  7. Donna says:

    Only $1.5 million for “bridge rehabilitations”? the Meridian Street Bridge over the White River is literally falling onto Riverview Street below – it will cost a lot more than $1.5 mil just to fix it, let alone any other bridges in the city!

  8. Alon Levy says:

    Anon isn’t wrong. City centers have more infrastructure needs per capita than suburbs. San Francisco gets more per capita federal spending than East Bay and North Bay, and New York gets more per capita federal spending than Long Island. So cities that don’t extend much beyond the CBD, like Atlanta, will naturally need more per capita than cities that include many suburbs, like Indy.

    I have a couple of issues with Glaeser’s article on New York being a resilient city. For a start, San Francisco was just as resilient, with a slight population increase from 1950 to 2000. Despite that, the Bay Area housing market has had an above-average rate of housing price decline.

  9. David says:

    The expansion of SDF did uproot 3600 families…however, the majority of those relocated settled into better neighborhoods. SDF expansion has more than paid for itself and continues to be a better decision than building a greenfiled airport 30 miles from center city.

    If they can ever build the east end bridge….

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