Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Why I Don’t Live In Indianapolis

It’s no secret that Indianapolis has been a huge focus of my blog over the years. One of the biggest criticisms I get here, especially when I ding some other city, is that I’m nothing more than a mindless booster for Indy. While I like to think I’ve given the city a lot of tough love over the years, it’s definitely true that I’ve had many, many good things to say, and I have no problem saying that I’m a big fan of the city overall.

Why then, might one ask, don’t I actually live in Indianapolis?

The answer is multifaceted, but without a doubt one key reason is that I simply can’t sign up to what the city is doing in its urban environment. Indy is going one direction, I’m going another. It’s as simple as that.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. The city recently announced a plan to subsidize a mixed used development on a parcel in the core of downtown, a project called “Block 400.” It would include apartments, retail, etc – all good. While the concept is great, the design is another matter. I could go into depth on the monotony of the structure and other matters, but what I want to show you instead is a parking garage that will house employees from One America insurance. Here was an initial rendering of the garage:

It’s about as boring a garage as can be imagined. It’s on a prime block just steps from Monument Circle, but has no street level retail or other interest. It’s just a dead parking garage.

Various folks took umbrage at this, so the developer decided to tack on some awnings, which got them approved by the city’s hearing examiner. Here’s their updated design:

Let’s be honest: this isn’t a garage, it’s urban design garbage. And guess what? The city of Indianapolis itself is paying to build it.

I don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I can certainly understand that there are economic constraints, tradeoffs to be made, etc. And not every project can be a home run.

But this isn’t unusual at all – this is standard operating procedure for Indianapolis. This is par for the course. This is just what Indianapolis builds. I cannot name another major city in the United States where the city’s own developer community (including Flaherty and Collins, the developer of this property), own architectural firms (including CSO Architects, who designed this) and own city government so consistently produce subpar development.

I’m not exaggerating at all. And this isn’t even the worst offender. For example, here’s another downtown development that not only sucks out loud, but the state fire marshal condemned it and forced residents to move out:

While I’ve named the names of the folks involved in the parking garage and they certainly deserve it, let’s not focus overly on them. This trend goes back a really long way, and is pervasive. The previous city administration, which was of a different political party, behaved no differently. Partially it’s a result of a lack of good urban history of the type that exists in other places. So there isn’t a good template ingrained in the city to follow.

But ultimately, as I’ve written before, it’s a crisis of values.

Indianapolis is the place where, as a rule, not good enough is more than good enough for most people, even community leadership.

That’s why I don’t live there. Because that’s not good enough for me. I may not be perfect, but I aspire to more than mediocrity. I don’t expect any city to be perfect or all the way there yet. You can inspire people, including me, to join your army to take hamburger hill or to get behind the rock and push, if you provide a vision of what can be. That’s one reason people are planting their flag in Detroit. It’s the hope of the possible.

But when it’s clear that the city itself – and I mean that in the broadest sense – has decided it wants to go march off in a different direction, it’s a lot harder to enlist in that army, no matter how much you might want to.

Alas, it seems lots of people agree with me – on the actions if not the reasons – as Center Township (the urban core) lost another 24,000 people in the 2000s. They voted with their feet – just like tens of thousands of others have been continuously voting with their feet since 1950 – to go build a better life for themselves somewhere else.

And in a decade where downtowns made strong residential comebacks, with young people streaming in to live in them, Indianapolis was an exception. Its downtown* added less than a 1000 residents, and their distribution suggests that almost all of that might be a result of jail population expansion. Even downtown Cleveland did better.

I’m sure Indy’s boosters will be happy to talk about world class parts of downtown like Monument Circle, the Cultural Trail, Georgia St., etc. And these are legitimately first rate. Actually, that makes it worse. It shows that Indianapolis can compete with the best if it wants to, but most of the time it just doesn’t care to. It’s not ignorance. The city knows that to do, it just doesn’t want to do it.

For some reason locals seem to think that doing it right should be reserved for a handful of special places and occasions. But the mark of at great city isn’t how it treats its special places – everybody does that right – but how it treats its ordinary ones. Indy is like the guy who thinks he can get away with wearing the same old dirty clothes fives days in a row and not taking showers, as long he slaps on a little top shelf cologne before he leaves the house. I’ve got news for you, people are going to notice.

Indianapolis retains a very compelling regional story to tell. There are tons of reasons for people to come to or build a business in, metropolitan Indianapolis. But the real story there is mostly in the suburbs.

Yet I believe even the urban core of this not very historically urban city could be compelling as well – if it wanted to be. Indianapolis has all the potential in the world. Indy is like the up and coming star at a company whose boss pulls him aside one day and says, “You’ve got all the potential in the world, but if you want to get that big promotion, you need to stop doing/start doing X, Y, or Z.” Anybody who has made it to the top was fortunately enough to have somebody give them one or more of those good kicks in the pants along the way.

Indy, unfortunately, has heard the message many times before from many different people, and has elected not to do anything about it.

Locals love to make excuses for why things can’t be better. F&C’s development director for the project said of the garage, “Some things aren’t achievable.” What is so different about Indianapolis that makes that true there but no where else? What miracle of economics allowed similar cities like Nashville or Cincinnati or Columbus to build many urbanistically correct new developments in those places while somehow it is impossible in Indianapolis? Maybe it’s time to recruit some out of town developers and architectural firms who have a different attitude towards the possible.

I would encourage Indy’s leaders to take a short hour and a half drive to downtown Cincinnati and take a look around what’s there. Not the old buildings, but the new ones. Most of them are candidly quite bland architecturally, but from an urbanism perspective – and be sure to take someone with you know what’s what they are talking about on this so that they can point it all out – even the bottom quartile of new buildings in downtown Cincinnati beat most of the top 5% of what’s been build in downtown Indy.

I’ve listened to various civic leaders of late talk about how rebuilding the urban core is now a big priority of the city. If that’s true, and business as usual has been leading to a catastrophic population collapse for some time, wouldn’t you think that you might, you know, try something different? Apparently not.

When people in Indy want to do something, they can. That’s why they built an amazing franchise in events hosting, particularly sports. They understand what world class is there, they understand the competitive marketplace, and they do what it takes to succeed – including building world class venues, districts, and capabilities to make it happen. So why hasn’t it happened elsewhere?

I was involved in a discussion about building a high tech industry in Indianapolis a few years ago. Someone boldly said that since Indy had been able to pull off building the sports cluster, it should be very capable of equally pulling off a high tech cluster to rival top hubs in the country. A friend of mine was very dubious about this, and said insightfully, “Sports succeeded because sports is consistent with the state of mind (i.e, the culture, values, and patterns of life) of Indiana. But high tech is more consistent with the state of mind of other places and not so much with Indiana.” Indianapolis is #1 in sports. And while it’s done well in some parts of tech, I don’t see how you could really rate it as more than the middle of the pack nationally on that.

“State of mind” makes a big difference. That’s ultimately a question people ask themselves these days, whether it is a company and a prospective employee sizing each other up, a consultant and client, or a city and a prospective resident or business. The most important question is always, “Is there a cultural fit?”

In an era where an ability to attract talent is perhaps the defining characteristic of urban success over the long term, Indy needs to ask itself the hard questions. How competitive is it? I’d have to say right now that it does a great job for people who want to live in a suburban environment like Carmel or Fishers. That’s very, very important and not to be minimized.

But there are people out there that want more, who prefer different types of environments. Right now Indy is simply not very competitive in that market. And if it keeps on its current path, it never will be. Convince yourself otherwise by finding the exceptions to the rule and getting them to gush about how great things are. But the numbers don’t lie.

Like that young up and coming employee who’s got the goods but has a few problem areas that will, if not fixed, hold him back, Indy needs to take a serious gut check about the things that hold it back – and an embrace of mediocrity and lack of seriousness in its approach to urban core development are chief among them.

Ultimately as I said it’s a question a values. There’s nothing wrong with being happy about where you are. Most people don’t have that burning ambition to make it higher, nor a passion for excellence. In this competitive world a lax attitude will probably undermine your performance in the end, but if that’s what you want be, go for it. I won’t judge a place for that. Just don’t expect those who want better for themselves to sign up for it.

In any choice a city makes, somebody is going to be unhappy. Any branding choice is, in a sense, a choice to exclude by focusing on something rather than something else. There’s nothing wrong with setting down a marker of what you’re going after – and being comfortable with fall out from that.

Ultimately it’s not about me or any other specific individual. I’m under no illusion that I’m someone who is personally important to future of any city I might find myself. But it about people generally, and being able to attract enough of them – particular of those that are critical to the 21st century economy – to make the city successful and indeed sustainable over the long term.

Just remember, talented, ambitious people – those with big dreams and hopes for themselves and their societies – want to live in a place where the civic aspiration matches their personal aspiration.

What do you aspire to, Indianapolis?

* Downtown defined as the area inside the inner freeway loop and the White River.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Civic Branding, Technology, Urban Culture
Cities: Indianapolis

178 Responses to “Why I Don’t Live In Indianapolis”

  1. Peter, I think you’re very wrong on most of the infrastructure improvements. The Ballard administration deserves kudos for finding ways to raise capital for these types of improvements in this environment, and in a way that preserved local control of the water utility by well-respected Citizens.

    However, the designs of the streets and sidewalks built by DPW do not even measure up to those of Indy’s own suburbs, much less other urban cores around America. The bike infrastructure design is likewise already mostly obsolete versus what the market is producing today. I’m afraid Rebuild Indy is gearing up to be a great opportunity lost. The streets of the city must first be re-envisioned for the 21st century before we simply slap down another coast of asphalt.

    While the infrastructure improvements may be welcome, they will hardly be anything to attract people (the non-DPW led Cultural Trail and Georgia Sts. excepted).

  2. MSH says:

    Geez who would have thought sidewalk design could become oudated. Seriously georgia street was poorly done, hence the repairs already being done. What magical way is there to do a sidewalk? The city sold the water company to do massive infrastructure improvements neglected by peterson in order to not tax the citizens. Deep tunnel starts soon which is a tax increase for the citizens. There are more important things like a multi million shortfall for public safety to think about which means more to people as safety is a top 2to reason that will keep people away from even the best urban designed neighborhoods.

  3. Steve says:

    As an Indy resident, I could not agree more. For example, WTF were they thinking when they built that giant blue rectangle they call a Marriott? The thing is an eyesore and completely ruins the skyline. Now that the Superbowl is over its just going to be a big empty piece of garbage.

  4. Steve what a RUDE comment…and an untrue one, too! I live within sight of that neat building. I love to watch the sun and clouds in that blue glass making it look different every day and the redesign (the original proposal WAS ugly) really made it sparkle. And it’s the JWMarriott. The other “regular” Marriott is more or less a box but hey we need the rooms as we are fortunate to HAVE need for most of them most weeks. If you wanna talk ugly ask the originator of this blog when Cincinnati will do something about the boarded up (for YEARS now) abandoned former Terrace Hilton / Holiday Inn downtown Cincy. And ask Lexington when they are going to fill that downtown empty lot that’s had several signs changed out front announcing that a hotel will be built there for five or six years now when nothing has been built. Or Louisville what happened to Museum Plaza…I could go on. Truly, the JW is cool and a great part of downtown so a big dislike to your comment. Oh, and I know some staff there and despite your comment they are more often than not full or quite close to it! At least Indianapolis DOES follow up and they build what we are told is coming which beats most cities.

  5. MetroCard says:

    Aaron, I think you’ll be pleased to know that the phrase “why I don’t live in Indianapolis” is trending on Google and also appearing in Google’s predictive search.

  6. Peter says:

    The JW is rather hideous and looks completely out of place.

  7. I think its cool, looks great reflecting the sun and clouds and makes a great bookend to the west side of downtown. I was in there this morning and it looks fantastic. Peter do you live downtown?

  8. Peter says:

    No, I do business downtown Indy 3-4 times a year.

  9. John Morris says:

    Wow, and the garage block looks very very long. Speaking as a pedestrian, the chances of me walking down that block without a hundred dollar bill in front of me would be near zero.

  10. Bob Sharpe says:

    I moved back to Indy last year after 30 years away. My decision was based on glowing reviews from many friends. I have been very disappointed. This column nails most of the reasons why. That said, Chicago is no better off than Indy. People there are voting with their feet as well. The city has lost 1,000,000 residents in the last 50 years.

    During that same period, cities without traditional downtowns have boomed. Sprawl cities like Houston and Los Angeles have urbanized very nicely, at least in my opinion. Houston, in particular, seems to have arrived in a very nice place with no central planning or even steering. They arrived there because people demanded it and nobody stood in the way of building it. That seems to be the key, and that’s what seems to be missing in places like Indianapolis.

  11. Chris Barnett says:

    John Morris…seriously? City life everywhere entails walking past some crap and some dead zones to get to the cool stuff.

    Come to think of it, it’s a lot like all of life: you know the good stuff’s good because it’s such a contrast with the boring, the mundane, and the bad.

    The only places on earth with perfect pedestrian cityscapes have “Disney” in their name. Most folks who comment here silently or openly mock Disneyfied development. (I guess you’re probably too young to have seen “The Truman Show”, a movie about a place where appearances were everything and life was all about “the show”…and fake.)

    And I guess this is my ultimate Hoosier rejoinder to Aaron: life ain’t perfect, and neither is Indy. That doesn’t stop me from working to improve it in the ways that I am able.

  12. C. Hingy says:

    Indy’s problems are absolutely maddening. As an original East Coaster, still-young urban professional, and now current 9-year downtown resident who has lost all faith and who’s chomping at the bit to move out of the state all together, I can point to a few items that I have noticed that may illuminate:
    1. Have you ever noticed the way corporations would go into places like the Congo or West Virginia, extract all the wealth, and then leave it a burnt-out, used-up whatever? Indy is colonized. These are the potato people, being jerked around and exploited by carpetbaggers. Notice how our parking meters got sold off to a company in Dallas, TX for 50 years so we could make “improvements” that really should be covered by a reasonable tax increase? Ever notice how eerily well chain restaurants do here, but local restaurants tend to wither on the vine? The wonderful liquor store down the road is owned by New Yorkers. They have what I would call a ‘strong police presence’ there on roughly a daily basis. Until the city-council threatened to shut them down, they wouldn’t raise a finger to change anything. And why should they when they can just keep extracting rent and live hundreds of miles away from their slag pit and all the joys it brings to those who live in its stench?
    2. Back to the potato people: can you believe the way these people get jerked around and keep coming back for more? The governor has a long and pock-marked history doing things with money that are outrageous(I won’t go into it here, but Google “IPALCO”, or “cost of war with Iraq”, for starters). Every mayoral administration since at least the 1960s has been known to do things as cheaply as possible, with hideous results. Look at the paving job of downtown streets that got rushed downtown the months leading up to the Superbowl (paid for by the sold-off parking meters) and then had to be completely ripped up and repaved by an adult who knew what they were doing. Look at the EPA having to step in about a decade ago and TELLING, not asking, Indy it had to bite the bullet and fix its 100-year old, essentially open-air-on-rain-overflow-days, sewer system. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the kickback money to buddies or just plain stupidity, but that’s all the potato people keep electing. Like they are cheering for Colts vs. Steelers. And it’s not like they can rely on any real local media for anything but misinformation. Nuvo: underfunded, mostly whiny weekly. News stations: more timely, but NY POST “if it bleeds, it leads” pablum. Indianapolis Recorder: African American community bulletin. Indy Star: Adsheet with fewer and fewer ads-the incredibly shrinking circular! The Onion: Please. If you even have to ask…
    3. Mass Transit. As a person who works within bicycling distance of the job, I can’t really complain about what passes for our bus service. It’s not that hard for me to spend 40 minutes to travel 4 miles, no transfers, rather than ride in the rain or snow or tornado. But if I lived anywhere else, “broken” is the kindest way to describe it. Bless those martyrs at CIRTA trying to convince the potato people from the burbs and farmville that public transit is not just welfare for black/brown/poor people, or that maybe running a city service as a fiduciary trust of commons rather than a business would be a good idea. Want to invoke the second coming of zombie Ayn Rand? Just breathe those two words.

    TL,DR: Indy is what you get when you cross simple farm folks with a pathological fear of good taste and slum lords who don’t have to live here (or if they do, not for long) who want to spend as little money as possible to extract as much $$$ as possible, and use homophobia/xenophobia/racism/ “free market” excuses for why we can’t have anything nice. On top of that, it’s hot in summer, cold in winter, and geographically so not-interesting as to be brutal.

  13. Matthew Hall says:

    No doubt, Indy is a back-office, branch plant town with few homegrown businesses or industries. It is a ‘near-sourcing’ location for services that businesses don’t want to put outside the country for some reason. If you compete on cost alone, you look cheap. This is Indy in a nutshell. The question is if Indy can overcome its roots to become a place where decision are made, not just where the decisions made elsewhere are carried out as cheaply as possible. I’m betting no, because I see no examples of this kind of change in an american city, but I may be wrong. Time will tell.

  14. MSH says:

    Some of these comments are hilarious. @Matt newsflash the majority of americans work for small/medium sized businesses which tend to be local. You just desribed every us city. The majority of nusinessrs here just like everywhere else are homegrown. Bidding 101 the lowest bidder gets the contract. It is that simple.

    @hingy, wtf r u to talk about people like that. Im not even from indy bit i take umbrage at wannabe “real” talkers on a forum talking str8 bs as if u r superior. If you r going to try and make a point, make it but talking about people like that to make ur point is kind of a b&*%* move. For the meters, the city needed money. Reasonable tax, since when has tax and spend worked? It doesnt. It only adds debt. Should the hoosier capital be like illinois? Unable to pay vendors. 2nd, ballard stole the idea from chicago. It’s not some new fangled concept. The real issue is the fact the city got hosed on the deal by letting ballards cronies keep 75% if the profit. The feds r making just about everyone redo their antiquated systems as most are at around 100 years old. Indy isnt the indy isnt the only city so stop punishing it like it were.

  15. Matthew Hall says:

    Very simplistic view MSH. Newsflash, most of the small and medium sized busineses sell to large businesses and their employees. If the big businesses weren’t there, the small and medium sized ones wouldn’t be there either. P and G may only employe only a few percent of cincinnati’s workers, but its market value is large than the entire metro economy of cincinnati. That economic power is not irrelevant to the cincinnati economy just because it is produced around the world. The ultimate decisions about how that value is invested are all made in Cincinnati. That economic power is attractive to smaller businesses. It it the reasons that dozens of other smaller businesses are in Cincinnati. They aren’t in cincinnati because its cheaper than anywhere else (though it is) they are in cincinnati to be near P and G. Businesses in Indy aren’t there to be near anything, they are there because it is cheaper.

  16. @chingy I will tell you what I once told a well-known corporate figure in front of a state legislative committee as he came here from the East Coast and made no bones about hating Indiana: The road you took out here when you moved 9 years ago has 4 lanes. If we are soooo bad here in Hoosierland, I suggest you get on the other two and go back to wherever it was you arrived here from as you won’t ever be happy.

    I am glad you didn’t tear up either of the newspapers I own but we do try and cover news, and we make good money at it because folks read us.

    That said, I think we do a damn good job here and for way less than in the “big cities” I can get a local restaurant to feed me a great meal. That meal costs less than a shoe shine does in DC or NYC, so yes in some ways you do get what you pay for and that’s not always bad despite your comments. Oh, and I am not a native…I just moved here (downtown from day one) 22 years ago and love the convenience, the atmosphere and the city without the hassles, costs and all that any of the big eastern cities would force me to pay. About the only thing we do agree on is The Star is a sad (what’s left of it) excuse for a daily newspaper and we DO need mass transit even though I work at home, live under two blocks from the Circle and rarely drive anywhere!

    As I said, if it’s sooooo terrible here those eastbound lanes await you!!!

  17. MSH says:

    @matt, that makes no sense. What YOU are saying is indy businesses are here just because but cincy businesses aren’t. So a life science company does t open up shop because of lilly, wellpoint and iu health. A packaging company doesnt set up shop because of celedon or a food processor doesnt set up shop because of mays chemical. Only in indianapolis do people do it because its cheap and for no other reason. Yes small and medium businesses sell to large business. They sell to the government to what’s your point. Small business with or without the big corporations will still exist and will always exist. Do you think big business starts out big? Uh no they all start small and grow. Your logic sounds buffoonish yet have the gall to talk about indy residents.

  18. Matthew Hall says:

    Ted, I’ve never lived in Indy so I can’t leave it, but you help to make my point. The only reason that people who are free to leave don’t is because it’s cheap. Indy’s competition isn’t D.C. or NYC, its nashville or Raleigh.

  19. C. Hingy says:

    @Ted Fleischaker: If the newspapers you own refer to are IBJ or any of the other Babbitt rags: well, I didn’t shred on them because “business news” isn’t really heavy on what you would call “civics”, which is what I was pointing out this town is dearly lacking. You will notice I mentioned “chomping at the bit to leave” in my original statement. First, I find it laughable that is the exact response I get and have gotten every time I have brought up any criticism of Indy, even back when I still had faith this might be a place I could stomach. Second, I assure you, once my personal obligations here are through, I will be utilizing first-class upon my exit.

  20. Matthew I won’t argue that we are fairly priced in Indianapolis, BUT I will say the downtowns of BOTH the cities you mention lack much of what we have. In the 70s my sister went to college at Vandy and I spent a LOT of time (weeks at a stretch with her) in Nashville downtown. Back then they had 3 great local department stores. Now, none. They had news stands, and book stores and five & dimes and now none. Aside from bars and nightclubs and the Opry when I was last there for more than one day I stayed at Sheraton (used to be a Hyatt) and found even the hotel falling apart, in bad shape and aside from my old fave, The Gerst Haus which was moved to build the stadium but did not close, not much of interest to eat or buy. I did get a newspaper from Walgreen’s and sadly recalled the days when Harvey’s, Caster Knott & Cain Slone were the height of fashion in the “mid-south” Not anymore. And last I looked buying or eating the same thing in DC or NYC is still the same thing so why should anyone pay double or more for it? A shirt, shine or good meal is a shirt, shine or good meal no matter what lies outside the walls of the restaurant, barber shop or store…the biggest issue to me is does the city’s downtown HAVE a store, restaurant or place selling what I want to buy? In the case of too many downtowns — which is what this discussion is about — the answer is sadly, NO. And that includes my original home of Louisville, though I have lived in Florida near Orlando (dead downtown aside from tourist stuff) and in Illinois where we’d often go to St. Louis — also now a really scary downtown after dark with a Macy’s which is half closed (only use 3 floors of the huge wonderful old Famous Barr building) and shuts at 6 p.m. and Lexington — where I was last month and found plenty of great local restaurants but no real shopping near the downtown Hyatt where I stayed. I still say people might come to Indianapolis for the prices, but they for the most part say because this is a very liveable downtown with retail unlike most of the cities around us…those who “compare” in your scale and those which don’t!

  21. MSH says:

    So matt what you are saying is you’ve never lived in Indianapolis yet you trying to say what the people do, how they think and why they live there. Really! There are a lot of us transplants that like ut just fine and i can say i’ve met wat more transplants that like it than anything else and not because its cheap.

  22. Valeria says:

    Well Ted you may not be concerned about “lies outside the walls of the restaurant, barber shop or store” but the very people Indy wants to attract do. This is the issue you keep dodging as well as the heart of this discussion.

    These people are not interested in going downtown to shop at big department stores, newstands, bookstores and five & dime stores (the retail businesses you repeatedly champion as the ultimate). That model is dead on arrival. Your reference point is more than 40 years in the past!!!! It’s not suitable going forward.

    While you may be satisfied with the quality of life the City offers, I can tell you without reservations: the best and the brightest aren’t. That’s why these people don’t live here. I am a native. However I have been fortunate enough to attend an elite college and live in world class cities. Can say without reservations: Indy is not the land of opportunity. It’s as one commentator wrote – It’s really the Truman Show!!!!

  23. Matthew Hall says:

    Ted, Indy isn’t just fairly priced, it’s a downright bargain. That’s the point. You get what you pay for. I buy shoes, books, music, prescription medication, cosmetics, vitamins, car parts, and even furniture and some hardware online. what does old-fashioned ‘legacy’ shopping mean in the modern world of amazon, ebay and the like? Nashville may have lost a few old fashioned stores, but its gained almost 800,000 people and quadrupled its economy in that time.

    So MSH, are you forfeiting all rights to say anything about anyplace but where you have lived?

  24. Vinny says:

    Other than a few morsels of goodness, the cake of the Indy donut is Indy’s problem. The hole in the middle of Indy, not bad, growing every year at just the right midwestern small city/large town pace. Nice to visit, too expensive to move there for most and for what it offers, but still nice to visit for an evening or weekend or special event. Just outside the Indy donut, growing like gangbusters, creating their own city centers, and basically saying to hell with Indy, we’ll do how our locals want and we’ll peel off the good stuff from Indy as an alternative, albeit on a small scale, to what Indy offers. Then we have the cake of Indy. Other than the few goody morsels that often go unnoticed and can barely survive on their own, there’s dry lifeless bland cake that does little but exist, gives ya heartburn, headache, and the squirts every now and then to the point you never want to take another bite.

  25. Chris Barnett says:

    Matthew, at least get your facts straight (or current). There are five major corporate headquarters in Indy: Wellpoint, Lilly, Rolls-Royce (US HQ), Allison Transmission, and Dow Agro (subsidiary HQ).

    The “branch plants” (of Chrysler, Ford, GM, AT&T/Western Electric, Maytag, RCA) are gone, and Harvester is now just a blip.

    Repeating the “branch plant town” line from 1982 doesn’t make it true in 2012.

  26. Matthew Hall says:

    Lilly counts, Rolls-Royce and Dow are somewhat higher end but still quite small back-office operations of companies headquartered in England and Michigan respectively. Indy needs more future lilly’s if it wants to build a more solid economic foundation.

  27. Chris Barnett says:

    FYI Wellpoint has more than twice the annual sales of Lilly. Its growth by acquisition has been on par with P&G’s. Its CEO often appears on lists of the most powerful women in America.

    I disagree that a $5 billion continental-scale operation (Rolls) is a “quite small back-office operation.” You can’t dismiss RR in Indy without dismissing GE in your own hometown. Rolls just moved 2500 employees…not to Chicago, not to DC, not to LA, but to downtown Indy; they are two doors down from the stadium.

    Likewise, Dow’s ag-chem and ag-science R&D functions, the key parts, are in Indy. They are a big player in a relatively small industry.

    Allison Transmission is an integrated, independent NYSE-listed corporation and is in the Fortune 1000.

    These just aren’t “branch plants”. Again…Indy lost its branch plants. What’s left is core.

    And it is companies the size of Dow Agro and Allison that any city needs more of…as those are the ones that grow into (or buy their way up to) the top 500 or 100.

  28. Matthew Hall says:

    Alright, back office then. Wellpoint’s market capitalizaton is about $18 billion while Lilly’s is almost $50 billion and P&G’s is $180 billion. That it the actual value of these companies. If a company sells $100 of services and spends $50 in expenses, the company is worth $50, not $100 dollars. Wellpoint is an insurance and HR benefits company. Why compare it to P&G who make things. The value of a business is very different from it’s short term growth stats.

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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