Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Collective Pride, Worthy Choices by John L. Krauss

When you ask people locally where they’re from, they’ll specify an area of our community. They’ll say, “I’m from Fishers,” or Avon or Greenwood.

But when traveling, those same people will answer the question differently. They’ll say, “I’m from Indianapolis.”

Indianapolis is Central Indiana’s focal point. If our region were a newspaper, Indianapolis would be the banner headline. If we were sports apparel, it would be our swoosh. If we were a hit song, it would be our chorus.

But while the region needs Indianapolis to be strong, Indianapolis cannot sustain and grow its national status without strong surrounding communities.

In other words, to be a super city, we must be a super region.

To explain our interdependence, choose your favorite cliché: “You can’t be a suburb of nothing.” “We’re all in this together.” “A rising tide lifts all boats.” All these notions are true. So rather than erect more barriers born of fear and parochialism, it’s in our individual and collective best interest to celebrate and invest in regionalism.

Too often, when people hear “regionalism,” they fear we have to become homogenous – that we must evolve into a one-size-fits-all, nine-county Uni-Gov where all the shots are called from the 25th floor of Indianapolis’ City-County Building.

Our super-city status, however, depends not on homogeneity, but on ever-expanding choices available to all of our residents, visitors, businesses, students and more.

From arts to sports, libraries to restaurants, established neighborhoods to new exurbs, choice is what makes our community superb.

We’re more likely to sustain and grow our job market with a broad choice of industries and businesses.

We’re more likely to build value in our homes and control our cost of living with a choice of transportation (e.g., cars, commuter rail, buses).

We’re more likely to have affordable, desirable housing for all if we have choices in every price range and living style.

We’re more likely to have a well-educated work force if we have high-quality school choices for all of our students.

We’re more likely to enhance human health if we have choices for recreation, medical research, health education and treatment of disease.

We’re more likely to stem the brain drain, raise children who want to live here, and attract workers from other places if we have choices in education, enrichment and entertainment.

We’re more likely to succeed in a global economy if we have cultural choices that attract, retain and engage diverse people. Call it a mosaic, a cornucopia or quilt, choices are Central Indiana’s linchpin, our point of difference, our brand. Rather than flee from those choices or isolate one another, we must encourage and invest in them.

In so doing, it’s important that we value and acknowledge the ideas and choices of all kinds of people from all over the region, not just those that emerge from the center outward or from the top down. In considering those diverse ideas and choices, we must value not only our self-interest, but also our collective interest; not only short-term investment, but also long-term return on that investment.

Decades ago, when Uni-Gov was passed, Indiana lawmakers decided that Indianapolis wouldn’t be allowed to grow beyond its Marion County boundaries. Consequently, we are fiscally landlocked.

Today, that puts Indianapolis at risk from a tax base too small to support the city itself and to drive the region and state that depend upon it. Indianapolis is, after all, the principal economic engine not only for Central Indiana, but also for the state.

There’d undoubtedly be great resistance (as there should be) to such alternatives as commuter taxes. But we do need to explore region-wide, issue-specific investments in such measures as mass transit, quality of life or quality water – areas with collective responsibility that reap collective benefit.

We’ve come a long way since the days when we had few choices. Many people from within this city and beyond take pride in telling the world, “I’m from Indianapolis.” But we can’t have it both ways. A community worthy of collective pride depends on choices worthy of collective investment.

John Krauss directs the Indiana University Public Policy Institute and its Center for Urban Policy and the Environment.

This column originally appeared in the Indianapolis Star on February 6, 2010. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Topics: Public Safety, Regionalism
Cities: Indianapolis

6 Responses to “Collective Pride, Worthy Choices by John L. Krauss”

  1. George Mattei says:

    I noted a distinct phenomenon in the Northeast, where I grew up. People used their hometown to describe where they were from even when they were travelling. I think it is due to a couple of factors:
    -The fact that there are multiple cities whose suburbs overlap. If you are from a town in central Jersey, is it a suburb of New York, or Philly, or maybe Trenton or Newark?
    -The old-world pedigree and ambiance that the east strives to attain. Many of these towns were founded 400 years ago, and to cede their personality to the larger metro area is just unthinkable for many in the northeast.

    The question is-does this stifle growth?

  2. Wad says:

    George, to answer your question, yes.

    Jacobs in her urban economics books held up the example of the Boston area in the postwar period. It was a very wealthy area, but also economically stagnant.

    New England’s mills and other industrial capacity had been decimated, yet the wealthy were a rentier class. They were fully invested, and the productive economy was suffering under a capital trap.

    Sen. Ralph Flanders responded to this condition by starting what would be known as venture capital today. This led to Route 128.

    We have another example of this in the West Coast.

    Santa Barbara is California’s old-money haven.

    It is an extraordinarily expensive city, yet at the same time economically passive. It’s largest private industry is tourism, and its largest employers are public-sector.

    While the rest of Southern California is dominated by outsiders, Santa Barbara is where people name-drop their lineage as a social currency. Having an ancestor dating back to the mission days or the land-grant days and saying you’re a multi-generation Santa Barbaran confers tremendous status.

    The romanticism carries through in the stratospheric land prices, strict anti-growth policies, as well as Mission-style being the area’s architectural orthodoxy.

    Santa Barbara doesn’t want productive economic growth, and it’s good at keeping it out. The elites don’t feel the pressure to grow the economy, since wealth is feudal. Land is expensive, will stay that way and everyone knows it.

    This is a large reason why the poorer and expansionist north Santa Barbara County (Lompoc and Santa Maria) threatened to break away and form its own county.

  3. Kurt L says:


    The crux here is that the stakeholders in the various entities (cities, towns, counties, NGOs, etc) not only have to buy into this, but have to come to some kind of consensus regarding on just how this bus gets driven (as I’m sure you know quite well).

    So far, that seems to be an insurmountable barrier to super-regional cooperation, planning, and the like in the Indy region. Nobody wants to be seen as the one who blinks, perhaps appearing to give away the farm.

    Currently, do you really see anybody (as in stakeholder) interested in jumpstarting a dialogue like this? I don’t.

  4. Eric says:

    We’re more likely to have a well-educated work force if we have high-quality school choices for all of our students.

    Which means ensuring that all students’ parents are truly able to choose a high-quality school, whether that means being able to afford a charter school or whatever. But more importantly, we need high-quality home environments and strong role models for all of our students too.

  5. John Morris says:

    Honestly, a useless, non specific pile of fluff.Hopefully the era of “we need to invest”, hand over the money with no questions era is over.

    The big questions are what to invest in and more importantly, who decides. Pushing more decision making away from the individual and local communities only increases the odds of bad, destructive spending.

    The concept of value capture for transit, is a great example of a good idea that unlocks control and adds value at the local level.Things have to work and make sense locally first.

  6. John Morris says:

    Comming from NYC, when I hear “regional thinking”, I think of Robert Moses and the Cross Bronx Expressway.

    Luckily, Ny is still there cause Jane Jacobs and some locals stood in the way.

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