CEOs for Cities recently held an event called the Livability Challenge in Indianapolis. You can view a collection of many of the excellent presentations on the event web site. Among its major themes was creating more beautiful cities.
I did not attend this, but someone who did told me, “The last 3 days have been some of the most inspiring days of my civic life in Indianapolis.” I’m not surprised. CEOs for Cities a) just gets it and b) puts on the best events I know, both from a content and organization perspective. If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of their events, I can’t encourage you enough to do so.
But having an inspiring conference does nothing for you if you don’t follow through on it and execute. The real problem in cities isn’t coming up with good ideas, but actually executing them. I know for a fact that Indianapolis has no shortage of good ideas. I’d like to think that I’ve provided a large number of very low cost good suggestions over the last four years on this blog. But what has been done?
In the spirit of livability and beauty, I want to highlight a couple of concrete actions that can be taken right now, immediately, that require little to no money and would contribute to a more beautiful, more livable city in Indianapolis.
Old City Hall Sign
Indianapolis will proudly talk about the world class Indy Cultural Trail downtown. But right along this $75 million show place is the remains of an old city-owned sign in from the old City Hall building:
Pretty ghetto to put it mildly. This building was temporarily used as the main library during a renovation and expansion project of the central library building. The top portion of the sign used to hold a library logo. Someone went to enough trouble to remove that, but left this behind.
Here’s the sign in context along the Cultural Trail.
Now is the time for someone to pick up a phone, call DPW, and have them send a truck over immediately to get rid of that thing.
What kind of message does this send to an outsider who has heard Indy brag about this Cultural Trail? What are they likely to think when they see this in the core of downtown right along it?
Keystone Ave. Big Green Signs
There’s an interchange on the North Side at Keystone and 86th St. that used to be owned by the state but was taken over by the city many years ago during the Goldsmith administration. The state ripped down their SR 431 logo off the two big green signs there, and they’ve sat rotting away ever since:
This looks like a still from a post-apocalyptic thriller.
What’s crazy about this is that it isn’t in some run down, blighted ‘hood. Directly on the other side of that bridge is a large office park with the tallest building in suburban Indianapolis and the Keystone at the Crossing mall, which is the most upscale shopping center in the state, with stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany’s.
Again, you’re a visitor, prospective resident, someone coming to a job interview in one of those office buildings, and you see this. What are you likely to think about Indianapolis?
The fact that this sign says “Carmel” is telling. The border of Carmel is one mile north. And once you hit it at 96th St., everything is pristine. They wouldn’t tolerate this kind of blight, certainly not when the government owns it. Combine stuff like this with better schools and lower taxes and it is any wonder that those with choices are bailing out of Marion County?
Someone once told me they thought INDOT still owned that sign. Does it look like INDOT thinks they own it? Send a crew out there one night ASAP and take both of these things – and all the brackets and such – down. There’s no need to even replace them. Many cities avoid the use of big green signs at just this type of interchange.
Our central cities like Indianapolis are in a brutally competitive market. To win you’ve got to bring your A game every day. You’ve got to show that you have some pride in your city. Cleaning up obvious blight in high profile locations is an easy place to start.
Let me stress that I don’t blame the current administration for this situation. As I noted, those green signs are on their third mayor now, for example. No, this sort of thing has been standard operating procedure for far too long. It’s time to get serious through both words and actions on walking the real beauty and livability walk. There are huge numbers of low cost items just like this that could be done starting today to begin the process of building momentum, racking up wins, and showing that the quality of space in the city is on an upward, not downward trajectory.