Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Indy: Parallel Societies

[ If you are looking for something related to Gabe Jordan, scroll down to the bottom of this post ]

Until recently I had an apartment in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis. Fountain Square is a small commercial node surrounded by houses on the near southeast side of the city that has long been my favorite ‘hood in the city. I’ve been hanging out in the area for over 15 years.

Fountain Square was a sort of lower working class neighborhood. The South Side of Indianapolis is notably more Southern in character than the north. In fact, some have said that Washington St. (or I-70) is the real Mason-Dixon Line. In the case of Fountain Square, it is literally Southern. A good chunk of the population is from Appalachia. This has been true a long time. Back in the 1960’s, then Mayor (now Senator) Richard Lugar commissioned a study called “The Appalachian in Indianapolis” to study the question of whether or not the city’s Appalachian community needed special help like other minority populations. The epicenter of Appalachian Indianapolis is Fountain Square. Even today, many people are new arrivals from places like West Virginia. There’s a lot of circulation back and forth. Sometimes kids who get in trouble in Indy get sent back home to West Virginia to stay with relatives there, for example. In effect, Fountain Square is an ethnic immigrant neighborhood, but instead of traditional immigrants from places like Poland, Italy, or Mexico, it is made up of domestic migrants from a particular region and with a distinct culture. New arrivals are, in effect, straight off the boat. As with waves of immigrants from elsewhere, they are seeking better opportunities. Fountain Square is the traditional port of entry for people from West Virginia and similar places to Indianapolis.

The area is about a mile and a half from the center of downtown, and is one of the few intact commercial nodes left in the city. So it was long targeted for development. A few enterprising people bought and refurbished the Fountain Square Theater Building, which now houses restaurants, a duckpin bowling alley, and a boutique hotel. A former department store was converted into cutting edge art galleries and studios. An indie rock club has opened. Many restaurants dot the area and it is really a destination dining district in some ways. (Santorini on Prospect is the best Greek restaurant I’ve ever eaten at). A lot of artists and culturally inclined types have moved in. My apartment was previously occupied by an assistant curator of contemporary art the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for example.

When the artists started moving in I was originally very worried about gentrification and the area becoming unaffordable to anyone without lots of money, like Lockerbie Square or Chatham-Arch, displacing all the original residents. But that didn’t happen. Housing remains extremely affordable and despite the influx of newcomers, they are still a minority.

What’s notable about Fountain Square, and similar areas in other Midwest cities, is that a lot of these artists are able to buy homes. This means they are likely here to stay even if prices go up. That’s in contrast to NYC, SF, or Chicago, where the artists rent.

In any case, while Fountain Square may go upscale, wholesale remaking of large chunks of the city a la Chicago is not likely to happen. Despite the increase in demand for urban living, there is not enough demand to materially increase prices outside of selected district because of the vast acreage of land that has fallen to nearly zero in value. It is a huge overhang. Also, the type of wage inflation and resulting salary gap that you see in bigger cities, which I’ll argue in a future piece is a big driver of their two-tier societies, didn’t happen in Indianapolis. For example, a partner in a major local law firm told me that a few years ago the salary difference for new associates between Indianapolis and Chicago was 30%. Now it is 100%.

So unlike in so many other cities, in Indianapolis yuppies and artists can live side by side with traditional neighborhood residents for a long time. When I lived in West Town in Chicago, my area was probably 30% Mexican, 30% Puerto Rican, 30% yuppie, and 10% other white ethnic. But that was only a transitional period presaging a yuppie takeover. In Fountain Square though, I expect the Appalachians aren’t going anywhere for quite some time, even if the core area around the commercial district does gentrify. (Perhaps the arrival of a spur of the Indy Cultural Trail may by a catalyst for that – we’ll see). I often describe the demographic of the neighborhood as “Artists and Appalachians”, though that doesn’t do it justice since artists are a minority of the new arrivals, who are often professionals, especially those who merely patronize businesses in the area, and there is by my eyeball estimate a 10% or so African American population.

But just because two groups of people live side by side doesn’t mean they interact socially. With some exceptions, I rarely observed much in the way of interaction between them. The upscale restaurants and art galleries are not affordable or perhaps even of interest to West Virginia refugees. Similarly the rent to own stores for yuppies or arts crowd.

There are some older institutions that are, however, used by everyone. One of them is a greasy diner called Peppy’s Grill. If ever a place deserved an exemption from the smoking ban, this is it. The place just hasn’t been the same. Good burgers, great atmosphere. But not a lot of conversation between the two sets of customers.

Another is the Liquor Cabinet, the neighborhood package liquor store. They carry a large inventory of 40’s along with a cooler of top end microbrews from the likes of Three Floyds – all behind a bulletproof glass shield. There’s a drink for every taste and budget.

As an aside, is there any better example to show why, despite what one may think, Indianapolis is not an overgrown small town? I mean, physically, it basically is one. I’ve long noted that a residential street in Indianapolis is not that different from one in the first state capital of Corydon, population 3,000. Heck, Fountain Square is like a literal small town, with its fading Main St. shops along Virginia Ave., the Theater Building and its surrounding streets the courthouse square, and the tidy rows of small, single family homes that have seen better days around it.

But appearances can be deceiving. Function does not always follow form. How many Indiana small towns have a liquor store like that? Or a piece of contemporary architecture like the Craig McCormick designed Ragsdale House on Pleasant St.? Or several edgy contemporary art studios? Or an indie rock club?

Need more proof? Just look at the city’s blogosphere. One of America’s leading LGBT blogs is based in Indy. The leading Republican blogger in the city is gay. A hardcore libertarian anti-tax activist is a former professional dominatrix. And a prominent political pundit is a cigar smoking, whiskey sipping Black Muslim stand-up comedian – and Republican.

No, my friends, this is no small town. And it has a lot more character – and characters – than you might think.

Back at the Liquor Cabinet, a variety of people come together to buy their nightly libations – but I don’t see any real conversation or interaction. Only occasional light banter of the type one might make with strangers – because that’s what we are. There’s no connection or bond that has been built between the different groups, with some limited exceptions such as at the Community Development Corporation.

Long time readers know I care a lot about the notion of a “commonwealth”. That is, a city and region where people feel that their fates are linked together, where they rise an fall together, where they feel like they have a stake in the system and in a shared prosperity for everyone.

I think it is harder to view ourselves as sharing a common destiny with people who are very different from ourselves. But if we get to know them personally at some level, there is generally some base commonality there. How do we foster that type of connection, not just of the “Isn’t this weather nice?” variety but some type of real relationship?

I’ve thought about this a bit and it often seems to require some type of pivot point or area of mutual concern people can connect around. I think about, for example, how back in the early 90’s a lot of heavy metal bands and gangster rappers started hanging out together and promoting each other’s stuff. They saw the marketing possibilities yes, but also a way to tap into the common alienation and marginalization their respective audiences felt from the mainstream.

Because each pivot point is likely to involve a subset of people, it is best to have multiple of them. Then you start creating all sorts of cross-network pathways. I thought about this with regards to Fountain Square and came up with a few ideas.

  • The obvious neighborhood institutions: neighborhood associations, local schools (such as the area charter school), the library branch, the CDC, etc.
  • Back to our musical example, a shared sense of being marginalized in a community felt by both artists and Appalachians. Certainly both of those groups have a shared interest in not seeing runaway real estate prices. The artists already had a scare recently when the Murphy Building which houses many of their studios and such was put up for sale.
  • Bicycling. Fountain Square is the heart of Indy’s bike culture. One of the people behind the Indy Cog blog lives there and is brave enough to live in Indy with only his feet and bike for transportation. Joe’s Cycles on Virginia is a local gathering place. But in Fountain Square, lots of people ride. It’s not just hipsters or people making an alternative transportation statement, it’s kids and regular neighbors, people black and white, a true neighborhood cross-section. Seems like an opportunity.

These are a few examples in only one neighborhood. The bigger point is that a big part of what makes a city is its social infrastructure. It’s not just bike lanes and buildings. It’s people and relationships and networks. Especially where there is so much traditional distrust between groups who have often had big differences in interests, finding ways to bring people together across those boundaries, at least at some level, is a way to help strengthen civic social capital. A mixed neighborhood is of limited benefit if people do not, in fact, mix. We should be looking for ways to break down barriers that too often create parallel societies.

A Word on Crime

This week in Indy a horrific shooting left Gabe Jordan, wine steward at upscale specialty grocery Goose the Market, in critical condition and likely paralyzed from the waist down. This was an apparently random act of violence. He was shot in the back during a robbery while he was out walking his dog late one evening near his home on the East Side.

I didn’t know Gabe personally, but the staff at the Goose are familiar faces, so this one hits close to home for me, and for many others I know. For example, the shooting took place a block from the home of frequent Urbanophile commenter cdc_guy.

Urbanist blogs don’t often talk a lot about crime or education or race. I have talked the race issue buy am a rarity. Those conversations tend to happen in more specialty places. But things like this remind us that things like safety and education and social justice are the basics. If you don’t have safe streets, all the light rail lines in the world aren’t going to save your city.

A lot of us are accustomed to thinking crime only happens to other people. We’re told, and I’m sure it is true, that most murders involve drugs and gangs, or some sort of domestic violence incident. Thus, they aren’t likely to affect us. Or the victims are of another race or class in a way that, as the main part of my post says, we don’t feel a great idea of identification with.

This reminds us that crime is everyone’s issue. Shootings like this, rare though they may be, not only have horrible consequences for the victims and their families, they also have a major chilling effect on our efforts to renew our cities. The fact that this was so apparently random makes it even worse. Gabe wasn’t dealing drugs. He was on a well lit street, not in a dark alley. It was 11:30, not 4am. The message is clear: it could happen to any of us in this place.

I’ve walked all over the East Side. I’ve walked around Fountain Square and other places at night by myself frequently and nothing has happened to me. The odds of anything like this happening to anyone are probably very low. But the plain fact is it would be nearly non-existent in a place like suburban Fishers.

Things like safe streets are a necessary but not sufficient condition for a city to succeed. You have to provide more than just safety, but you still have to provide the safety. Public safety is job one for government, and rightly the #1 issue on which its success or failure should be judged.

We shouldn’t panic over a single crime. In any city, anywhere things like this do happen. Even in Indianapolis there have been worse crimes committed and there are many murders every year. But the fact remains that a man who believed in Indianapolis enough to plant his flag there and make a commitment to it when so many others with choices left is in the hospital and paralyzed right now. He’s paying a high cost for that commitment, one nobody should be forced to bear.

My thoughts and prayers, and I’m sure yours as well, are with Gabe and his family right now. You can follow Gabe’s progress at his family’s web site.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Public Safety, Urban Culture
Cities: Indianapolis

31 Responses to “Indy: Parallel Societies”

  1. cdc guy says:

    Agreed: safety (or the perception of safety) is necessary but not sufficient.

    The Gabe Jordan incident is terrible on many levels: a young resident of an older city neighborhood pays for his choice; a young father loses the ability to play in the yard with his child; a young wife must become her husband’s nurse; a neighborhood lives in fear of another apparently random incident by unknown perpetrators.

    The fact is, much urban violence can be dismissed (from a probability and fear point of view) by city dwellers because it is NOT random. Most of it happens between acquaintances, much involves alcohol and drugs and domestic or criminal disputes. Those of us who live relatively respectable lives don’t expose ourselves to those dangers too much.

    But this…this can’t be dismissed. Gabe has a good job, a nice home, a family. He was on a well-lit street doing something many of our other neighbors do: walking the dog. And this wasn’t a gimpy old mutt; Gabe’s dog is a pit bull! Normal people just wouldn’t approach someone walking a pit bull with hostile intent, so clearly there is some pathology and lack of reasoning at work…which is scary. It seems random; those guys might just as easily have mugged someone leaving the c-store a block away, or someone walking in the park a block the other way, or some neighbor pulling into his/her driveway late. And there seem to be parallels to the mugging of a blind man walking home from the store on the same night, three miles away.

    When I ran a business in a sketchier part of the east side, coming and going outside normal store hours, I never felt unsafe enough to consider getting a gun permit. I’m revisiting that now. Maybe out of panic, but maybe out of realism too: “the wrong place at the wrong time” for Gabe was within sight of my front porch.

  2. Kevin says:

    Nice post. Good point about the artists buying houses instead of renting.

    The shooting incident shook me quite a bit. I also don’t know Gabe, but the sheer randomness of the situation, and the fact that the perpetrators are still at large, is extremely unsettling.

  3. Jason says:

    Sometimes, when we relocate, companion animals get left behind.

    I hope your move from Fountain Square and also the move to a new blog didn’t lose thundermutt, crocodile guy and other furry critters.

  4. anonymous says:

    Someone told me about a study which said the chance of being killed by a stranger in a city is less than being killed by a stranger in the suburbs, when you counted violence _and_ traffic. Is this just made up, or does anyone have a lead on this?

  5. chuck says:

    I liked this piece as much as any you’ve written – and I’ve liked a lot of them.

    I will, however, question the 30% to 100% salary figure. I suppose it might depends on what type of lawyer you are looking at. Anyone can browse the NALP directory at Starting salary at a top Indy law firm, say Baker & Daniels, is $100k. Sidley Austin in Chicago starts at $160. For a more apples to apples comparison – Baker & Daniels has a Chicago office where associate starting salary is $130k.

  6. AmericanDirt says:

    I like the continuity you instilled between two different subjects here. It’s horrible what what’s happened to Gabe; hopefully the compassionate coverage he’s receiving will shed more light on the incident and help bring the shooters to justice. I know next to nothing about this part of the city. I don’t the importance of criminology ebbing any time soon.

    Neighborhoods like Fountain Square provide a perfect lens for understanding the importance and tremendous challenges of forging what you’re aptly calling a “commonwealth”. The strains of Unigov are starting to show, like copper wiring exposed from its protective sheath, in the form of the City’s meager infrastructure expenditures and the way the collar townships are forced to adapt to urban characteristics (such as crime) without looking or functioning in a remotely urban fashion. But rather than dwell on the drawbacks of having such expansive city limits, perhaps Indy should focus on the diversity of lifestyles its boundaries encapsulate–likely far broader than many other more urban or cosmopolitan cities. Indianapolis has its hipster quarters, its blue-collar vibe, the old urban gentry, but it also still has middle-class soccer moms, Latino immigrant enclaves, struggling minority inner city districts, concentrations of refugees, prosperous racially mixed areas, outlying rural villages, country estates, and plenty of farms. Adapting all of this into a shared experience may be more challenging than even cities like Chicago, but if the city can embrace the identity of seemingly conflicting shared experiences so that they perceive it as an asset, it only stands to boost the city’s image overall. I don’t think I can offer very many solutions to this, but I hope to touch upon it in an upcoming post. Great observations.

  7. Anne says:

    Funny that you would think artists of all people have lots of money. Many are just as poor as your immigrants, considering art is the last people choose to spend money on.

  8. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Renn
    First of all let me say that i am sorry to hear about the gentleman ,Gabe Jordan ,being shot. i can tell from the photos at his family’s website that he is a nice man.

    We are constantly being patronised by the media and politicians that we should stop worrying about crime.And that crime is down. What they don’t say is that the two main reasons that crime is down is because iin many cities the police have been told to bring down the figures and the easist way to do that is to manipulate the figures or just not respond to reports.The second reason is that people know this and eventually just stop calling the police.

    I called the police about a year ago about a neighbor who was beating his girlfriend in the face in the street. i told the 911 operator about it. I also told her that he had just got out of jail the week before for being involved in a homicide . I was told by her that it wasn’t important enough for the police to respond to. My neighbors get the same response when they call about drug dealers selling on the corner.No police response.So, no reprt.So crime statistics are down.

    There is a lot of talk about making cities “more bikable”.I myself have no car, and i get around by bus,feet or bicycle.But my biggest problem is not the lack of bike lanes[Baltimore has none].It’s the fact that there are many neighborhoods that i can’t ride through.

    In my own neighborhood i have had groups of teenagers try to pull me off my bike 3 times.Please keep in mind that i am a 40 year old 225 pound guy that rides to work with a toolbelt with a hammer in it[ waving the hammer is what helped me in all three situations].You would think that i would be safe. You can only imagine how a 20 year old female would feel about riding a bike to work.

    Crime is an issue that must be adressed because it affects all other issues.It discourages investment in the neighborhoods.It raises costs on existing businesses.And it destroys the type of social interaction that you talk about.

    I certainly hope MR Jordan is able to recover and that they find the monster that shot him.

  9. Alon Levy says:


    No, crime is actually down. There are national crime surveys corroborating police reports; there are morgue surveys corroborating homicide statistics. Nationally, crime crashed in the 1990s and was stable this decade.

    Unlike the police department depicted on The Wire, the actual Baltimore police department didn’t juke the stats – it was accused of lying about its rape numbers, but the accusation was later found to be unfounded. The reporting issue is separate, but nationally, crime reporting rates are trending up, not down.

    The truth is, random homicide just doesn’t happen that much. It does in a few very high-crime cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, but in lower-crime cities, you’re much likelier to get run over by a car. NYPD reported that 35 people were murdered in the city by strangers in 2007; in a typical year, 500 people in New York are run over by cars, and that’s one of the lowest rates in the country.

  10. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Levey
    I appreciate your response but i do not base my beliefs that the police are “jucking the states” from anything on The Wire.I live in Baltimore and i can tell you for a fact that police will not come when people call them.I do not blame indavidual officers for this.But when people call about a mugging in process and police do not show up for 30 minutes then that is not counted as a mugging .When i called about a guy beating his girlfriend in the face and the police don’t come then that doesnt count as well. i called about a robbery in process in which the kids were storing the stuff in my backyard until a car came to pick it up .the police came an hour later.The kids and the stuff were long gone.The officer did not want to write a report.And i had to argue with him and pressure him into walking down the street to see which house was broken into.

    One neighbor called about a drive by shooting and she says that she was asked if she herself was hurt.When she said no they asked her “then why are you calling us”.I myself did not witness that call[i have no reason to disbelieve her though].But i defintly witnessed the other situations.And i live in one of the SAFER parts of Baltimore.

    I mean no offence to you personally MR Levey when i say that your statistics mean nothing to me.As to homicide,you are correct.Most are involving drug dealers.But not all.A woman was shot a couple blocks from me last year because she was waiting at a bus stop and two cars started shooting at each other.And when i saw a guy shooting at another guy 50 feet from my house ,i ran inside and hit the floor.I didnt say to myself”well at least its probably another drug dealer hes shooting at”.

    This is also not just about the actual crime itself. As i said before, crime is hurting businesses that are in the cities and stopping new ones from opening. For example i had a good friend close his store because his cashier[his sister in-law] was maced and robbed.He obviousely was less worried about the money then he was about her .Any police report or statistic can’t reflect any of his fear or the fact that he closed the store down a week later.

    I always admire your comments on this blog MR Levey .But i do think you are wrong on this one.Crime may be up or down.But it is certainly not as down as statistics say.Statistics are always unrealiable[which is why we will have a huge debate in Amerca about the 2010 cenus next year.]
    I am sorry to have to respectfully disagree with you sir but i give you my respect and regards ,none the less.

  11. Benjamin says:

    Thanks for the mention! Fountain Square is almost the perfect location as a cyclist and pedestrian. At least for me, I’m able to access all of FS and Downtown by foot/bike/bus very easily.

    As an artist/musician the ability purchase my home was also a HUGE plus.. While home ownership can be trying, it definitely rewarding in the long run.

    I actually do own a car (97 honda civic!) that mostly sits on the street. Last year, I put just a shade over 3k miles on it. Mostly used for visiting family and road trips.. I’ve considered ditching the vehicle several times, but it’s paid for and the insurance is affordable.

  12. Joe says:

    Great article. I’m an occasional reader of Urbanophile and a close friend of Gabe’s.

    As you suggest, he made a commitment to Indy that many others, myself included, decided against. He certainly could have moved – it wasn’t as though there weren’t plenty of options, but he saw a lot of potential in Indy and indeed has been a big part of bringing about some exciting developments there.

    For all the reasons you talk about, it made a lot sense for him to put down roots there. He was just unlucky in this one respect. Looking at the outpouring of support that has emanated since the shooting, from friends, neighbors, and strangers alike I see that Indy does have some strong networks and a sense of community, but perhaps they’re missing a broader connection across groups.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    Pete, crime surveys aren’t about police response times or reporting. They’re done completely differently: the government calls up 87,000 random adults and asks them if they’ve been victimized by crime over the last year. If they say, it probes for details, like what time of day it was, whether they reported it to the whether they knew the perpetrator. People answer regardless of whether they reported the crime or not.

    And yes, Baltimore has high crime rates. That has nothing to do with whether crime in other cities is high, or whether it’s going down anywhere, Baltimore or not. Personal observation is a really bad way to judge – it’s affected by too many prejudices. New Yorkers believed crime was up in the Dinkins years when in fact it went down. The mayor was black and supported community policing rather than brutality, and there was a riot in one of the most racially tense areas of Brooklyn, so the overall homicide rate must have increased, and if reality said otherwise, reality was in error.

  14. Pete from Baltimore says:

    Regarding your comment that social infrastructure is a big part of a city.I would agree and say that it’s the biggest part of any city , no matter what it’s size.

    I myself used to live in a neighborhood called Canton in Baltimore from 1994 until 2003.But my experience of gentrification was slightly different then yours.

    On one hand the newer proffessionals did go to different bars and bussinesses then the original blue collar residents.although many of each group used the local laundromat where i worked every evening and every weekend.For that reason and because i worked on many of the houses in the neighborhood[ i work as aconstruction labor] caused me to know lots of people from each group.

    The first wave of proffessionals actually interacted a lot with the original residents.They had moved to Canton BECAUSE it was an old fashioned blue collar neighborhood.They would often sit on their front steps and talk to the original residents.Many of the new proffessionals were teachers and nurses and made good but not great money.

    As the neighborhood became more gentrified things started to change.The people who were moving in werent moving in to live in an old fashioned neighborhood.They wanted to live in the “hip” Canton

    .When the first wave of people moved in some would complain to me about grouchy older ladies.I would tell them to go out and sweep their street.Sure enough, a week later they would tell me how the “grouchy” older lady had seen them sweeping and brought out cookies for themand had been friendly ever since.When i recomended this approach to the 2nd and 3rd wave they responded ” I’m not sweeping the street! Thats what i pay taxes for!” .

    Gradually the best blue collar residents left because the tax ratess started to rise because of rising home values.My friend Joe was a fireman.His wife was a nurse.I used to help him[for free obviousely]work on his house all of the time.When his property taxes hit $10,000 a year and his second kid came he moved.

    Now the gentrification is complete.I moved 15 minutes walk away to Highlandtown.Hardly anybody in Canton sits on their front step anymore.And if they need work done on their house they hire someone instead of useing it as an excuse to hang out with their buddies fixing up the house.Socailising takes place in the gym and the trendier bars and so is quite costly.

    Theres also very few kids.The proffessionals move out when the wife becomes pregnant or the kid reaches school age. Theres no kids calling me Uncle Pete[even though there was no blood relation between us].And theres no kids ccoming into the laundromat anymore . i left a few years back .The new residents have washing machines.I miss the kids helping me sweep up in exchange for sodas. I miss helping the kids with homework while their mothers sorted the laundry.I miss the ladies calling their friends up so that they could all come and do their laundry together and gossip the whole time.

    I still love Canton.And i know and like many of the proffessionals that live there.But something got lost in the gentrification.There are almost no kids.Nobody plays football in the street.And when i go by Joe’s old house i get a little sad.

    There is nothing wrong with gentrifying neighborhoods.It’s often either that or decay.Nothing ever stays exactly the same. But we should realise that often we are losing something that cant be put in numbers.We are losing the social fabiric of our cities.

    Ps MR Renn, im sorry to write so long a comment.But your post on Fountain Sqaure brought back many memories of Canton for me.

  15. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Levy
    First of all i apoligise for misspelling your name the first time.Second of all i still maintain surveys like that are unreliable.Most people have cell phones nowdays . the poorer people are even more likely to not have a landline.And they are not likely to be part of any survey.A third of my neighborhood cant speak english.So i doubt if they participated in a survey.

    No offence, but your comment on personal observations reminds me of the old joke. “Who are you going to believe,me, or your lying eyes”.

    I have read your comments before and i know that you are very knowledgable about urban issues.And im guessing that you probably live in a city.But somethings cant be counted and put in numbers completly.

    I have worked about 4 monthes this year.Yet i am not on unemployment so according to government figures i am employed.As you know census figures and unemployment figures give us a rough picture ,but do not give us completly realistic numbers .

    And i never denied that the crime situation hasnt gotten somewhat better.Theres very little gunfire at night anymore. Its just not nearly as good as the politicians and the statistics show. Sadly the city government HAS gone out of their way to play with the statistics.

    For the record there were 17 people shot in one day in august.Yes , it was drug related.But one of the people shot was a 2 year old. im sure that you will agree that even if he’s related to a drug dealer a 2 year old is still an innocent victim.And if you had lived in that neighborhood ,im sure that you would have realised that you were perfectly safe since you dont sell drugs.You would have known that statisticly , you would not get hurt.But i bet that you still would have moved anyways.

    Because sometimes its not irrational to ignore the statistics.Thats human nature.And thats what makes many of our urban neighborhoods unlivable.Because people and bussinesses are JUSTIFIABLY scared.

    I am afraid that we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one MR Levy.But i hope you take no offence and i always look forward to reading your comments on this blog .

  16. Alon Levy says:

    First, I was wrong about the telephone part – the National Crime Victimization Survey is based on personal interviews. You can see details here.

    Those interviews are translated for the benefit of people who don’t speak English. If the NCVS ever came to the non-English speakers in your neighborhood, they’d report all the crimes they’d been subjected to that they could remember. The only class of people excluded from the NCVS are people living in institutions.

    If I lived in your neighborhood, I wouldn’t say that it’s unlikely I’d be killed randomly. But it wouldn’t come from reading one news report. The news is lurid; it talks about the sensational murders, not the ordinary ones. Police data on homicide is usually correct – it’s harder to disappear bodies than to unfound rapes and assaults. But I’m perfectly willing to believe that in some areas of Baltimore, the murder rate for strangers is on the order of 20/100,000 or more. It’s just that Baltimore is not typical of anywhere else in the US, except maybe North Philadelphia and Southeast DC.

  17. Carla says:

    I prefer statistical info, but can’t ignore this. In my eastside neighborhood, I do need to call 911 periodically (on average once every other month). At the end of my last call, I added “It really seems to be much worse here in the past couple years”. The 911 operator said, “It’s everywhere, it’s become much worse all over the city”.

  18. This random act of crime is unfortunate. I know many people who have made a similar commitment to live in the city as they understand how important it is for city’s future. I know Urbanophile has highlighted some of the benefits of the changes in cities like Detroit but it’s not something I want Indianapolis to emulate.

    I think it is important for everyone who knows Gabe or who have heard of his story to continue supporting those affected by crime. People make a commitment to life in the city because they believe the sense of community is worth the effort. If we can support each other and continue communicating and building then we will find that our work has been worthwhile and we will have validated Gabe’s decision to live in the city.

  19. JC says:

    Chatham Arch is not nearly as gentrified or overpriced as your comment might suggest The condos on 10th Street and the Renaissance Place units routinely are on the market for $150-000-$175,000 and other condos on Broadway are readily available for about $120,000.

    More than Fountain Square no doubt, but still within the range of a lot of first-time homebuyers.

  20. George says:

    Hi, I’m a fairly new visitor to the site. I live in Columbus, OH, which in many ways is the lesser-known twin of Indianapolis. The comment on the Appalachian contingent of Indy is fascinating, because I have found the same in Columbus, particularly on the south and southwest sides of town.

    I moved here from New Haven, CT, where all of the cultures are fairly urban. I found it very interesting to see a culture rooted in rural America to have such a presence in a larger city. I had also never seen a white ghetto until I moved to Columbus, but there are some here.

    At first I discounted Columbus because of this. You know, east coaster meets guy from Appalachia in Columbus/Indy/wherever and decides that it’s a hick town. But I quickly learned this is not the case. First, the Appalachian connection gives Columbus a distinct culture, much like downtrodden ethnic groups did to east coast cities in the early 20th century. I have come to appreciate it much more.

    Second, having a culture rooted in a more simplistic rural lifestyle does not preclude having a vibrant urban culture. Columbus is one of the largest college towns in America, right behind Boston. It also has some urban neighborhoods that I would rank right up there with some of the best in the country.

    Columbus also has a growing Latino population and has the second largest Somali population of any city in the U.S.

    It has been interesting to see how a City can meld these distinct cultures into one place. In this aspect I see places like Columbus & Indy perhaps as modern versions of the large East Coast cities that took disparate cultures in the early 20th century and melded them into a civic identity.

  21. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Levy
    If you get a chance you might want to visit Matt Yglesias’s site where there is now a post called “The real cost of crime”. It just came up and he makes my point better than i can.

    My original point was that many politicians and social scientists are saying that the average person shouldnt worry about crime.But crime affects our cities in many ways.What Baltimore and to an even greater extent , Gary Indiana ,need is investment.But companies do not want to invest in places that have large crime rates.

    My point is that crime and education are the two main can build as many bike lanes as you want .But if there is crime companies wont come and there will be no blue collar jobs.

    And when people move out of cities their main complaints are 1 crime 2 education and 3 property taxes.

    Richard Florida likes to say that cities should be more liberal about social issues.Well , Baltimore is fairly liberal in its attitude towards gays.There are many gays in my neighborhood and i am friends with many of them.But that isnt going to make a factory come here.It’s our reputation as a crime ridden city that is keeping companies away.Gary and other cities have the same problem.

    I hope that this makes my original point clearer.I am not worried about being shot.But i am worried about the overall affect of crime on my city and others.

    Once again best regards to you MR Levy.

  22. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Here is the Yglesias thread:

    With crime, statistics are only part of the story. Crime is a visceral issue. Do people feel safe in their neighborhoods? Does it seem things are getting better or worse? Is the city government perceived as effective of feckless? Are other conditions such as business investment and infrastructure improving so that the neighborhood at least looks like it is getting better? Or are things going the other way. How many crimes like this occur, when generally safe areas have a truly innocent person get horribly shot? It all factors in.

  23. Anne, artists may not make a lot of money, but artists and arts institutions are a known vector of gentrification.

    George, thanks for the Columbus perspective. I would have expected Columbus to have similar neighborhoods, perhaps even more of them. I-70 is the main route out of West Virginia to Indy, and Columbus is even closer. I just don’t know the city’s neighborhoods well enough to have commented, so I’m glad you do and did.

  24. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Renn
    Thank you for providing the link . Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic Monthly blog also discusses it under the title “Whats really hood”.

    I agree with you that there are many factors.But its hard to seperate them from each other.Crime and bad schools are interlinked for instance.I have never heard of a low performing urban school that didnt have a crime problem .

    i also have to also point out that Baltimore has only the SECOND worse homicide rate . The #1 position belongs to Detroit .There are many reasons why companies dont invest there.And many reasons why they should [skilled workers ,cheap land,ect]But in the end i think that its their reputation as an urban hell hole.I mean no offence to anyone from Detroit.My own town has the same reputation.And if it was a terrible place to live i wouldnt be living here.

    I love my city and i love walking through it.i walked 16 miles around it Monday[its been raining ever since ,sadly]But i do feel that ist nececary to realise our problems and to face them and to try to come up with solutions to them

  25. Alon Levy says:

    I didn’t say anything about crime and investment – all I’m arguing is that nationally, crime is down from 10 years ago.

    But while we’re at it: Yonkers has a murder rate of 5, and a bad school district. It has a top-ranked magnet school, but all the other schools suck. Santa Ana has a murder rate of 7, and an even worse school district, with no good magnet school. Conversely, Houston, whose murder rate is 16, has a good school system by inner city standards.

    And yes, when it comes to perception, statistics are absolutely only part of the story. Houston and Dallas are quite unsafe and Atlanta even more unsafe, but they’re not perceived as such, unlike Washington or Los Angeles or even New York. Their social problems are less familiar, their gangs haven’t had movies made about them, and their governments either come off as less dysfunctional or haven’t had their problems broadcast nationally.

  26. cdc guy says:

    Alon, the murder-rate statistics don’t get to randomness, associations, or real probability of a specific person being victimized by violent crime. They’re really too gross a measurement for discerning people to use.

    Several years ago, The Indianapolis Star published a detailed list, chart, and map of all homicides for our worst year ever. In reading the descriptions, looking at the locations, and understanding the relationships involved, I felt much less threatened by the murder rate spike: regardless of the murder rate, very few were actually “stranger crime” and few involved middle-aged caucasian men.

    It may be that deeper analysis would show that Atlanta and Dallas really are relatively safe overall EXCEPT for those who are male, black or hispanic, unemployed or working in the underground economy, between 15-24, and living in a poor, blighted neighborhood…or living with someone who is.

    To the extent that violent crime is widely understood to be concentrated in a particular demographic segment and area of town, then its threat will be widely discounted by those outside the demographic and neighborhood.

    But (to wrap back to Gabe Jordan) when a decent man who feels safe is shot walking his dog in a “good” neighborhood, regardless of whether it’s a statistical anomaly, the “threat discount” evaporates in the hot reality of police tape, news stories, and camera crews.

    Some folks will flee the hot reality because they can no longer discount the threat of a violent occurrence, no matter how statistically small its probability is for them.

  27. JG says:

    CDC GUY: Nice point. Murder rates tend be be cited alone when one discusses city saftey. It is such an incomplete and foolish picture without discussing victim demographics, relation to assailent, and even more so discussing attempted murders, robberies, rapes, beatings, and major theats. Still, it appears crimes are down since the 90’s across the board in cities – hopefully the trend will continue.

  28. west town ed says:

    I don’t know if I-70 is the real Mason-Dixon line but I do remember that when I was at Bowling Green in the early 60s I learned that there was major linguistic dividing line that ran through Ohio. At that time is was known as the (US) Route 40 divide. That highway was then the major east-west axis of both Indianapolis and Columbus. I grew up in northern Ohio and then spent six years in Dayton (only a short distance south of the line) and learned that what I had been taught was true.

    I have lived in Chicago for more than 40 years — most of it in Lincoln Park — and would love to write an intelligent discourse on the (super?) gentrification of that area but that must wait for another day.

  29. anonymous says:

    Most people do not move to cities to create relationships with people different from them.

    They leave their hometowns for a better job, or to be around people _more_ like themselves (thinking of hipsters, artists, trixies, gays whatever) of course they will run into people who are different from them, they’ll get funny stories out of it, but not a new social circle.

  30. John Doe says:

    “…I never felt unsafe enough to consider getting a gun permit. I’m revisiting that now. Maybe out of panic, but maybe out of realism too: “the wrong place at the wrong time” for Gabe was within sight of my front porch.”

    Every Indiana resident needs to get their gun permit, especially if you plan on buying a handgun. Technically speaking, people who are 18 years and older, need a gun permit to even shoot a handgun at a range. So even if you have a handgun for home defense only, never plan on carrying it in your vehicle or person, you need the permit so you can go and shoot a box of ammo ever few months to keep your skills up. Plus, you need the permit so you have the _option_ of carrying a handgun. Things could go back at anytime. Flash mobs/riots can happen within seconds. Having a gun and a permit to carry it is just being prepared.

    As far as crime, I don’t believe any survey. I believe police stats, and I know for a fact they don’t tell the truth of the matter. Some folks just don’t report the crime, for whatever reason(s). I know that property crime is high. Maybe officially it is low, or getting low. People say look at homicide rates, but what they don’t tell you is to look at people shot rates. The shooting of Gabe is sad, very sad, but the statistic he represents is one that is never discussed. Say you have 100 homicides one year and 100 people shot, the next year you only have 50 homicides, but 350 people were shot but lived. The focus is always on the homicide, but for the second year, physics was on the side of the victims. Had those bullets been inches in either direction, we could have seen homicides hit 200, with 200 people shot but lived.

    If you live near a Section 8 housing unit or rental, use caution. Be on alert always. Blissninnie Pollyanna’s will yell “You can’t go through life in constant fear!!” Well, you can’t go through life dead either. Don’t trust the government from crime stats. Your best indicator is the local news. For something to do outside of playing World of Warcraft, take some time to start a crime journal. Make it a point to watch as much daily, local newscasts as you can. Check all the local websites once in the morning, and once at night. Also try to make it a point to check Indy 911 and see what crimes/incidents are listed at every given hour. Write that information down, then draw your own conclusions about crime.

    Again, no reason for an Indiana resident not to have their handgun carry permit. You can get a lifetime permit for $120 or $140.00. There is also no reason that an adult(s) shouldn’t have at least one firearm in the home for defense and self-protection. Be it a shotgun, rifle, or handgun, this is what it will take to stop some very evil, ruthless people out there. Just practice, have a plan, take steps to not be a victim so hopefully you never have to use the gun. If you have kids, keep the gun out of their reach. Also practice. Don’t buy a gun, shoot it a few times, and then lock it up for the next decade. Go to the range at least three to four times a year so that you are always comfortable with the machine. For newbie gun owners, please, do your best to find a friend, or a “gun person,” that is willing to teach you how to shoot, the mindset to be in, etc.. I am currently teaching a new shooter who has decided that they want a gun in the home just in case. At our first range session, another female was there and got a gun because someone broke into her home. Her blissninnie dream land of safety had been shattered, and it was clear to me that reality had smacked another person awake to the world around them. Most of all, be careful.

  31. Alon Levy says:

    John Doe, it’s not just that people survive more shootings. There are fewer shootings: crime is down across the board, in all categories.

    Reading about crime on local newscasts tells you what the most lurid crimes are, not what the most likely ones are. When a black person shoots a white person, it’s news. When a black person shoots another black person, or when a white person shoots a white person, both of which are much more likely to happen, it’s not news.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures