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.

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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