Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Replay: The Brand Promise of Indianapolis

This is premature article. I hoped to develop my thinking much more before posting it. But since there were some questions and a lot of conversation on my HARMONI thread about the brand identity and “brand promise” of Indianapolis, I thought I would post it now, with the idea of stimulating discussions and soliciting ideas.

Please keep in mind while reading that there are two separate questions: what is Indy’s brand identity, and what would the city like it to be in the future?

After my most recent pecha kucha presentation, someone came up to me and asked a question: “What is Indianapolis’ identity?” She noted that when you think “Texas” a whole series of associations comes to mind: ten-gallon hats and cowboys, “everything’s bigger in Texas”, a certain exaggered masculinity combined with traditional “Yes, Ma’am” manners. But Indianapolis didn’t seem to conjure up anything for this person or those she worked with. It was a constant topic of conversation. This is, perhaps, not uncommon in the area. I noted how Louisville struggles with the same questions of identity.

I attribute the lack of strong identity to a few factors:

  • The city’s image is tighly linked to that of Indiana as a whole, and thus to a general Midwest image. It has not traditionally been viewed as distinct from its state in the way that, say, New York City has been.
  • Indianapolis has not historically been prominent on the national radar because it is a smaller city.
  • The images that are conjured up when thinking of the city are those that cause embarrassment to a lot of people locally, such as auto racing and tractors.

Think of the first point. What do you call someone from Indianapolis? I can’t think of anything other than “Hoosier”. As I noted in that pecha kucha presentation, Indianapolis is culturally Hoosier. There is not a huge cultural gulf between the city and the rest of the state. I happen to think that’s a good thing. However, the Indiana association does predominantly conjure rural images such as flat farmland, tractors, small towns, etc. that are clearly not what a city like Indianapolis is about. So I do believe city needs to add a layer of unique civic identity on top of the existing stack (Hoosier, Midwesterner, American, etc). While Indianapolis should by no means try to declare independence from Indiana, it does need to strengthen its own brand.

On the second point, I’ve long noted that while other Midwestern cities are trying to turn around decline, and have to come to terms with their diminished relative standing in the nation, Indy’s profile (and that of some other places like Columbus, Ohio) is on the increase. Indianapolis has never been a larger, more important, more influential player in the nation and world that it is today. Is it in the truly big leagues yet? No, but it is at its highest level ever and is still on the way up. As it continues that upward trajectory, it will start to get more press. For example, the Colts have been incredibly instrumental in bringing Indy to the fore in the public imagination. So assuming they keep it up (and hopefully win a few more Superbowls!), the Colts (and potentially just the Colts blue color), could become more associated with Indy. Raising the city’s profile is a slow process, but the trend lines are positive here.

Lastly, let’s face it, Indy is carrying around a chip on its shoulder about being a “cow town” sort of place. It is desperate to prove its big city bona fides and have people see it as a real big city. That’s why there is so much focus on things like swanky restaurants, shops, pro sports, light rail, etc. Indy is desperate to be perceived as having the trappings of a “real” big city and be taken seriously by the Chicago’s and New York’s of this world. I think this leads to embarrassment about the things the city is associated with and a desire on the part of some to downplay its strongest brand assets.

The best example of this is auto racing. Indianapolis and the 500 Mile Race are basically synonymous around the world. Yet the city does not fully champion it as core to its modern identity. One, because it doesn’t want to be viewed as a one trick pony, which isn’t necessary a bad thing. It sees itself as being more than a one event town and is eager to showcase the new. Two, because in the US auto racing is considered déclassé by the urban elite, and the brand image of the typical Indy car or NASCAR race fan isn’t something the city really wants to portray itself as being all about. Similarly for all the traditional Hoosier attributes such as pork tenderloin sandwiches.

This is typical behavior for all human beings. When we were little kids, we wanted to emulate the older kids. When we were freshman, we were desperate to be cool like the upperclassman. As we mature through the various stages of life, we often come to view the things we left behind with embarrassment, as “little kids stuff”. We go New York and see fashionable people strutting through the streets and we feel inadequate. I understand completely the impulse behind this. But as we fully mature, we settle into our skin and become comfortable with who we are and confident about ourselves. We’re able to resist peer pressure a little better.

I personally try to live by the credo of what I call the “random bastard” theory. That is, why should I care what some random bastard on the street thinks of me? There was a Dr. Pepper commercial a while back that showed a guy happily doing all sorts of embarrassing things for his girlfriend: buying tampons, folding her underwear at the laundromat, holding the clothes she wants to try on at the boutique. The only thing he’s not willing to do is share his Dr. Pepper. We all have a good laugh at this, but I think it illustrates the way that we all as human beings care very much what even random strangers might think, even about activities that are perfectly normal and rational. The first time I took the Eurostar train to Paris, I walked out into the Gare du Nord desperate to look like I knew exactly where the cab stand was. There’s nothing I hate more than looking like I don’t know what I’m doing in public, and especially in Paris I wanted very much to look like I was a sophisticated regular, not a doofus American tourist who’d never set foot in that station before. But what could be more natural than having never been in a particular train station or airport before? It’s a perfectly normal thing. So I wandered around like an idiot tourist for a while and finally found the cab stand. I try to always remember that I shouldn’t spend any time worrying about what those random bastards on the street think. I don’t always succeed, but I do try.

I think there’s a similar process at work in cities. As Indy (and most places) start to move up in the ranks, they want to be taken seriously by the upperclassmen. But the cities that are truly successful and truly maturing have moved beyond imitation of what others deem cool. They have the confidence to boldly chart their own path to the future, and to find their own unique success. Cities, very successful ones, as diverse as Austin, Las Vegas, Portland, and Charleston, SC. have figured this out.

When it comes to brand image, having all those big city trappings ultimately amounts to nothing. Rather, I argue that it is those truly organic local items that are the key to building a future brand image. Look at almost any corporate rebranding campaign. The first thing the company does it try to go back through its history and understand its core essence, its “brand DNA” to use an overworked term. Even the hippest of companies such as fashion houses do this, mining their archives for inspiration for future collections. That’s what Indianapolis needs to do in order to understand where it is and where it should go. Indy can tack on pro sports teams and light rail lines till the cows come home, so to speak, but that provides nothing distinct for anyone to latch onto. And whether things like auto racing and pork tenderloins are good or bad is often purely a matter of attitude and perception.

Consider a few examples. Smoking is considered a lower class activity in America these days. Yet in France they smoke like chimneys and everyone thinks it is cool. Why’s that? People talk about Hoosiers chowing down on deep fried tenderloins and the like as a sign of provincial unsophistication and poor eating habits, then go to Belgium and go gaga over french fries in a greasy paper cone slathered in mayo. I fail to see the big difference. Nobody thinks Chicago hot dogs, Philly cheese steaks, or NYC pizza are bad, despite how fattening and horrible for you they are. They are all sources of pride to their communities. Heck, in Europe they even decided auto racing (Formula 1) was cool and something rich, sophisticated people should be into.

What Indy needs to do create that brand image is to stop being embarrassed at what it is and start showing a little pride and swagger about it. What could be more hillbilly than ten gallon hats and the whole Texas schtick? Yet they are perhaps the most proud people of what they are of any state – and it has worked well for them. Indy seems embarrassed of anything that has a whiff of Southern, blue collar, or rural influence, but the fastest growing cities in America are in the South, where they are proud of their heritage. Why can’t Indy show the same pride and swagger? I’m not talking about the naive boosterism that is so prominent in some circles. That really is embarrasssing. But rather about setting a lofty goal and ambition, based clearly in the local culture. A good mixture of high ambition, bravado, and audacity, all in a local wrapper.

I think a lot of the places of the South are a good model to follow. For many years they were beaten down, economically depressed, with many national image stigmas. Yet they reinvigorated themselves through optimisim, embracing the best parts of their image while shedding the worst (creating this image of “the New South”) and having that swagger I mentioned.

I consider Atlanta as a great example. Indy and Atlanta were about the same size 50 years ago. Today, Atlanta is one of America’s largest, most booming cities. Back in the 80’s when their metro area reached the 2 million mark, civic leaders launched a bunch of balloons to celebrate. Can you imagine such a thing happening in Indy? It would probably be greeted as a sign of the apocalypse by many. When nobody gave them a chance, Atlanta said, “Let’s host the Olympics”. They believe they are destinted to be one of the top world cities. All too often, Indy just seems happy to be here, satisfied with its modest levels of outperformance versus the nation and a region that is suffering.

I just got back from Nashville, a city slightly smaller than Indy and only growing a bit faster, and there is a huge belief in their future as the next great city of the South. It is very much worth a visit to see how they are reinventing themselves, with much bigger plans and ambitions than Indy, even though I’d argue they have little to nothing on Indy and in fact are inferior in many ways. And of course they are building a lot of their identity around country and contemporary Christian music, more déclassé items among the urban elite. But what they’ve done is a put a modern spin on it with their glitzy “Nashvegas” approach. I think it is well worth spending a long weekend in Nashville checking out the vibe in the town.

I believe a successful brand repositioning for a city will probably rely heavily on creating the new brand from the essence of the old, as well as creating a new level of ambition that is combined with an optimistic world view. The first part gives people something they can relate to. The second gives them something to believe in and inspire them. I think this is something that Indy needs to do. It needs to take the best of its existing Hoosier and Midwest identity, get rid of the non-core negative aspects of it, and set forth a new ambition and positive vision for the city and what it can achieve.

So, yes, Indy’s identity is a bit weak today, but I believe the ingrediants are there to really create something. Perhaps one day Indianapolis could even be “the Capital of the New Midwest”. Ok, Chicago will always be the capital of the Midwest, but it is a complete outlier and so different from other places that you can almost consider it its own standalone region – it seems to be doing its best to declare independence from the Midwest in its bid to join the league of world cities. The lessons of Chicago are for the most part not applicable to other Midwestern cities. This leaves room for Indy to take the lead in creating a new identity amongst the real Midwest, and redefining the region for the 21st century. Indianapolis, along with cities like Columbus and Kansas City, offer a real Midwestern model of success, one that can produce viable lessons for how other parts of the Midwest can reinvent themselves to be successful.

What would this involve?

  • Self-conciously define and embrace the “New Midwest” identity, keeping the best of the past and the present, while having the courage to change the things that need it for the future. Change is always a hard sell in Indiana, but if it is not a wholesale throwing out of the current identity, but more of a reshaping, it is probably a lot easier to pull off.
  • Things to keep and build an identity around for the city are auto racing (yes, keep it front and center), the Colts, the small city feel, pork tenderloin sandwiches, the “good, solid, reliable people” ethic, basketball mania, highway orientation (“the Crossroads of America”), patriotism, etc. Think about the imagery the city, the state, the region conjures up. As I noted in my HARMONI review, some of these are tractors in the field, lunch pails and smokestacks, fierce competition on the sports field, airplane engines, big rigs, a researcher’s white lab coat, war memorials, and so on. These are powerful, masculine images. Chicago took more or less those same ingrediants and called itself “the City of Big Shoulders”, an image it is now consciously abandoning (a decision I feel is a terrible one, incidentally). There’s something similar there for Indy, both in terms of expressing what the place has to offer, and as inspiration for a design language and design identity for the city.
  • Here’s my favorite example of taking what is and making it what could be. Hoosiers have a sort of contrarian, even ornery attitude towards the world. Indiana stood virtually alone on DST for the longest time, for example. But this is exactly what I advocate – having the courage to go your own way and not follow the lemmings. In a world where everyone else is following the pack, Indianapolis (and perhaps Indiana) dare to be different. The key is to start applying that attitude towards shaping the future, instead of digging in about the past (e.g., DST). The exact same attitude that so many view as a weakness is in fact, when used properly, a huge strength. This is what I mean by forging the “New Midwest”.
  • Figure out how to leave behind some of the more negative aspects of the current brand image such as environmental degradation, racism, and, for the city itself, some of the more overtly rural imagery inappropriate to an urban envirnoment. For example, I’ve argued before that the black community of Indianapolis should be front and center as one of the central growth pillars for the central city, and represents one of the great untapped resources of the city. Virtually no other cities have blacks as one of their target markets. This leaves a big opportunity for Indy to build on its rich black heritage to create an image of one of America’s great cities for blacks. Incidentally, this was one of the things that has been absolutely critical to Atlanta’s success (“the city too busy to hate”).
  • Be optimistic about the future, and set high goals and ambitions for the city. There are places in the Midwest that deserve to feel gloomy. Detroit, for example. Plenty of places are in bad shape. While Indy is not immune to the current economy or the forces of globalization to be sure, it is actually beating not just the Midwest but the nation at large in things like population growth, percentage of residents with a college degree, new high tech jobs, etc. I personally believe that Indy is a city with huge future potential. It’s not the only Midwest place like that to be sure. But it belongs in the top tier of places, no doubt.
  • Embrace getting bigger and boosting national and international prominence. This alone will create better brand recognition among the public at large. So many people in this day and age are anti-growth. They cite all the perceived negatives of it. But growth is good. Growth is what provides opporunities for people and what ultimately provides the scale necessary to support those urban amenities like rail transit that so many people want. Those types of things take people and wealth to support them, and growth is how you get it.

These are just some ideas. I had intended to let this bake more and think harder about how to extract the current brand image and how specifically to update it and strategies for implementation. Instead, I decided to throw them out there and let the world collaborate on it with me. This is a complex, difficult matter, not one with simple answers. And ultimately, a culture and vision of a place grow organically out of the people who live there. Good leaders can point the way, but it can’t be imposed top down.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

This post originally ran on July 6, 2008.

Topics: Civic Branding, Urban Culture
Cities: Indianapolis

16 Responses to “Replay: The Brand Promise of Indianapolis”

  1. Jon Hendricks says:

    Aaron, you must be reading, working with, and/or socializing with quite a few snobs because I, a fellow Hoosier, never frame things in terms of Indiana comparing itself to and falling short of some uppity crowd. I love the working class foods of Chicago and St. Louis and so too Indiana. It’s too bad that in your experience Indy leaders are making silly insecure comparisons to what they think is trendy.
    To follow up on your Texas example of Indianapolis’s lack of cache, I often simply compare Indiana and Indy to Kentucky since it is right across the River and am astounded at how many, often world class, cultural identifiers Kentucky has – bourbon, horse racing, and bluegrass music. What does Indiana/Indy have going for it? Interesting that many Americans associate the state with farms and rural areas yet the BBC News profile of the state emphasizes heavy manufacturing ( I also find it interesting that you think Indy needs to set itself apart from the state, yet the very Texas emblems you named are largely state identities rather than city-specific. Not that I disagree with you. It’s probably best to focus on the city since that is what is vibrant and bustling and aspirational. Just a fascinating observation.
    I agree with your call to embrace Southern, rural, and blue collar and central and Northern Indiana’s palpable aversion to it. The degree to which central and northern Hoosiers disparage Southern Indiana is asinine.
    Oh, I dunno about that inferior bit about Nashville, though. Nashville has Vanderbilt University, which is definitively on par with IUPUI in terms of research and influence while possessing a music scene which is one of the best in the country especially when considered per capita. That is to say, sure, NYC and LA have more music, but one’s chances are much greater in Nashville of walking into a bar or restaurant or friend’s backyard with a top notch band playing. I and quite possibly every single one of my friends would much rather live in Nashville than Indy. Hands down. No question.
    Before Indy could be a shining beacon of the Mid-West, it would have to surpass Minneapolis-St. Paul, which I do not see happening any time soon not the least of which because Minneapolis is way ahead and always trying to be better and persistently comparing itself to and competing with Seattle and Denver. But maybe Indy could aspire to simply set itself apart and be proud of what it has. Maybe it could be a little Texas.
    I would add high school athletics to Indy’s assets. A buddy of mine from Iowa says he always enjoyed traveling to Indy for soccer competitions. And Indy has a pretty good bicycle trail system via the Monon and Carmel’s solid planning. That is one thing Indy has better than Nashville, though lagging Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Expanding on bicycle and outdoorsy culture would be good assets to leverage what with Blooming and the Hoosier National Forest being close by along with the area reservoirs. Another thing Indy could expand upon — one which Chicago embraced under Daley and Minnesota understood from its beginnings – is an expansive, well connected public park system.

  2. K. R. says:

    Interesting analysis as always, Aaron. I have thought about this topic many times myself, and my own extensive research lends the following theory:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason why Indianapolis lacks a clear identity is because the city itself is a melting pot of cultures, and unlike most other American cities, no clear cultural group has ever emerged on top. The city’s attitudes are the result of blending Northern, Midland, and Southern cultures–more or less in equal proportions. All three cultures have manifested themselves in different ways; in historical terms, Indianapolis owes its industrial heritage to its Northern influence, its religious diversity to its Midland influence, and its conservatism to its Southern influence. Not coincidentally, Indiana functions exactly the same way on a larger scale, but I think the critical difference is that Indianapolis’s urban orientation adds a cosmopolitan dimension that encourages interaction between the groups (thus, progress) unlike the rest of the state, where each cultural group largely stays to its respective region of the state. Thus, Indianapolis grows more dissimilar to Indiana—and more progressive—with each passing day.

    Of course, this is a gross oversimplification, but think about it this way: cities all around the country are in a period of continued divergence from their states, either by the strengthening of their existing identities (New York) or the creation of entirely new ones (Austin). In Indianapolis’s case, its identity is still a work in progress, which is why the city has not experienced its boom period yet and why the next two decades are critical to the development of a brand promise. Is the city going to take the suburban, cookie cutter, generic path, or the urban, smart growth, placemaking path? Unfortunately, I’m leaning towards the former, as much of the city’s recent development seems to be more in accordance with that strategy–although I’d like to be proven wrong!

    Anyway, what does all this have to do with a brand promise? I’m not entirely sure, but I believe analyzing the underlying culture would be more helpful in figuring things out rather than looking at things in terms of a simple urban vs. rural point-of-view. So, I’d have to disagree with you in that Indianapolis should embrace “Hoosierness” as its brand; instead, perhaps the answer for Indianapolis should be to capitalize on its status as a cultural melting pot and develop its brand that way. We could become an emerging focal point for international culture in the “new Midwest”. We’re already seeing this phenomenon to some extent in certain neighborhoods in the city.

    At the same time, we could also stand to do a better job of emphasizing local emblems more often. Our cityscape is not particularly impressive, and I hate to see it used by the media to market Indianapolis (no city should use its skyline as its identifying symbol, unless its name is New York). Why use an anonymous cluster of bank towers to represent Indianapolis when we have an awesome municipal flag and a legacy system of monuments that people can immediately associate with the city? Aesthetic details are important, too. I like your idea of city flags on street signs. Perhaps we can place small obelisks or similar monuments at the entrances to city neighborhoods (like the ones at 38th and Meridian). Our streets are wide, so perhaps we could install landscaped medians of international art, which would also uniquely identify our arterials. The possibilities are endless.

    One more thing: the demonym for a person from Indianapolis is Indianapolitan (IN-dee-uh-nuh-PALL-ih-ten), a word that I use often as it helps instill pride amongst other Indianapolitans.

  3. George Mattei says:

    Indianapolitan, I like it!

    Aaron, I could have been reading this about Columbus. Subsititute “Columbus” for Indianapolis and “OSU Football” for the Indianapolis 500 and it would be completely applicable.

    The bottom line I eventually realized about Columbus was this: until we believe in ourselves no one will believe in us. That may be what you are saying about Indianapolis in a round-about way in this article. Developing pride in your own local identity, owning your history, etc., sound to me like code for “believe in yourself”.

    I liken it to being the new kid on the playground-if you come in saying “Hey guys, let me play, I’m cool, I really am!” that totally tells everyone you don’t REALLY think you belong. If you come in and just be yourself, you’ll be fine. I thnk Indianapolis and Columbus and other Midwestern cities for some reason are so self-conscious that they have a hard time jsut being themselves-which leads to these branding issues.

  4. Phil Lavoie says:

    I moved to Indianapolis over 5 years ago, primarily due to the city’s affordability. I have fallen in love with this great city for many reasons.

    The biggest thing Indy has going for it is how easy it is to be “Big man on campus.”

    I think that Indy is the best place in the country to start a tech com

  5. Phil Lavoie says:

    Tech company. It is far easier to afford a good life, attract local investors, obtain hard working and educated talent than it would be on the coasts.

    We should embrace these values as well.

  6. Rod Stevens says:


    I like the post, but think you and others that are tussling with this brand problem are making the question too complex.

    The definition of a brand is “a promise delivered”. Sometimes we can’t even boil this promise down into words, although everyone tries. Nordstrom, for example, doesn’t have a real brand statement, although everyone knows it stands for unsurpassed service. New Orleans is sin city, the place to go and be a bad Baptist, and Boston’s is Bean Town, the place of old Yankee behavior, and the history that goes with it. Portland doesn’t have words to describe its brand, although the promise there is quirky, out-of-the-box thinking on things urban and green. Seattle had a brand but lost it. Vancouver’s brand is actually the slogan for BC, “super natural”, meaning a cosmopolitan city on steroids next to nature.

    You almost can’t give yourself a brand, you have to earn it. If you do want a brand, it has to be so true to your nature that you already deliver it. That’s the promise, the personality of the place, the thing they expect when they go there. (Herb Caen used to call San Francisco “Baghdad by the Bay”, and in many ways that is as fitting a description of its exotic qualities as any.) I don’t know what makes Indianapolis strong, but there is obviously some kind of positive Midwest attitude or value at play there that makes you and others love the place.

    If I was running a branding strategy, I would pose that very question: what makes you love this place? What is it about its attitudes-not its business, not its public places, not its events- but its behavior that makes you want to identify and be a part of this place? What makes it feel like your home town? This is a kind of psychological analysis that most business types are afraid to engage in, but it is at the heart of why we attach ourselves to places and how we can get others to do so.

  7. Aaron,
    “The Brand of Indianapolis” is a wonderful post. I could relate to everything in your post for two reasons. I was born in raised in central Indiana (New Castle), and know Indianapolis well. Secondly, I now live in San Diego, which suffers from much of the same identity crisis as you describe. In fact, I’ve often used the analogy that San Diego is like living in Indianapolis — only with much, much better weather.

    I believe Indianapolis has two fundamental issues it must address before it can work toward reaching great city status.

    One thing stood about about the cities you mention, Austin, Chicago, Charlotte, Portland, Seattle, etc. Those cities are know for their openness, tolerance, and liberal slant. Even in Texas, Austin is known as a liberal oasis. This reminded me of the book “The Creative Class”, with which I am sure you are familiar. Could Indianapolis’ conservatism be hurting it’s chances for real innovation? Innovative people are attracted to innovative attitudes and atmospheres. And innovation, by requiring constant change, is liberal by definition. This also hits home personally, because as a gay man I fled Indiana for more tolerant areas of the country. Indianapolis’ conservatism is partially to blame for the drain of creative, innovative, and out of the ordinary people that are essential to a great city. A very public campaign to promote Indianapolis as an open, welcoming and tolerant city would be a good start.

    Indianapolis must also look at it’s Built Environment. It has no built downtown core to brand. Have you ever looked at the ratio of parking lots in downtown Indianapolis? It is very high. Some urbanist see this is as a key indicator of a failing city – or city that will fail. Indianapolis needs a BUILT identity. It must concentrate enough people, with a wide mixture of uses, in the small area of downtown. Otherwise, it will never succeed. Smart Growth infill with less of an emphasis on cars is needed. To paraphrase President Reagan, “Mayor Ballard — tear down those parking lots!”

    With a REAL central city core that can be branded, and a more open and tolerant attitude, Indianapolis can begin to attract the innovative and creative people that will help propel it toward great city status. Otherwise, there will be no there, there. Ever.

  8. Matthew Hall says:

    I think K.R. has a point. It seems that outside of the South cities with a strong positive image either seem to be the cultural exception to their larger region like austin and in a way Seattle and portland, or have deep and strong historical roots like New York, charleston, boston, san francisco. In the South it seems that the recent success of many cities are also the result of more than a century of hard work to re-imagine and project their new images. It seems to me that Indy will just have to pay its dues and develop an image the old fashioned way. . . over time and fashioned out of real experience.

  9. Tiffany says:

    I love this post and will likely spend a lot of time pondering what I just read in the coming hours.
    I moved here from Los Angeles 8 years ago because Indianapolis is a city that has town-like qualities. This was the same feeling that Portland, OR, conjured, and actually, where I’d first wanted to move. This city won out for two primary reasons. 1. It was more affordable 2. I felt like I might make a contribution that made a difference here. There is so much opportunity to create something ‘new’ here, and I felt like when I chose this city, I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd. This just felt like a safer environment to try out some ideas while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grow up.
    Clearly, good ideas will be embraced and supported. Look at the food truck scene evolving here, for example. The lads that started West Coast Tacos visited from California, saw a wide open market, burst onto the scene with a quality, inexpensive product and people flocked to them in droves. And now: look at the brigade of trucks that have since followed! I think that if Indianapolis were to be illustrated by two hands about to ‘high-five’, we are half way to the clasping clap at the top–we just need a little more momentum.

  10. Jon Hendricks says:

    I wish there were veracity to your proposal that tolerant, open-minded places were better positioned economically, but I don’t think it holds up to examination. To wit, Texas is one the most culturally conservative places in the country as well as one of the most economically successful. Tolerance may provide some contribution to economic competitiveness, but clearly it can be greatly outweighed by other factors. Given that Indiana is quite culturally conservative, achieving greater tolerance for gays would require a huge expenditure of resources, time, effort, and political capital which in the end may still fail to accomplish significant change anytime soon all the while it would alienate a substantial portion of the public. Hence, advocating for greater tolerance for gays does not appear to be a good investment for the purposes of economic development.

    Furthermore, one should not conflate open to new ideas with liberal. Unions are liberal but are often opposed to innovation while, anectdotally, I know several people who are culturally conservative but simultaneously early adopters of new technology and business models. And then there’s Carmel, Indiana which has been nicely covered by Urbanophile for pushing the envelope on a number of planning initiatives like roundabouts and multi-use trails but which is, as I’m sure you know, a very conservative, overwhelmingly white upper-middle class suburb.

  11. Jon Hendricks says:

    Very interesting that you chose Indy over Portland. That’s not a comparison I hear made often. Glad you are happy with your choice!

  12. K. R. says:

    Carmel’s conservatism is more of a fiscal conservatism and not so much a social conservatism.

    Not coincidentally, Carmel is an extension of Indianapolis’s “favored quarter”, a term referring to the tendency of high income households to cluster in a wedge-shaped section of a city. This section will typically be perceived to have the highest land values, often historically tied to factors such as prevailing winds and elevation.

    This type of geographic phenomena is not unique to Indianapolis; in fact, you can see it in practically any sizable city in the United States.

  13. Mary says:

    Surely that’s a joke to compare IUPUI with Vanderbilt.

  14. KCartsy says:

    Rod Stevens post is dead on.

  15. Jon Hendricks says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by joke; whether you are saying that Vanderbilt blows IUPUI away or vice versa. The point I was trying to make is that in terms of assets for metropolitan success, Vanderbilt is at least as as important as IUPUI if not more so. IUPUI quite possibly, though I was unable to find comparable numbers, employs more people but Vanderbilt is held in higher regard. The two institutions are similar in size in R&D (in FY 2009, IU had $441 million in total R&D expenditures while Vanderbilt was at $431 million), but when it comes to the esteemed federal research dollars, Vanderbilt is clearly out front with $336 million while IU has $197 million which is not surprising considering Vanderbilt’s professional, graduate, and research programs are more prestigious with principle investigators being recruited from Harvard.

    Going to my broader point about Nashville’s assets vis-a-vis Indy, Nashville also has America’s largest privately owned hospital group (HCA) and a litany of life science and hospital companies catering to HCA and Vandy.

    Sources:, Tables 27, 28

  16. Louis Gibson says:

    Interesting, I have spent my whole life trying to stay away from labels. As soon as you place one, you place that thing in a box so that it can be compartmentalized, ranked and prioritized. I prefer great generalizations, I’ll except Human and American, if you call me a Buckeye transplanted in Hoosier land you only speak the truth about my historical and current geographical status. Because I live here I know a little (very little) about Indy Car and basketball. I played high school football and I had a distant Cousin who played for a while for the Colts, But I love the Cincinnati Reds so I’m a reds fan.

    But I guess that we are talking marketing, and standing head and shoulders above the rest, somehow. I guess if we don’t build our own image, we leave ourselves open to allow someone else to do it for us. However, they will do that anyway if the goal is procuring a prize, recognition or some other derivative of power or wealth. I have friends who want us to be a “blue state” or a red one for others. So that becomes more important than solving complex social issues.

    I am Just so tired of being shoved into a box of preconceived notions because it so much easier, I just avoid it all together. And sadly, that’s why I find myself at odds with people try to make me part of the standard landscape.

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.

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