Thursday, December 1st, 2011

How to Revitalize Your Urban Core Neighborhoods

I was down in Indianapolis the last two days speaking at a couple of events. One of them was a lunch discussion sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council on how to revitalize the urban core of Indianapolis.

The audio of this discussion is available as a podcast and I highly recommend listening to it. I generally don’t ask people to listen to an hour of anything, much less me, but I think this encapsulates a lot of the work I’ve tried to bring out in the blog over the last few years. This includes things like finding market segments of people to attract to your city, working with your essential city character, public policy around zoning and business climate, historic preservation, urban culture and social networks, inner ring suburbs, immigration, making the sale to talent and more. A lot of the info is very applicable to any tier 2/tier 3 type city, so please feel free to take any of the ideas for yourself.

The embedded audio won’t display in Google Reader or email so click here to pull it up in a web page. You can skip the intro by clicking ahead directly to 5:00 in the discussion.

This was by design a no-prep session, so I’m not at my most polished, and I’ll admit throwing some red meat the crowd by taking a few pot shots at other cities, but hopefully you can forgive me that. In case you wonder, Michael Huber is the deputy mayor of Indianapolis. Indy Star metro columnist Erika Smith (a Cleveland native) was the moderator, and she wrote a follow-up column on the event you can read.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Historic Preservation, Public Policy, Strategic Planning, Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: Indianapolis

10 Responses to “How to Revitalize Your Urban Core Neighborhoods”

  1. Jim Russell says:

    Great listen. Two things stand out (for me):

    1) Your comment about inmigrants improving schools instead of improving schools to attract people is great launching point for what I think would be a valuable discussion.

    2) There is more to the insularity of Cleveland anecdote. I conducted three focus group in Cleveland and asked some questions about social networking and the newcomer/returnee experience. I learned from a few respondents about “cracking the code”. There’s an established pathway to get into these circles. You have to learn about it. Once you do, the networking is easy.

  2. Thanks, Jim. Can you share what the secret to penetrating those networks is? I’d be curious to know.

  3. Jim Russell says:

    In the Cleveland case, a trailing spouse of a return migrant talked about networking over a cup of coffee. There were a few nods of agreement from other respondents who made positive comments about the move to Cleveland. Others who had negative experiences (people on the cusp of leaving out of frustration) were interested in learning more about how to successfully network in Cleveland.

    The results of the focus group indicate that there are discernible best practices for relocating to Cleveland. The migrants could learn a great deal from each other and mitigate some of the failed migration and generate more inmigration, particularly to the urban core.

  4. John Morris says:

    There was a lot of content there, most of which seemed on point-although I don’t know Indy.

    A lot of truth in the idea that random, serendipitous, connections are not that easy to make in very large cities.
    It seemed like in NY, it would happen in certain subcultures, or industries and at the neighborhood level.

    A whole lot of truth, that few cities seem to be interested in attracting and or retaining black residents-and that this could be a very significant market.

    Pittsburgh has a long history of obsessing over a “brain drain” that mostly stopped many years ago-but doesn’t seem to about the rapid loss of it’s black middle class.

  5. Jeff G says:

    Too many of the residents of the older historically designated neighborhoods want only single family infill or NO infill at all. I think much of it is from a fear that increasing density and the number of renters will disrupt their quiet life. An example from Indianapolis is Herron Morton which is a beautiful restored neighborhood that suffers from 1) approximately 30% empty lots, and 2) almost no commerical, office, or civic institutions.

    Tragically these residents are many of the same people who saved much of the city from the bulldozers decades ago. They are now standing in the way of its growth. The newer greenfield suburbs are more than happy to grab it. Scary thought for the future of the city.

  6. Very good comments on strengthening private property rights as it applies to development. As an architect who believes in preserving good architecture, I find it sad that many legitimate architectural preservation groups have been hijacked by NIMBY’s and the anti-development crowd.

    Maintaining a balance of power between the interest groups is key. Neighborhood citizens are, by nature, NIMBY’s. They moved to the neighborhood because they like it, and the longer they are there, the less they want to see it change. We need to accept that. Planners, on the other hand, tend to be visionaries and focus on big ideas. A third party needs to balance the two and weigh the concerns of citizens with the vision of designers. Ideally this third party has concern for both the citizens and the future of The City.

    I’m afraid right now, the balance has shifted to the neighborhoods and NIMBY’s. It should be noted that the track record of planners and architects are partially to blame for this. You are correct when you said that the Planning and ordinances that we had didn’t work, and now we are stuck with them. Kind of like the tax code …. we need to throw them out and simplify.

    Thanks for the thought provoking podcast.

  7. Jon B says:

    This is great, I wish I could have been there.
    Love the statement “The social life of Indianapolis happens in the backyards”….so true.

    Thanks for posting this podcast.

  8. dominc says:

    Cut to chase. I liked the quote from Sears tower developer that the only risk in development is political risk. So true. Isn’t our landscape nothing more than policy and the will of special interest? I grew up in Indy and left in the late 80’s. What you say to market the single family home is admirable but, a home does not make a liveable city. Indy should capitalize on the green space near the golf courses on the near westside. The green space along the canal,fall creek, brookside neighborhood and for what it is worth take a look at the old trolley stops and intice business to populate those corners again. A campaign to get people out of their backyards and onto bikes in Indy might go alot further than saying “we have great single family houses” what’s the benefit of a house when you don’t have ameneties nearby? Maybe come up to Minneapolis/St. Paul sometime. Political risk is nothing new up here, development has been subject to it for over 100 years, proof is in the city of lakes and river road green spaces. Indy could do the same thing if there was a will. thanks for listening

  9. Keith M. says:

    Dominc, I was just going to touch on the same point about single family homes. I’m from Columbus, which has neighborhoods with lots of quality brick homes that you don’t see in nearly as many areas of Mpls. Yet in neighborhoods not centered on the main drag (High St) and a couple of exceptions in the near east side, superior housing stock has not translated into revitalization and there’s really nothing you would want to walk to in these areas: restaurants are low-quality pizza/gyro joints that no one outside of the neighborhood bothers visiting and there are tons of liquor stores and maybe a couple of dodgy bars.

    It just seems like people are willing to forgo nicer homes for proximity to a good up-and-coming business district (based on my visits to several Mpls neighborhoods), which is a more tangible way to gauge the health of an area. Olde Towne East in Columbus has lots of revitalized residential streets, but for anyone just driving down the main commercial street they would have no idea that improvements have been made if that’s their only impression and it’s still as bad as it was 20 years ago: empty storefronts and dumpy businesses like carry outs.

  10. I recently attended a conference where the president of Portland, OR’s Metro regional government stated that in spite of popular support for urban growth boundaries; there is also strong resistance to infill developments.

    Portland has extremely low apartment vacancy rates, yet developers proposing multistory transit oriented development projects are getting a lot of resistance.

    It seems to me that this indicates a significant constituency that essentially wants “no change”.

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

About the Urbanophile


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

Full Bio


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



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