Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Getting Serious About Talent

[ I was privileged to deliver the keynote address at the annual meeting of the IndyPartnership on Tuesday. They are the regional economic development agency for Indianapolis. I want to share with you one portion of that address dealing with talent. Earlier segments addressed the other important matters of demographic and economic growth. You can read coverage of the event in the Indianapolis Business Journal. ]

Lastly, I want to talk about getting serious about human capital. Harvard economist Ed Glaeser studied what made cold weather cities successful and found that it could overwhelmingly be explained by only one and only one variable, the percentage of adults with college degrees as of 1960. Now there’s actually nothing magical about that date. You could pick 1940 and get basically the same result. The key is that college degree attainment is overwhelmingly determinant in urban success.

An organization called CEO’s for Cities crunched the numbers to find out what it would mean for cities if they could increase their college degree attainment by just one percentage point. They call the resulting economic impact the “Talent Dividend”, a term you may have heard before. For Indianapolis, the Talent Dividend is $1.3 billion dollars a year. That’s right, Indianapolis would receive an economic benefit of $1.3 billion every year if the region increased its college degree attainment by just one percentage point.

Now if I had put up a chart of college degree attainment nationally earlier, Indianapolis would have been in the middle of the pack. Not bad, but not great either, and certainly not where it needs to be to compete in the industries it is targeting. So despite that big inflow of people, there is still plenty of work to do.

It is imperative that Indianapolis increases its educational attainment across the board. This means a mix of both educating its current residents – not just in traditional university, but also K-12 education, vocational-technical training, corporate training – and also attracting new residents. I’ll leave education for another day, and will focus on attraction. How do you attract residents, particularly top talent and people with college degrees?

Attracting people is no different from attracting businesses. To attract business you need a good business climate and aggressive recruitment. It’s the same for people. You need a good “people climate” and aggressive recruitment.

What makes a good people climate? In some ways, it’s the same things that make a good business climate. All things being equal, low costs and easy living beats high cost and hassles any day. Indianapolis is great here. It’s the lowest cost big city housing market in America, and has a strong economy as we saw before. That’s great.

But with cities all things aren’t always equal. Choosing a city to live in isn’t like buying laundry detergent. It’s more is like buying a house. It’s an emotional purchase. I’m guessing most of you aren’t living in the cheapest house you could find. More likely the opposite – you live in the most expensive house you could afford, in the best neighborhood, with the nicest amenities, the best schools, etc. Yes, price was a factor, but it wasn’t the only factor. When it comes to cities it’s not just about the price, it’s also about the product.

Indianapolis has to be selling a product that people will want to buy on its own merits, not just because it is the cheapest on the market. Cities, like houses, need to have curb appeal. They have to have amenities, they have to look good. That’s particularly true in Indianapolis, where it’s flat, there’s no beaches and no mountains, and the weather is what it is. The built environment, what we create, counts for more here. So we have to get it right.

The great news is that the city is already doing good things here. We are seeing it in things like the Cultural Trail, which is first class in addition to being is totally unique and innovative. And the new airport terminal, which is the best in America. And don’t just take my word for that, take the traveling public’s word for it. That’s what JD Power and Associates did when their consumer survey ranked Indianapolis International the best airport in the entire United States. Staying with our house analogy, the new airport is an entryway the city can be proud of. This is what we need to be building.

That doesn’t mean the city should forget about costs. Indianapolis has to keep a keen eye on the bottom line. This isn’t New York City. People aren’t going to pay any price, bear any burden for the privilege of living and working here. But often it is more a matter of will than of money. The Cultural Trail isn’t costing a penny of local tax money. You may have saw it just got a $20 million discretionary federal stimulus grant. Without doing that project, this community would not have seen one penny of that money. A new airport terminal would have cost a billion whether it was any good or not. Indianapolis is already spending money on projects, the key is to get the value out of them. Indianapolis must bring a focus and commitment to excellence in design and maximizing the value per dollar to everything it does. Look at the airport terminal. Make sure the city achieves the same level of quality, excellence in design, and attention to detail every time out on the field.

But once you’ve got that product, how do you sell it? You have to have a good story to tell. You have to create an aspirational narrative of life in this city that people who don’t live here yet can imagine themselves being a part of. Think about New York City. TV shows like Seinfield, Friends, or Sex and the City have created an image of what it is like to live in New York, even for people who’ve never visited it. What comes to mind when you think of Portland? You think people out hiking the mountains, hipsters riding their bikes, people drinking microbrews. What does Indianapolis bring to mind? What’s the unique story about life in this city that’s different from everywhere else? That’s the narrative the city needs to create, and figure out how to get out there into the world.

This is where my previous suggestions help. Think about setting a high competitive bar. Smart, talented, ambitious people, people with big dreams and plans for themselves want to live in a city where the civic aspiration matches their personal aspiration. The labor force of the 21st century is in demand. Top scientists, top researchers, and internet entrepreneurs have choices about where to live. When you set a high competitive aspiration for your city, you’re sending them a powerful message that this is place where important personal and professional ambitions can be realized. That’s the anchor for your narrative.

There’s one other narrative that needs to be created. This one is for local consumption and it is one that almost every city overlooks. Since the benefits of attracting the college degreed are so high, cities tend to focus on that. But what about the people without degrees? Less than 20% of adults in Indiana have a college degree. What about the other 80%? What’s it in for them in these progressive urban policies? Many of them are hurting right now, and I think they have a right to be skeptical about policies that seem to be focused on the most privileged in society. So we have to show the benefit to them and answer the questions.

Why should we be investing millions of dollars in Conexus and Biocrossroads? Why does it matter that corporate executives can have a steak dinner and a good time downtown? Why should we be investing millions of dollars in pharmacy education at Butler and Purdue, to produce graduates who will earn six figures the minute they walk out the door? Well, if you are a single mother in Clinton County with a high school diploma who can get a good job as a technician at Medco, it matters to you, that’s why.

That’s the type of story we need to be able to tell. To make it real to people why these forward looking policies are good for all Hoosiers. These stories have to be told, told loudly, and told often. The good news is that Indiana has a story to tell. Unlike some other places, where there are lots of high value jobs, but little else, Indiana can create a broader spectrum of jobs and build a real middle class economy for the 21st century.

Quality product, high aspirations, narrative, cost, jobs, and quality of life. Those are a few of the things that go into creating a good people climate.

As for recruitment, clearly almost no city puts even half the effort into people recruitment that they do into business recruitment. This gives Indianapolis an opportunity to step up, claim a leadership position, and get really, really aggressive about bringing talent to town.

Left to Right: Ron Gifford, CEO of the IndyPartnership, Yours Truly, and Mark Miles, CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership

I can’t resist posting this photo I got taken with the Lamar Hunt Trophy the Colts were awarded as AFC champions. Every year the Colts are committed to competing and winning at the highest levels, and also to doing it the right way as a class organization. They show that it is possible to both aim high and embody the best of Hoosier values. That’s exactly what the city as a whole should commit to in everything it does.

Topics: Talent Attraction
Cities: Indianapolis

21 Responses to “Getting Serious About Talent”

  1. DaveOf Richmond says:

    Now in addition to the Colts you have Butler basketball, making it to the Final Four for the first time, which will be played in Indy – home games from here on.

    It’s no joke bringing this up either – being on the east coast, I had never heard of Butler until their basketball team started winning a couple of years ago. It can’t hurt Indy to get this bit of free publicity.

  2. How awesome would that be if Butler won it all? Amazing.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    I think you’re doing Indianapolis an injustice by talking about talent attraction but not about education. The regions that had a high share of college-educated adults in the 1960s also had very good public school systems. California’s public schools were top-quality well into the 1970s; the Northeast has surprisingly good schools for its level of segregation. It’s those schools rather than talent attraction programs that encouraged high value added business.

    This isn’t a small difference. The policies that promote high-quality education are often the diametric opposite of the policies that promote outside business investment and hipness.

    First, it requires spending more money than most politicians are willing to spend. Even allowing for lower living costs, Indiana would have to double the amount of money it spends on schools to compare to the top-rated Northeastern districts.

    Second, conflict is unavoidable here. The teachers’ unions and the principal-aligned reformists have two completely different sets of ideas on how to improve education, and splitting the difference creates more problems than it solves. It requires choosing political alliances early, and it requires injecting partisan politics into issues that by right shouldn’t be partisan.

    And third, coolness and opportunity are opposing forces in education. At the college level, good public education means making it easy to move upward from community colleges to universities. CUNY and UC both do it right: they increasingly outsource lower-division classes to community colleges, and let the best students there transfer to selective institutions like City College or Berkeley. This gives students an opportunity to catch up, instead of determining their life trajectory based on which high school they went to. In addition, it requires tuition to be very low, to avoid forcing people in debt. The ideal tuition is zero; anything more than about $1,000 per year should be illegal. It doesn’t lend itself to the same mythologies surrounding Harvard or Yale, but it works.

  4. Well, Alon, there are only so many minutes in speech. Education reform is a controversial topic with more heat than light, and I won’t profess I’ve totally digested all the angles myself. Clearly it’s important, but a challenging topic to address.

  5. John Sterr says:

    I agree that Indy needs to tell its narrative but it should start with the narrative as it is, not about creating a narrative. Our narrative has to be real and a narrative that our citizens tell, not some kind of branding statement. In recent times we have branded ourselves as an amature sports mecca. Now we are trying to brand ourselfs as a bio tech hub. But everyone that I associate with would never characterize our city that way. Portland did not set out to brand itself as a hipster, bicycle friendly, environmental, micro-beer drinking city. It became one through progressive city planning policies, many of which were not popular when they were made. Indy, more so than other midwest cities is very top down orientated (i.e. Monument circle has become an office park for our biggest corporations rather than a place for its citizens, it values urban sprawl as a right, abondoning its urban core because that is where the money is). Our narrative should empower the people we seek to attract to open small business, express themselves creatively, revitalize our aging historical city core, and feel apart of something greater than themselves. There are signs that this is happening especially through the food revolution of urban farming that is a by-product of bottom up initiative. Our narrative needs to encourage more of that initiative. Holding educated people to a top down branded narrative that discourages progressive action and thinking will not help our city meet the challanges of the 21st Century.

  6. John, I do agree with much of what you say. I myself have said that Indianapolis needs to have a brand positioning that is true to the native soil:

    Part of the challenge is that if you want to talk about they way things are, you’d have to talk about urban decay, abandoned housing, crime, terrible school. I’d submit that it is certainly more accurate to describe Indy as a high tech hub than as an urban farming mecca, which is not to say you can’t do both.

    Also, the “bottoms up” people are often the biggest impediment to change. Why do you think the city frequently puts developers who want to invest money through the wringer? It’s because of the neighbors who oppose anything and everything new while simultaneously demanding that the city “do something” about crime, blight, etc.

    I do believe real change comes bottom up, but a good mix of bottom up and top down is the best approach.

    Indianapolis needs a place-authentic narrative with an aspirational element to it – a “this is where we’re going” statement – that is real and can motivate people to get behind the rock and push, that an inspire the grass roots to want to commit to the renewal of the city. That narrative doesn’t have to only come from the top, but it is always good to know that the mayor’s got your back.

  7. AmericanDirt says:

    Alon Levy–
    Is it possible that the Northeast has good public schools because of its level of segregation? Metro Indianapolis’ highest rated school district, Zionsville, often competes with the top ten public districts nationally. It is also segregated by wealth to a level that anywhere else in Indiana cannot compare. It will most likely always remain a strong district (barring a total collapse of the Indianapolis region) because living in Zionsville is unattainable for most people without incomes that correlate to college degrees. Nonetheless, Zionsville is positively affordable compared to the ultra-exclusive suburbs in the Northeast. Philadelphia’s public schools are generally terrible, but even a sluggish economy there hasn’t made it any easier for blue collar folks to afford to live in the Main Line suburbs with their impeccable school systems–and the housing cost differentials between Philadelphia and Main Line involve a far wider gap than Indianapolis and Zionsville.

    John Sterr–
    I’m confused at how Indianapolis is more top-down than other Midwest cities. But if you compare to Portland, wouldn’t the characteristics that represent that Oregon city make it more top-down than just about anywhere else? Generally speaking, people love living in big new houses in exurban areas close to farmland, where their yards can be big and cheap. Such a way of life is far more attainable in Indy than Portland, but was it policies that promoted this, or the absence of them?

  8. Alon Levy says:

    AmericanDirt: I thought so too, about the Northeast, but then I saw a study comparing inner-city districts. It turned out New York and Boston rank at the top, together with Houston and Charlotte. New York and Boston’s schools are still terrible compared to their favored quarter suburbs’ schools, but they’re still way better than anything in comparable cities in California, or most of the South. They also have top-quality public magnet schools, but those are often predominantly white/Asian and middle-class (but there are exceptions – e.g. Brooklyn Tech, as well as Yonkers’ magnet school, Yonkers High School).

    The segregation is a negative. For an example of what it does, compare schools in Texas and the Northeast. Overall, New York is better; New Jersey and Massachusetts are far better. But Texas, where schools are not as segregated as in the Northeast, has a much smaller black/white achievement gap, to the point that its overall black achievement ranks near the top nationwide.

  9. Alon, what do role do you think district size plays? Chicago has some magnet schools that score near the top of the state, but when you can skim the cream from a huge population base into a select schools, you can look competitive. Smaller urban districts like Cincinnati don’t have that luxury. With 8m people in NYC’s school district, there are bound to be some really smart kids in really elite schools.

    It has been widely suggested that Chicago is promoting a three tier system: magnet schools for the elite, charter schools for “poor people who care”, and regular public schools for everyone else.

  10. John Sterr says:


    I agree that a good mix of top and bottom is best, but it is so hard to find. The reason neighborhoods often look at top down developement with disdain is that much of it lacks vitality and detracts from rather than enhances quality of life for the people who live by it. It is often driven by people outside of a neighborhood or urban area that it is proposed for, and the bottom line for them is the bottom line. It is development for development’s sake. To put it another way the top down approach is evident in the design and execution of many projects. This is true in both the city and the suburbs. The new People’s Health Center building going up on 10th street is one example.

    The people who choose to live in Center Township do so because they are attracted by it’s historic homes, proximity to downtown, transportation, home values, and neighbors who are involved and are not only neighbors but real friends and acquantiances. It is clear by your statements that you are out of touch with what the grass roots wants. The grass roots IS active in revitalizing the city and care deeply about it. You might want to get behind THEIR vision. So many revitialization projects are condescending and come from a different mindset. A mindset that often values large homes miles away, near farmland, with a suburban aesthetic. That mind set is fine for developments in those areas. They will not fly in an urban core.

    Yes to tell our narrative as it is, is painful. Yes we do have to talk about crime, abondond housing, terrible schools. We need more attention and creative problem solving to address these issues. Many of us are working on them. We cannot brand them away. We can not development them away. (For example, when I first transferred here 9 years ago and was looking for a place to live, everyone told me anywhere but the eastside. Another blog recently had a post from a couple moving to Indy and were intersted in fixing up a home near Brookside park because they were attracted to its history. Everyone told them they were crazy and not to do it. This is not productive nor helpful in revitializing this area. We have already been branded negatively by people outside of the area. Those of you who live in the burbs need to rebrand the narrative of the east side. There are many of us working and living in the area who are committed to improving it. There are any assests to the east side including great parks (freesbie golf course, feast of lantersn festival, community center for dodge ball games, hoops, etc., public pool, green space, great neighbors who do not hestitate to lend a hand, historic and affordable housing stock, active neighborhood associations, proximity to downtown, and bike trails to name a few. So when the east side comes up in conversation tell the whole story, tell people there are many of us working on crime, education, housing who live and work here, and not just what you see in the news.) Why dosen’t the mayor have our back? There are drugs and prostiution on 10th street. The cops know who everyone is and how things operate and yet do nothing. When you call the cops and they come out and see you are a well spoken college educated person the first thing they say is, “why do you live here? This is a bad area.” That sums up for a lot of us top down thinking. The top dosen’t get it and is trying to revitialize this area in their own image. Help people in an area working on change to acheive their goals. Do not tell them what is best for them.

    AmericanDirt – From where I sit, the young dynamic, college educated, creative people we are trying to keep and attract value culture, indenpendent business, urban living, art, living near their jobs, alternatives to cars, etc. That is why they are moving to Portland, Chicago, etc. So yes we can offer those that want cheap big backyards in the burbs, a great value proposition, but we are not providing many options for those who are looking for the former.

  11. John Sterr, congrats on living in the city and trying to make it a better place.

    The problem is that too many people who value those “historic homes” are actively part of the reason why the neighborhoods stay in the shape they are. I listen to downtown residents grouse about policing, schools, and the state of the streets. But who is going to pay for those? Cops cost money. Certainly it won’t be paid for by the taxes coming off of those “historic homes”.

    In effect, once a newcomer gets their little slice of Mayberry, they expect the city to tax everyone else to provide the services that would make their neighborhood a better place to live. For those fortunate enough to live in one the city’s handful of favored redevelopment districts, this works. I can assure you, it is not working for the folks in most other parts of town who are paying the taxes for this.

    The city shouldn’t invest one dime of money from other people into neighborhoods full of folks who hate any development other than rehabbing single family homes. If you’re not supportive of development that would generate sufficient taxes to pay for the services you think you want, then it isn’t fair to ask anyone else to subsidize you.

  12. John Sterr says:


    Thanks for your prespective. I never said I was against development. Development however has to contribute to the neighborhood as a whole. I like modern architecuture, I like new. I want density. The problem is when new development detracts from what is already going on in the neighborhood to make it better. Are you saying that any development as long as it increases the tax base is a good one? That is what is most frustrating. Development is coming and yet leaves much to be desired.

    I also take issue that historic homes do not add to the tax base. By using quotes it is clear you disdain older homes and assume if a home is historic it is in disrepair. Homes are continually being rehabbed in this area and selling for over 100,000 dollars. While not the prices of some other parts of town, it is well above the prices for other homes in the area that are not rehabbed. Rehabs done right increase the tax base. To often we get “WE BUY HOUSES” people who chop up houses and rent them to anyone that has a pulse. This brings the neighborhood further down.

    In any regard, I am interested in what contitutes good development in your eyes, in the city of indianapolis, in its neighborhoods. What would you do with these older depressed areas? Also in your bio you state cities are not just buildings but the people who live in them. You are not doing us a service by telling us and our city leaders that because we are “poor” we do not deserve city services and should not have a say in how our communites are developed.

  13. cdc guy says:

    John: Aaron and I have had this discussion more than once, and while we often differ I do see his point of view. Like you, I live east and drive past the really awful blocks frequently.

    There is a point at which an owner’s property rights have to trump neighbor’s perceived or imagined “rights” to keep things from changing.

    After all, no one is talking about moving the Harvester Foundry or Citizens Coke plant to Cottage Home. But property owners in the area have built condos and apartments on vacant lots, or in the case of two of your prominent neighbors, they have re-used an historic factory building and built a new office/warehouse that buffers your neighborhood from the interstate. Those are unequivocally positive developments.

    Likewise, old factories were converted to apartments and condos along College Ave, just a couple of blocks west of Cottage Home. The Boner Center is leading a coalition of groups that is building dense housing along 10th; Riley wants to build dense housing around the corner from Cottage Home at the east end of Mass Ave. Those are good developments, too, even though some of them have engendered neighborhood opposition.

    Like Aaron, I have a very hard time seeing where increasing density at the expense of old (but not honestly historic) housing is ever bad. Vast swaths of this city have been remade over time: people used to live, work, shop, and worship where the American Legion Mall is today, but it was redeveloped 100 years after it was platted in the 1920’s. Likewise, North Meridian used to be a stand of fine single-family homes and upscale apartments from 9th St. north. Now it’s not.

    If the market will support it, we should probably allow redevelopment to happen, especially if it is close to downtown…otherwise the city becomes nothing but boring stories of glory days [apologies to The Boss].

  14. Alon Levy says:


    Alon, what do role do you think district size plays?

    It plays a big role in supporting magnet schools, sure. I’m actually fairly skeptical about New York’s magnet program; the only reason I even mention it is that it has multiple high schools, some of which have significant black and Hispanic populations. Conversely, I freely talk about Yonkers High School because Yonkers is a city of 200,000, and Yonkers High mirrors the city’s working class demographics.

    But I don’t think it plays a big role in average test scores, which are the metric on which New York and Boston shine. If anything, it should make test scores lower, by making it easier to segregate.

    New York doesn’t have a big charter school movement, as far as I can tell. Instead, Bloomberg’s reforms focus on running public schools more like charter schools, with strong principal control. The segregation is French-style – i.e. if you grew up in the ghetto, chances are nobody helped you prepare for the entrance exams.

  15. Citified says:

    Sterr, Urbanophile and CDC guy:

    You all have good points, and actually seem to agree with one another in most ways. It seems to me the statement about “creating an aspirational narrative” kicked off the debate. This is the sort of thing that sounds “top-down” – when someone in city government says ‘let’s hire someone to CREATE a catchy identity that our people can aspire to and outsiders will buy into.’ Ideally a city’s people create their own narrative with their own aspirations. Indianapolis does seem to be lacking in identity, which I think is representative of a majority of it’s people individually. After all, we live in a conservative bible belt kind of city where until recent years individuality wasn’t exactly supported or encouraged. It was a hard place to grow up if you didn’t get a job, get married, have two kids and buy a house in a vinyl village. The city relished it’s brand as a nice midwestern town, a place for Christian families, with good stay at home values. It will take some time to undo that now that we want to attract young, single urbanites who dine out and take public transportation instead. Thank goodness the city is evolving, and I think it will one day grow a new identity, but you can’t force it.

    Development often has this same approach, I don’t know how development can not be top-down. But it doesn’t have to be contrived. It often feels a little phony and out of place – like plastic surgery. Sure the doctor thinks he’s doing a good thing, and the buyer thinks it’s beautiful, people who know the before think it’ll take some getting use to at best and newcomers don’t know the difference – unless it’s bad, which it often is.

    To me, Indy could attract and keep young people with more entrepreneurial support, more integration/interaction between the colleges and the city, better public transportation and improved parks and recreation. As for housing – people will live anywhere – really, look at NYC. The city’s identity should evolve from it’s assets and the people it attracts and values, not from an advertising slogan or a false built environment.

  16. I actually love older homes. I renovated an 1898 home in Evanston, Illinois myself. And when I moved to Fountain Square I especially sought out an apartment in a pre-1900 building.

    On the other hand, there is a difference between “old” and “historic”. Visiting Indianapolis one would not be overwhelmed with the feeling that this is a mecca of historic architecture. Yet it has more “historic” neighborhoods than almost anyplace I’ve visited.

    The key is not that I don’t like older homes. It is that single family homes of whatever type do not generate sufficient taxes to pay for the city services their occupants want. Also, in an era of radically reduced household sizes, they do not generate the population density needed to support neighborhood retail. (That’s why, for example, most of the storefronts at 25th and Delaware are vacant and even a non-profit developer can’t get commercial space at 22nd street off the ground). This leaves our “urban” neighborhoods completely car dependent (and thus a sort of “urban-light” geography that is never going to have a broad appeal to those who want true walkable urban living), keeps the city tax base in decline, and ensures that there are insufficient services and poor infrastructure.

    I’m glad to hear you want more density. Yet almost any development downtown is subjected to intense neighborhood opposition. Heck, even doubles often have people complaining. Even those who would support density frequently change their tune when it involves being near one of their own properties (e.g., Trail Side).

    The net result of all of this is that central Indianapolis has become a bad place to invest. It is imperative that the business climate of development in the core be improved. And we need to be more aggressive in allowing doubles, carriage houses, some apartments and condos, mixed use, etc.

    I’ll be the first to agree that much of the development is often poorly designed. So let’s fix that. Rather than having a central city zoning code based on the suburbs, which mandates that almost any development require a variance, and thus kicks off the regular public hearing fiascoes we see as well as encouraging “wild west” behavior by developers, let’s create a quality zoning ordinance, building codes, and design guidelines that promote better design and set a clear public policy in favor of more density and mixed use.

  17. John Sterr says:

    Aaron – I am glad to hear you do not dislike historic/older homes and have an appreciation for them. In regards to density I think it depends on what part of the city you are in. On the East Side the lots and homes are quite dense. However many are vacant. Neighborhoods that are coming back to life from the ground up need to reclaim them. Developers need to bring infill housing. A diversity of residents will help with purchasing power. In other words density is needed but also increased incomes. This is why gentrification is a good thing and I support it. Gentrification becomes a problem when it is done on a mass scale, wiping out an entire neighborhood/population and then marketing the new neighborhood to a certain demographic. This is a topic for another time and I understand what you are saying about density. It does seem that Indy is very vulnerable to the banking and real estate industries that for some reason do not embolden and nurture small entrepreneurs. Louisville and Milwaukee come to mind with similar densities that seem to be able to support local business at an astonishing rate compared with Indy. Again another topic for another day…

    I agree that our city zoning codes need to be changed to support urban living and not a suburban aesthetic that is held captive by the automobile. Is this being taught in urban planning schools? It seems if we are learning from the past we should be further along in creating more urban friendly developments. Another topic…

    I am also glad you brought up doubles. I think Indy more so than many other cities has a large percentage of doubles as part of its housing stock, many in disrepair. The problem with developing doubles in Indy is that there are no comps for them. It is very difficult to get a mortgage for one. As a result doubles often become slum lord properties, renting to bad tenants. There is a market for renters at market rates on the East Side but no one can either get a mortgage or investments to pursue such projects, or because the people who have resources who would pursue such projects have a narrative that certain parts of town are off limits to investments of this kind. Doubles that are perfectly good houses meet the wrecking ball to often and the neighborhood declines further. The get rich in real estate by buying properties at tax sale, putting minimal investment into them, chopping all character out, renting to the first person that comes along, blaming the tenants when it doesn’t work out, letting the property go but I got my money out of it strategy can be found everywhere on this side of town. This is not development. Again we need to change the narrative of the East Side so “good” investment can happen. Another topic…

    Citified – You are correct that Urbanophile, CDC guy and I are not far apart. We all want to see development. Let’s all agree not to jump to conclusions. While a healthy dose of skepticism is good, let’s not assume all developers want to steamroll local communities to make the most money they possibly can, as well as not assuming that those of us who are stewards of and appreciate historic/older homes and commercial buildings, and love our neighborhoods are a bunch of raving preservationists who want to recreate Victorian times by turning our neighborhoods into Conner Prairies.

    CDCguy – It is clear that we are acquainted as you know where I live. It would be nice to chat in person sometime over beers at Dorman Street or coffee at Henry’s. Find my email and let’s do this.

    Since you call out Cottage Home developments I feel a history lesson is in order. Twenty-Five to Thirty years ago the development scheme for the cottage home area was to level the neighborhood for businesses and trades with easy access to the interstate. Homes were demolished and businesses were put in. At the same time a small group of people moved in to the area and began fixing up homes. When they were told what the development scheme was for Cottage Home they told the planners “we shall see”. It is clear now which side prevailed. The reason there are condo and apartment developments in this area is because of those early grass roots community organizers. Even the fact that we call this area Cottage Home is because that is what they named it. There circle expanded and others joined in to make it what it is today. Dorman Street, arguably the best street in the neighborhood would have been torn down by today’s standards. Some houses were half burned, you could see the sky from the first floor of two story homes nearby, trash was everywhere. Sweat equity and investment turned them around. Our block party, voted best in Indy by Nuvo was started 20 years ago as a community event. Our park that we are developing is loved by most everyone. It is our meeting place. There is a baby booming currently happening in the neighborhood. The residents have revitalized this area. This grass roots bottom up approach takes time, but for developers to deny it is going on; to tell communities that take ownership of their neighborhood, who LOVE their neighborhoods that their opinions, wants, needs, and hopes are irrelevant in the face of development shows a lack of understanding to what is going on.

    We are not against Marian repurposing the old Kroger commercial bakery into a manufacturing center. We are not opposed to the old street car garage being used as a printing facility. What we are concerned about is having good neighbors, and they are. Yes we appreciate the historic structures as well but we are not opposed to new developments. We have prime vacant lots along 10th street. To say our opinions do not matter in how they are developed because of property rights is short sighted. I would say 95% of us would love to see multistory, mixed use developments there. We do not want to see a Walgreens however. Development for development sake, even if it increases the tax base is not necessarily a good thing.

    Cottage Home is looking forward to the Riley Development on the East End of Mass. People opposed to the project tried to get our support against it. We declined. We are excited about it. While it may create some parking issues, it may be a boon to rent out garages or spaces. We also have garages and spaces so if street parking increases it may become a hassle but that is a tradeoff I am willing to make to get more business in the area.

    I am not sure where you were going with the American Legion Mall reference. Yes things change but not for the better all the time. My favorite place in all of Indy is the WWII memorial. It is absolutely stunning! If you haven’t been inside it you must put it on your list. I also love the DePew fountain. It is a great expression of love from one to another, and brings joy to me every time I think about it. While these places are beautiful I rarely go there. It is not a destination. It is a great place to have lunch during the weekday but after 5pm it is a ghost town. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would advocate going there at night either. As a community development project it failed. The community that lived, worked, shopped and worshipped there was obliterated. Now there is a modern office tower, an historic office tower, a parking lot, the athletic club condos, the Blancherene (which until recently was boarded) another condo project, a parking lot, a post office, Safeco Insurance building, the Scottish Rite, the Armory, an abandoned church, small apartments, the Elbow Room, the federal building, a bankruptcy lawyer’s office, City Cafe, and the Star. Almost everything around that park declined before slowly making a comeback now. Slowly. This certainly was not the intention of the development scheme at the time, but it became the consequence. Sure it kept people employed during the depression. What they did not realize was that they were creating drive by monuments.

    Again north Meridian Street used to be a neighborhood. Now it is not. The development scheme was to make it a drive through commercial corridor. Is it any wonder it is struggling today?

    I offer another example, the development of IUPUI in the 1950’ and 60’s. The neighborhood along Indiana Avenue, which was where a black middle class thrived and where the city’s jazz roots were located, fell into disrepair. The neighborhood was blight according to the city. The nearby IUPUI campus was also in need of increased parking and space for expansion. The development scheme for the area removed the entire neighborhood and surface parking lots and a few buildings were put in. Now this development scheme was successful in that it eliminated blight and improved the university. But at what cost? Is it any wonder the area is now a voided space? That it is an area that has trouble attracting investment? There is a sculpture there that commemorates what was once there; another drive by monument. I wonder how many people drive by it now and wonder why a sculpture made out of saxophones is there.

    The problem of the blighted neighborhood and of the university expansion could have been approached differently. It could have called for a revitalization of the neighborhood to include, rehab of homes and commercial buildings, new infill, the demolition of some to make way for buildings, parking structures, infill student housing, etc. A development along these lines would have given IUPUI a front door to the city through a revitalized neighborhood of significance. The narrative of our Jazz history could still be told and draw people in. Now our Jazz story is seldom talked about and the area around there is fairly desolate. The economic impact of students is lost or diluted, and the university is an island by itself.

    Much has changed but much remains the same in development theory. Past is prologue and given the track record in Indy, neighborhoods should be leery of large scale developments that seek their demise. This is the promise of CDC’s. A community based entity focused on developments that enhance and contribute to the revitalization of communities. CDCs that grow out of communities with specific needs should have one main goal; putting themselves out of business. Once the neighborhood or area has been revitalized and market forces can finish the job, the CDC has done their work. Too often they think that they can recreate what was done in one area for another. While intentional or not they go in with a top down approach and because they do not have any roots in a neighborhood they are redeveloping they are perceive as outsiders with their own vision. If you need examples, lets meet for beers…

  18. JG says:

    JOHN STERR. This is Doc Jeff – I have not seen you comment on Urbanophile previously.

    Consider the difference between historic districts and conservation districts. I do believe your neighborhood, Cottage Home, is the latter. What are the zoning rules? Could a vacated home demolished and a 2 or 3 story, 3 unit apartment or condo be constructed? That is the kind of infill Center township will thrive on.

    As to gentrification: Indianapolis has ample areas with affordable housing. We have not reached the point where rising property values in revitalizing neighborhoods are putting a squeeze on lower income residents, esp renters. (There are exceptions and can be dealt with.) I do know larger cities have had problems with this.

  19. John Sterr says:

    Doc Jeff – you succeded in getting me to this blog through Darren. The answer to your question is yes, but not any home. First off there are only five vacated homes to choose from. Two of which are doubles. The real promise is in the over 300 vacant lots the neighborhood has for infill housing. So 300 new homes equals 600 new residents roughly. Add on multi story/unit developments on the periphery and you could get another 200 or so residents. I think this would be a good contribution to density. I don’t think what you are suggesting is that an urban development model should go through our urban core and develop 3 and four story/unit condos and apartments anywhere we can are you?

    Yes I am against wholesale gentrification like what is happening in Fall Creek. Neighborhoods developed in this way tend to be very homogeneous and have trouble thriving for reasons I have detailed in previous posts. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Grass Roots revitilization takes time. The revitialization of the Cottage Home area over 30 years is now bearing fruit and developments like the kind you would like to see are now possible because of them. It is ironic that those efforts flower into schemes that would undermind them. Development for the sake of density alone is dangerous. There are other forces that also contribute to healthy neighborhoods. Bodies in buildings do not necessarily translate into vital, sustainable, and creative communities. That is what we must learn from our past. What works and what doesn’t…

  20. JG says:

    JOHN: I agree. Density is best so long as it does not compromise standards of good development, design, and neighborhood dynamics. Leadership should advocate both.

    Your neighborhood ought to allow, but not demand ~3 story, ~3 unit buildings in many the remaining tracts (e.g. Lowell). Along with that, the neighborhood should DEMAND new use and design restrictions so you do not get shit structures that compromise what has been achieved over the last 20 to 30 years. Cottage Home is truly an oasis that has contributed to the improvements along the Near East side.

  21. John Sterr, the point about financing on doubles is a good one. I think that’s something that should be addressed. Indy needs to maintain its fundamental residential scale while encouraging density. The way I’ve said to do that is through changing the zoning such that anywhere you can build a single family home you can build a double with a carriage house in back. Working with the banks to make financing of these realistic is thus key. I’m going to add that to my “to do” list for Indianapolis.

    Doubles don’t just increase density, btw. They also add to affordable housing. Someone who can’t afford a single family could use rental income from the other unit to make the deal fly. Also, the renter himself benefits. This is exactly why the large number of 2- and 3-flats in Chicago’s neighborhoods have been so critical to boosting that city’s urban fortunes. It’s investment property + affordable rentals.

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