Friday, June 14th, 2013
After my post on Wednesday I discovered yet another Streetfilm, this one focused exclusively on the incredible Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Clarence is churning them out faster than I can post ‘em! This is a truly innovative, world-class project so until I finally churn out my own post on it, this will give you a great look.
One caveat. I think the title of the film (which I used for this post) is a misnomer that might throw you off. Bicyclists may look at this and see that it is really isn’t great for high speed bicycle commuting. That’s true. But this was never intended to be specifically a bike path. There were many other design goals. Keep in mind this is a downtown area with lots of traffic, the type of place that in a US city is typically populated with bike messengers or other experienced cyclists. One goal of the Trail was to create a facility that made average people feel safe enough to cycle downtown – including bringing their children. Look at the kids bicycling around downtown. It’s amazing. The unique design is also a safety reassurance mechanisms for fearful suburbanites or visitors so they will know a) they won’t end up in the ‘hood if they are on the Trail and b) they can’t get lost if they stay on the Trail. Additionally, the role of the Cultural Trail is to be not a bicycle superhighway, but rather a sort of modern day boulevard for the 21st century flâneur strolling between downtown cultural districts. Plus Indy isn’t New York City and just plain doesn’t have the volume of people to contend with.
I have much, much more to say on this. However, it will have to wait until I post a complete article on it, which I hope to do at some point.
If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.
The Citibike-Rabinowitz Affair also made the Colbert Robert. This segment frankly isn’t that funny, but since I’ve been posting videos about this, I thought I’d include this one for the sake of completeness. Again, New York manages to continue raking in the press on this. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.
Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
A few items hit the news recently about better transport in Indianapolis. The first is this Streetfilm featuring Mayor Ballard talking about his bicycling initiatives. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.
One item highlighted is the Indy Cultural Trail, a truly unique downtown trail system that took eight miles of lanes away from cars and gave them to people in a system that includes a super high-quality separated bike path, public art, unique lighting and signage, etc. I’ve been hoping to do a story on this for some time, but don’t have photography yet. Stay tuned.
Another is an announcement of a 500 car all electric car share system based on the Paris Autolib’ program. This will be the largest all-electric cars share system in the US. It’s also the first foray into the US for this company. The system will feature 1,200 charging stations at 200 locations that are available to the public, and the city and others are looking to use it to reduce their fleet size and also to support the city’s goal of converting its entire vehicle fleet to “post-oil” technology. This is a pretty sizable system for a city like Indy, though it appears that full rollout is years away, so this is an aspirational announcement.
There’s also a bike share system that was just announced, but it’s very small and appears to only be focused on the Cultural Trail.
Of course I’d be remiss if I did not mention the huge elephant in the room here: the Indianapolis Department of Public Works. Despite these first class types of endeavors, DPW still can’t build a decent street. The streets they build in the urban core are actually worse than what a lot of suburbs are building. Both the Cultural Trail and a similar project on Georgia St. were outsourced to non-DPW designers to make them happen. Until an updated street design manual with 21st century approaches to street design is put in place, there’s no way Indy can get an overall grade of anything higher than “Incomplete” for its liveable streets agenda.
In the meantime, the Cultural Trail, car share, etc. can be celebrated and enjoyed.
Oh, I apparently missed this follow-up video that highlights the green stormwater detention and landscaping on the Cultural Trail. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.
Friday, May 31st, 2013
Here’s a blast from the past. A miscellaneous news roundup posting with a look at specific transport projects. I don’t plan to permanently bring this back, but had a couple things I wanted to highlight.
Chicago in the National Media
The national media spotlight continues to focus on Chicago, and not entirely in a positive way. The New York Times has a magazine cover piece piece called “The Death and Life of Chicago” and Time Magazine has a cover story as well. I know that more like this are in the works.
I haven’t read the Time piece yet. The NYT does highlight the good that has happened in Chicago recently, but also focuses on a lot of the negatives that remain in the city.
It’s a credit to Rahm that he’s out aggressively trying to defend the city (and himself of course) in the national media given the very negative spotlight that has been shined on it because of the murder problems. He’s definitely not hunkering down.
But more than anything it shows perhaps the sins of the father being visited on the son. Mayor Daley was the recipient of basically nothing but national media puffery despite Chicago suffering a lost decade on his watch. The national media embarrassed themselves in this. Now, Rahm is taking all the heat for a lot of what happened under his predecessor’s watch. I’m amazed that Daley’s reputation nationally remains so strong while Rahm is getting brutualized. One would think the problems of Chicago would at least prompt some re-evaluation of Daley’s record (which I believe on balance was positive, by the way).
This is not to say Rahm should get off the hook. He deserves credit for a lot of things like his aggressive corporate recruitment efforts, budget cuts, and reinvigorating transport. However, the real mark of a successful mayor is in public safety and schools. If he fails to turn these around, then no matter what else he accomplishes Rahm will rightly be judged a failure. So while he shouldn’t get all the blame for how things got here, he’s now the man and is accountable for results.
Chicago Rail Bypass
Crain’s Chicago Business had an interesting report on a proposed $3 billion rail bypass of Chicago. It’s a privately floated plan that doesn’t appear to be backed by any particular organization, but it’s very intriguing. You can download a complete presentation on it at Crain’s.
There’s a proposal on the table to build a freeway called the Illiana Expressway linking I-57 to I-65 on the far southern fringes of the Chicago metro area. No doubt this is a sprawl inducer to the max. But this proposal suggests piggybacking on that to build a six lane freight rail corridor parallel to the expressway. It would be fully grade separated, financed by private backers, and open access to all rail carriers while owned by none. The idea is that it would allow rail traffic that is merely passing through Chicago to bypass the horrific rail congestion there while avoiding a lot of inter-carrier politicking. It would also open up a massive amount of land to rail-oriented industrial development that could conceivably be served by any carrier on an open access basis.
It definitely an idea worth exploring. An aspect I find intriguing is using the same concept to preserve right of way in the Illiana for a future high speed rail service. As a grade separated route, this would enable true high speed rail. Also, it could be used to connect service from both the southeast (Indy, Cincinnati, Louisville) and southwest (St. Louis) to the Illinois Central mainline, which is the clear best route into downtown Chicago given that it’s largely grade separated already and has few interconnect points with other rail lines. Plus it has huge ROW that potentially enables dedicated high speed tracks. I have always said that to serve Indianapolis, and thus points beyond, ideally there would be a new terrain route, and this would be the connector between that route and the IC.
Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes from this.
Freeway Upgrade in Indianapolis
The Indianapolis Star is reporting that north suburban Hamilton County is studying a plan to turn SR 37 into a freeway. This would be similar to projects undertaken in nearby Carmel on Keystone Ave and US 31.
Clearly many of my readers would see this as about sprawl, and it is. But the sprawl is already here. There’s a couple points I want to make though.
1. This shows that the people who invest early in infrastructure win. Carmel’s upgrade of Keystone Ave. is complete and US 31 is underway. This project is comparable but seems to be coming with a much higher price tag. This is the financial price they pay for being late to the party. Investing in infrastructure can be a big elephant to digest in the short term, but in the long term there are big benefits.
2. SR 37 was already limited access. It was an at grade road, but there was no driveway access and with intersections only at major streets. So it served as a good regional transport corridor. Fishers and Noblesville, the towns it passed through, permitted tons of retail along the route and basically turned it into a typical congested shopping street. Many new stoplights were added. This not only drove the price tag up, but also created a business community that actually wants congestion. They don’t want this project because they think gridlock is good for their business. The good of motorists or the rest of the community doesn’t seem to be on their agenda. This goes to show how catering to certain types of businesses and such can not only create direct problems like traffic congestion, it also creates a constituency opposed to broader community interests.
3. The rich get richer. Carmel is the most upscale suburb in the region. It put in place high end infrastructure and has attracted significant high end office development and residents. Nearby Westfield is seeking to imitate that model. Fishers and Noblesville will struggle to get this project done, even if they take it on. But if they abandon it, they’ve left themselves stuck with a typical strip mall type retail infrastructure that will quickly age and leave them with redevelopment challenges down the road. They will have built themselves out on a model is that already proven not to age well (as shown by the township areas of Marion County/Indianapolis, for example). This shows the various decisions that propel community divergence. This goes with point #2 above as places tend to attract constituencies that perpetuate the current direction.
This project looks excessively priced to me. There are clearly too many interchanges, including new ones where there aren’t even cross-streets today. I think there’s plenty of opportunity to cut costs out of here, or build incrementally or along only a portion of the route. The complaints from various parties that are already coming out of the woodwork bode ill for these towns building what is in fact a critical piece of infrastructure they need for future success.
You can view a project summary here. You will need the actual Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.
Monday, May 20th, 2013
[ Given that a major transit expansion in Indianapolis is dead for the moment thanks to the state legislature, I thought I'd dust off this list of no help needed recommendations to start improving transit immediately. It's nearly five years old and so some ideas may be dated, but the thinking of ways to start making change right now for cheap I think is still valid.
By the way, please don't interpret this post as criticizing the mode mix in the Indy Connect plan. That was released after quite a bit of detailed analysis long after I wrote this post - Aaron.> ]
This post originally ran on September 25, 2008.
I’m passionate about public transit. For those of you who know me primarily through my posting about rail transit being a bad idea for Indianapolis, you might not believe me. But I’ve long been a transit rider. In fact, in a previous life I published a transit newsletter for three years. I try to ride transit in every city I visit.
Where I differ from many transit advocates is that I believe that transit should be primarily about rider mobility, and I think we need to take a realistic approach that looks at the facts around development patterns, cost, likely ridership, etc. and not just rely on conventional wisdom from the transit hymnal and build it and they will come logic. As I said in my really, really cheap manifesto, it’s about results, not how much money one can spend.
In light of that, I will lay out a series of ideas about how to improve transit in Indianapolis today, not years from now, that won’t cost much money to implement. Some of them are conceivably even free and can be implemented with existing staff and budgets. I can’t say these are all the right things to do, but I believe all of them are worthy of serious consideration.
- Run bus service every ten minutes to Fountain Square. To have real bus service, that is to say, where you can just show up and wait for the next bus without consulting a schedule, you need ten minute headways or better all day, maybe 15, but that’s pushing it. Indygo currently operates on 30 to 60 minute headways, which is a non-starter. To really start proving the transit concept locally, Indy needs to start piloting with enhanced service at ten minute headways to see how to make it work or if in fact it can be made to work. The perfect place to start is Fountain Square. This is one of the city’s official cultural districts. Its downtown area is already “transit oriented development” and there is plenty of opportunity for further infill. A segment of the population there is tightly connected to downtown. However, the distance is a bit too far to walk comfortably in bad weather (about 1 ½ miles to the core of the Mile Square). Today, Indygo’s web site tells me there are three routes that go through Fountain Square: the #12-Beechcrest, the #14-Prospect and the #22-Shelby. These three bus routes run on 30 minute headways. Today, they all get to Fountain Square at the exact same time. For example, the #12 arrives at Virginia/South at 7:13am, the #14 gets there at 7:14am, and the #22 also gets there at 7:14am. It looks to me like three buses come in a row, then there isn’t another bus for half an hour. That’s insane. If Indygo simply staggered the routes, a bus could come through Fountain Square every ten minutes – right now, today – without spending an extra dime to add any new service. Now perhaps things are set up this way to facilitate downtown transfers, so perhaps this isn’t a slam dunk decision to make. But I think it goes to show that you could make dramatic transit improvements in an emerging neighborhood that primed to take advantage of it today without spending anything other than the cost of printing new schedules. And for people in Fountain Square, you wouldn’t even need a schedule, which is the whole point.
- Get a new domain name. indygo.net has to go. A .net domain name is completely bush league. If you can’t spring for a real domain name, no one will take you seriously. If indygo.com is too pricey, at least do indygo.gov or something. Dittos for cirta.us for the Central Indiana Regional Transit Authority.
- Implement mobile phone bus tracking. Chicago has a system called “Bus Tracker” that uses GPS in buses to feed an online service that tells you how long until the next bus arrives. Right now this is a mobile web app only, but soon they are rolling out a texting solution where you text your stop number to a special number and it texts you back the next buses arriving. This is hugely beneficial to riders on the go. What’s more, even large percentages of poor people have cell phones, so it isn’t just targeting the MacBook crowd. My idea: just contact with the CTA to ride their system. The cost is basically some GPS devices, route mapping, and setup. It’s a win-win. The CTA gets a revenue source to amortize their fixed investment over, and Indygo gets the advantages of economies of scale (i.e., lower unit cost) and speed to market. Imagine what a game changer this could be for Indy. With some buses running only once an hour, people have to get to the stop very early to avoid missing that bus. If you knew exactly when it was arriving, you could cut your wait time with confidence.
- Leverage texting for emergency messaging. The CTA is also rolling out texting for communicating to riders about service disruptions and other problems. Again, just see if the CTA will let Indygo pay them on an incremental cost basis to ride that infrastructure. (By the way, one source of potential funding for Chicago transit improvements is simply to spin off some of these things into a service bureau / hosted service for other transit providers. Be the “Google Transit” of this stuff before Google is. Eventually they could even float the thing – or just plain sell it to Google for Big Buck$ to pour into capital improvements. Just my free business advice).
- Start a “Friends of IndyGo” group if one doesn’t exist already. There are all these people who say we need better transit, why not give them the opportunity to see if their deeds match their words? Actually using transit, given the existing service levels, might be a bridge too far. But see if any transit advocates will actually step up to the plate and do something else tangible. A Friends of Indygo group could conceivably take on some of the items I have listed here as volunteer projects, with official sponsorship from the agency.
- Get integrated with Google Transit – right now. (Potential Friends of Indygo project)
- Create a better “How to Ride the Bus” guide. I suggested this one in my Pecha Kucha presentation. I’m a hardened transit guy, but even I don’t like to ride buses in cities I haven’t ridden in before because I’m afraid I won’t know how it works and will end up a mark for criminals, or, at a minimum, just plain look like an idiot. What’s needed is a very simple, explicit, step-by-step how to ride guide – both a brochure and a video – that shows exactly how it works, exactly how to put the money in the box, how to signal for a stop, etc. No question is too stupid or obvious to cover. (Potential Friends of Indygo project).
- Get serious about design. Indygo has a terrible image problem with the public. Transit is stigmatized in Indy in a way that it isn’t in NYC. Great design is something that is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary to create the customer experience and impressions to get people to even consider Indygo. This includes everything from the color scheme, the logos, the web site, signage and shelter design, everything. Consider Indygo’s colors. Who thought that color green looked good on anything? I get the “green” thing, but is that consistent with any other colors used in Indy? (Heck, it isn’t even consistent with the color palette used on the bus shelters downtown). The web site design is mediocre. Even things like good letterhead and a well-chosen font can make a difference. Some of the things are serviceable already (the “I” logo isn’t bad, for example), but could be better. (There’s no reason Indygo couldn’t create a logo that became as iconic as the Boston “T” for example). The large bus shelters are quite nice, but could be tweaked a bit. And the neighborhood shelters are not very nice. Good design frankly doesn’t cost much if anything more than merely serviceable design. It just takes an absolute commitment to creating something that is a) world class and b) both unique to and an expression of Indianapolis. JC Decaux, which usually gives cities bus shelters for free in return for advertising rights (or even pays for the privilege of putting them out there), has an entire subsidiary that designs these, including unique designs for many European cities. Indygo could work with them and insist on a totally world class design that is consistent with Indygo’s revised branding scheme (i.e., good colors). Also, it seems like every other person I stumble across on the internet in Indy these days is a graphic designer or artist. They could do a Friends of Indygo project to do this for free in return for an official credential or something. Similarly, why can’t Indy’s aspiring fashion community design a kick-ass bus driver’s uniform?
- Own the green agenda, live it internally. Don’t just talk about the sustainability of the bus as a transport mechanism. Look at every aspect of your operation and try to become the signature government agency in the state and a leader nationally in green operational practices. As a small government agency, Indy is positioned to more rapidly change. I sense another Friends of Indygo project coming on. Some local green enthusiasts could review operations, even things like office supplies, and look for areas to improve. Source that locally designed bus drivers uniform I mentioned from a small local producer and use sustainable materials (provided the economics are there, of course).
- Look for operational synergies with the rest of Marion County government. Is Indygo buying its own fuel, running its on HR policies, etc.? Some things are obviously unique to them, but as the Mayor’s 100 Day Report indicated, there are still duplicative services all over Marion County. Every dime that can be saved through economies of scale or reduction of duplication is a dime that can be invested into the on-field product.
- Evaluate outsourcing of all functions. Perhaps Indygo could eventually not operate any services directly at all. Privatization isn’t a slam dunk, but it works well for the management of the water utility, so why not here? Again, every dollar saved is a dollar that can go back into core services. London’s famed double-decker buses are contracted out to private companies. If they can do it, so can Indy.
- Run transit every ten minutes on College Ave. I figured I’d bookend this list with another service improvement. Unlike the Fountain Square idea, this one would require increasing service hours. However, College already has the best service out there, every 15 minutes at rush hour. All you need to do is to increase this to every ten minutes all day (maybe a bit more frequent at the 7am and 5pm hours). Indygo could have already done this with money they got earlier this year. On Feb 7th they issued a press release touting 20,000 new hours of transit service paid for by a $1.6 million state grant. Almost all of this went into point extensions of route at the existing awful service levels. It’s time to stop the “more of the same” approach and start changing the game. If Indy can’t make high quality bus service work on College Ave, it has no business trying to do anything else. Start this ASAP and you can start figuring out what it is going to take from a routing, service, and marketing perspective to get people on the bus. Also, the route should be adjusted to go from downtown to Broad Ripple to Glendale to Keystone Crossing. This links several destination districts with the residential in between. Combine the new service with the new design elements and rider notification systems and you have something to really start showing off.
Waiting around for three years to start a commuter oriented, peak period only rail service with limited stops on one corridor – and that’s in the best case – is a very limited and modest way for Indianapolis to start playing at a different level in the transit game. There is a whole lot that can be done in the mean time to make Indygo better and start delivering benefits to riders, starting right now. It doesn’t take a lot of money, it just takes creative thinking and the help of the community to pitch in and make it happen. Waiting around for some big regional taxing authority to make transit happen is the equivalent of saying transit is somebody else’s problems. If motivated citizens were willing to step up and actually pitch in to make things better, along with targeted improvements paid for by Indygo, the city could start down the transit path faster.
Sunday, May 5th, 2013
This post originally ran on November 11, 2009.
Until recently I had an apartment in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis. Fountain Square is a small commercial node surrounded by houses on the near southeast side of the city that has long been my favorite ‘hood in the city. I’ve been hanging out in the area for over 15 years.
Fountain Square was a sort of lower working class neighborhood. The South Side of Indianapolis is notably more Southern in character than the north. In fact, some have said that Washington St. (or I-70) is the real Mason-Dixon Line. In the case of Fountain Square, it is literally Southern. A good chunk of the population is from Appalachia. This has been true a long time. Back in the 1960′s, then Mayor (now Senator) Richard Lugar commissioned a study called “The Appalachian in Indianapolis” to study the question of whether or not the city’s Appalachian community needed special help like other minority populations. The epicenter of Appalachian Indianapolis is Fountain Square. Even today, many people are new arrivals from places like West Virginia. There’s a lot of circulation back and forth. Sometimes kids who get in trouble in Indy get sent back home to West Virginia to stay with relatives there, for example. In effect, Fountain Square is an ethnic immigrant neighborhood, but instead of traditional immigrants from places like Poland, Italy, or Mexico, it is made up of domestic migrants from a particular region and with a distinct culture. New arrivals are, in effect, straight off the boat. As with waves of immigrants from elsewhere, they are seeking better opportunities. Fountain Square is the traditional port of entry for people from West Virginia and similar places to Indianapolis.
The area is about a mile and a half from the center of downtown, and is one of the few intact commercial nodes left in the city. So it was long targeted for development. A few enterprising people bought and refurbished the Fountain Square Theater Building, which now houses restaurants, a duckpin bowling alley, and a boutique hotel. A former department store was converted into cutting edge art galleries and studios. An indie rock club has opened. Many restaurants dot the area and it is really a destination dining district in some ways. (Santorini on Prospect is the best Greek restaurant I’ve ever eaten at). A lot of artists and culturally inclined types have moved in. My apartment was previously occupied by an assistant curator of contemporary art the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for example.
When the artists started moving in I was originally very worried about gentrification and the area becoming unaffordable to anyone without lots of money, like Lockerbie Square or Chatham-Arch, displacing all the original residents. But that didn’t happen. Housing remains extremely affordable and despite the influx of newcomers, they are still a minority.
What’s notable about Fountain Square, and similar areas in other Midwest cities, is that a lot of these artists are able to buy homes. This means they are likely here to stay even if prices go up. That’s in contrast to NYC, SF, or Chicago, where the artists rent.
In any case, while Fountain Square may go upscale, wholesale remaking of large chunks of the city a la Chicago is not likely to happen. Despite the increase in demand for urban living, there is not enough demand to materially increase prices outside of selected district because of the vast acreage of land that has fallen to nearly zero in value. It is a huge overhang. Also, the type of wage inflation and resulting salary gap that you see in bigger cities, which I’ll argue in a future piece is a big driver of their two-tier societies, didn’t happen in Indianapolis. For example, a partner in a major local law firm told me that a few years ago the salary difference for new associates between Indianapolis and Chicago was 30%. Now it is 100%.
So unlike in so many other cities, in Indianapolis yuppies and artists can live side by side with traditional neighborhood residents for a long time. When I lived in West Town in Chicago, my area was probably 30% Mexican, 30% Puerto Rican, 30% yuppie, and 10% other white ethnic. But that was only a transitional period presaging a yuppie takeover. In Fountain Square though, I expect the Appalachians aren’t going anywhere for quite some time, even if the core area around the commercial district does gentrify. (Perhaps the arrival of a spur of the Indy Cultural Trail may by a catalyst for that – we’ll see). I often describe the demographic of the neighborhood as “Artists and Appalachians”, though that doesn’t do it justice since artists are a minority of the new arrivals, who are often professionals, especially those who merely patronize businesses in the area, and there is by my eyeball estimate a 10% or so African American population.
But just because two groups of people live side by side doesn’t mean they interact socially. With some exceptions, I rarely observed much in the way of interaction between them. The upscale restaurants and art galleries are not affordable or perhaps even of interest to West Virginia refugees. Similarly the rent to own stores for yuppies or arts crowd.
There are some older institutions that are, however, used by everyone. One of them is a greasy diner called Peppy’s Grill. If ever a place deserved an exemption from the smoking ban, this is it. The place just hasn’t been the same. Good burgers, great atmosphere. But not a lot of conversation between the two sets of customers.
Another is the Liquor Cabinet, the neighborhood package liquor store. They carry a large inventory of 40′s along with a cooler of top end microbrews from the likes of Three Floyds – all behind a bulletproof glass shield. There’s a drink for every taste and budget.
As an aside, is there any better example to show why, despite what one may think, Indianapolis is not an overgrown small town? I mean, physically, it basically is one. I’ve long noted that a residential street in Indianapolis is not that different from one in the first state capital of Corydon, population 3,000. Heck, Fountain Square is like a literal small town, with its fading Main St. shops along Virginia Ave., the Theater Building and its surrounding streets the courthouse square, and the tidy rows of small, single family homes that have seen better days around it.
But appearances can be deceiving. Function does not always follow form. How many Indiana small towns have a liquor store like that? Or a piece of contemporary architecture like the Craig McCormick designed Ragsdale House on Pleasant St.? Or several edgy contemporary art studios? Or an indie rock club?
Need more proof? Just look at the city’s blogosphere. One of America’s leading LGBT blogs is based in Indy. The leading Republican blogger in the city is gay. A hardcore libertarian anti-tax activist is a former professional dominatrix. And a prominent political pundit is a cigar smoking, whiskey sipping Black Muslim stand-up comedian – and Republican.
No, my friends, this is no small town. And it has a lot more character – and characters – than you might think.
Back at the Liquor Cabinet, a variety of people come together to buy their nightly libations – but I don’t see any real conversation or interaction. Only occasional light banter of the type one might make with strangers – because that’s what we are. There’s no connection or bond that has been built between the different groups, with some limited exceptions such as at the Community Development Corporation.
Long time readers know I care a lot about the notion of a “commonwealth”. That is, a city and region where people feel that their fates are linked together, where they rise an fall together, where they feel like they have a stake in the system and in a shared prosperity for everyone.
I think it is harder to view ourselves as sharing a common destiny with people who are very different from ourselves. But if we get to know them personally at some level, there is generally some base commonality there. How do we foster that type of connection, not just of the “Isn’t this weather nice?” variety but some type of real relationship?
I’ve thought about this a bit and it often seems to require some type of pivot point or area of mutual concern people can connect around. I think about, for example, how back in the early 90′s a lot of heavy metal bands and gangster rappers started hanging out together and promoting each other’s stuff. They saw the marketing possibilities yes, but also a way to tap into the common alienation and marginalization their respective audiences felt from the mainstream.
Because each pivot point is likely to involve a subset of people, it is best to have multiple of them. Then you start creating all sorts of cross-network pathways. I thought about this with regards to Fountain Square and came up with a few ideas.
- The obvious neighborhood institutions: neighborhood associations, local schools (such as the area charter school), the library branch, the CDC, etc.
- Back to our musical example, a shared sense of being marginalized in a community felt by both artists and Appalachians. Certainly both of those groups have a shared interest in not seeing runaway real estate prices. The artists already had a scare recently when the Murphy Building which houses many of their studios and such was put up for sale.
- Bicycling. Fountain Square is the heart of Indy’s bike culture. One of the people behind the Indy Cog blog lives there and is brave enough to live in Indy with only his feet and bike for transportation. Joe’s Cycles on Virginia is a local gathering place. But in Fountain Square, lots of people ride. It’s not just hipsters or people making an alternative transportation statement, it’s kids and regular neighbors, people black and white, a true neighborhood cross-section. Seems like an opportunity.
These are a few examples in only one neighborhood. The bigger point is that a big part of what makes a city is its social infrastructure. It’s not just bike lanes and buildings. It’s people and relationships and networks. Especially where there is so much traditional distrust between groups who have often had big differences in interests, finding ways to bring people together across those boundaries, at least at some level, is a way to help strengthen civic social capital. A mixed neighborhood is of limited benefit if people do not, in fact, mix. We should be looking for ways to break down barriers that too often create parallel societies.
Monday, April 1st, 2013
[ Here's a rarity. It's one from the archives that I wrote way back in 1997. There are a lot of anachronisms in it, but it is still very relevant. Also, this should not be considered overly specific to Indianapolis, because the thinking is pervasive, though thankfully improving in a lot of places - Aaron. ]
It is almost considered a truism in Indianapolis that one of the biggest obstacles to getting people to come downtown to shop, see the sights, etc. is a lack of free, convenient parking. People driving in from the suburbs are forced to either park on the street, where they will most likely have a bit of a walk to their destination, or have to pay to park in an off street lot or garage. Suburban malls, office parks, etc. all have large free surface parking lots right in front of the door. This provides them with an advantage, and keeps people away from downtown. Right?
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality of the matter is that parking has virtually nothing to do with whether people do or don’t come downtown. It is a deciding factor at the margin in the worst case.
This is obvious after thinking about it. To paraphrase Denis Leary, I’ve got two words for people who think parking hassles are the reason suburbanites don’t like to come downtown – Broad Ripple. Broad Ripple is a city neighborhood. There are some free off street spaces, but not nearly enough to fulfill the demand on Friday and Saturday nights. I have personally been forced to walk six blocks or more from where I parked my car to the Broad Ripple Ave. strip. Articles containing horror stories about Broad Ripple parking are standard fare in local papers. Yet throngs of people drive from every part of the metro area and beyond to eat, drink, shop and party in Broad Ripple. Parking hassles have not stopped Broad Ripple from becoming a huge success.
Or consider Christmas shopping season at Keystone at the Crossing. Yet another parking nightmare, the day after Thanksgiving and most weekends in December leave many would be shoppers cruising a full lot waiting for a space to free up. This after already enduring the traffic jams on 82nd St., Keystone Ave., and Allisonville Rd. to get there. But again, this does not appear to deter the thousands of people who throng to the North Side mall’s upscale shops and restaurants.
And parking at Broad Ripple and the Fashion Mall is a piece of cake compared to finding a parking spot in places like San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. In those places, there aren’t even any illegal spots available. All the fire hydrants are taken. But people are willing to drive from 50 miles out in the suburbs to dine out in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. People from Indianapolis and beyond travel to Chicago to shop Michigan Ave., dine out in Lincoln Park, or take in a touring Broadway show in the Loop, where $15 charges for parking are commonplace and on street parking is a near impossibility. New York is of course the nation’s premier tourist mecca and no one even thinks about trying to park there.
Why is it that all these places (especially our very own Broad Ripple) are so successful despite their lack of parking, yet so many people continue to focus on parking as major problem downtown? The real problem with downtown attractions is not that they are inconvenient to get to or that parking is such a hassle. The problem is that far to many of them are not providing something that people want.
The erstwhile downtown Aryes and Lazarus department stores provide the perfect example. They did not lose customers and close because people had to pay to park. They closed because they abandoned the flagship store concept and had worse stores downtown than they did in the suburbs. Who’s going to drive downtown to shop at Lazarus when there is a better Lazarus closer to home at Castleton Square Mall? Nobody, that’s who. On the other hand, people will drive a long way to get to the state’s only Nordstrom, which is doing a thriving business a block south of where Ayres used to be.
Similarly, the numerous generic bars on South Meridian failed to provide anything people could not get closer to home. They failed because of bad business decisions, not because people had to pay $3 to park. The South Meridian establishments that did provide a unique, desirable product – like the Slippery Noodle Inn and Hollywood Bar and Filmworks – have continued to thrive and even expand.
The Symphony doesn’t have any problems drawing a crowd, nor does the Circle Centre Mall or the Pacers. Interestingly, attendance at Pacer games has increased markedly in recent years. This did not coincide with a reduction in parking rates (or even ticket prices). Instead, the team started winning games. Not surprisingly, that’s when fans started showing up.
The truth is, parking has virtually nothing to do with whether or not people come downtown or not. It is simply an easy scapegoat for people to whine about when answering surveys. The fact is, people who don’t come downtown stay away because there is nothing there they want. Provide these people with real attractions and they will come, regardless of parking. The Circle Centre Mall and its associated upscale restaurants provide the best example of this.
“So what?” you might ask. Paying to park or walking a couple of blocks is surely not a positive thing for downtown. Anything that could be done to help alleviate parking hassles would have to be a positive for downtown.
To a certain extent that is true. I definitely feel that downtown should be as convenient as possible within reason. However, the city has developed a fixation about parking that is unhealthy. Much like a modern day Will Rogers, the city never met the parking lot it didn’t like. This has resulted in a downtown that has an incredible amount of land devoted to surface parking lots. Many of which, unfortunately, were built on the sites of demolished historic buildings. I have never been to a major city that has more downtown surface parking than Indianapolis. (This opinion was also recently offered by a consultant working on a transportation visioning study for the region). And surface parking is a curse on any downtown.
Look at the places that we consider the most thriving parts of downtown such as Illinois St. near Circle Centre, Monument Circle, and “skyscraper row” along Ohio St. These are also the areas the have the least surface parking. The parts of downtown considered the least revitalized – like the area around Market Square Arena and the southeast quadrant of the Mile Square – are also the areas with the greatest amount of land devoted to surface parking.
It is easy to understand this. In reality, a parking lot is a vacant lot. And a vacant lot offers no attractions that tourists or suburbanites will come to see. It offers no office space for people to work in. It offers no place for downtown residents to live.
Unfortunately, the city does not seem believe that we have enough surface parking lots. It continues to require off street spots for every new downtown building. This essentially mandates surface parking lots for smaller projects which cannot support a parking garage on their own. It also ignores the fact many projects, because of the unique urban scale of downtown, might not need parking. For example, small businesses might cater only to neighborhood residents and office workers within walking distance. Some housing might cater to those who do not own cars and use public transportation or walking to get around.
Consider the effect of city rules in the Canal district. Almost every residential and business structure there has private off street parking. Most of this is in the form of large, ugly, suburban style surface lots that consume valuable downtown land. Since these lots are private, those wishing to visit the Canal itself and the USS Indianapolis memorial cannot use them. The net result is that these lots sit empty (and often padlocked shut) on weekends and after business hours, giving area around the Canal a desolate and uninviting aura. During the day, on street parking is rarely ever used. Even at mid-afternoon, Indiana Ave. and Senate Ave. have virtually no cars parked on them. The Canal corridor is also almost completely devoid of retail establishments. Anyone living or working there must either drive or face a long walk to do even the simplest of things such as buy a gallon of milk or eat lunch in a restaurant.
Rather than having each business or residence have a private lot, a better approach is to build large off street garages that multiple buildings (and the general public) can use and to maximize usage of on street parking. This might include allowing parking on West St. during non-rush hour periods, widening St. Clair St. to provide parking on both sides (currently there is no parking at all), and removing the parking meters along Senate Ave.
This approach was taken along Mass Ave. The city narrowed the street to provide only two lanes of traffic and added perpendicular parking on both sides along with landscaping and antique street light replicas that make the street more inviting and pedestrian friendly. The result: numerous storefront businesses cater to the neighbors and visitors and often feature residential units or offices on upper floors. This area still has a way to go before it can be considered at truly thriving urban neighborhood, but it is on the right track. Hopefully the city will allow the vacant lots that remain to be converted from surface parking to better uses. This is the model that should be followed elsewhere downtown.
The best bet for the redevelopment of still hurting sections of downtown is to make sure they are selling something people want to buy – not ensuring that they have a huge parking lot. If we continue building surface parking lots, we will only have succeeded in building downtown replicas of suburban shopping malls, apartment complexes, and office parks which experience has shown (see Lazarus, Aryes, Sports, etc. as mentioned above) people are not willing to go out of their way to visit.
The city should lower the priority given to parking, eliminate or reduce most minimum parking space requirements, and make it more difficult to build surface parking lots. Instead it should concentrate on building a unique urban environment that will draw locals and visitors alike to a thriving downtown full of highly desirable attractions people are willing to walk a couple of blocks to get to.
Thursday, March 14th, 2013
Rolls-Royce Logo on Building in Downtown Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Gary Glover.
While driving up and down Boston’s Route 128, I’ve often noticed the various tech company logos that adorn the office buildings – Oracle, SAP, Adobe, etc. Interestingly, most of the ones that catch my eye aren’t Boston area based companies. Yet the presence of these blue-chip tech names on the buildings reinforces in my mind that Boston is a tech center.
I had a similar thing happen when I was in Indy last fall. Rolls-Royce – which actually manufactures aircraft engines, not cars, but is definitely an elite global corporate player – has its North American headquarters in Indianapolis. They had recently moved their offices to downtown and installed their logo on the building, a low rise office on the southern edge of downtown. Driving into downtown Indianapolis and seeing a giant Rolls-Royce logo, whatever wrong impressions about product it might generate in the public mind, is still a pretty powerful statement.
By contrast, the various office buildings ringing Indianapolis along its I-465 beltway sport a largely unimpressive collection of signs for various local and regional brands: law firms, mortgage companies, that sort of thing. There’s very little to make much of an impression on a visitor that this town is a major center of much of anything.
Lots of things that we take in as we look at cities help define for us what the place is all about and where it stands in the pecking order. Though they may give very false impressions about a place, for good or ill, the brand prominence of corporate logos displayed on major office buildings would appear to be one of those things that shapes our opinions of what a city is really like.
Sunday, March 3rd, 2013
I’m not generally in the habit of picking on interns, but a recent article written by one in the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard deserves at least a quick critique. Called “Railroad to Ruin?,” it’s a hyperbolic attack against the proposed transit system investment in Indianapolis.
I certainly think there’s room to vote against the transit plan, though I’ve generally supported it. But as I noted, opponents have yet to articulate anything remotely resembling a credible alternative development plan for Marion County. This piece is no exception.
Also, in its attempts to score rhetorical points, it misses some basic facts. First, it refers to the governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida turning down high speed rail funds. While the author tacks on an “and new public transit projects” (though without any specificity as to what those are so I’ll have to take his word he actually has some in mind), by picking only the three states that turned down HSR money, the intent is clearly to link the Indianapolis plan with high speed rail (which I’ll be the first to tell you has been completely bungled by President Obama and its advocates) even though the Indianapolis system is in no way, shape or form even remotely related to high speed rail.
Beyond that, describing the proposed Indianapolis system as a “railroad” is a gross mischaracterization. The system is almost entirely a much more cost effective bus system. There’s only one light rail line, and it may well be dropped in the final plan.
Taking a plan that is majority bus, mislabeling it as a railroad, then trying to smear it by linking it with high speed rail might work in the snark department, but doesn’t give the reader much confidence this is a serious analysis.
I find it amazing that a national political magazine would take time away from bashing Obama to take on a local transit project in Indianapolis. (Maybe Mayor Ballard’s goal of Indy becoming a “world class city” is becoming realized after all…).
The Weekly Standard advocates fiscal conservatism, yet their outrage at spending seems to disappear when it comes to highway projects. For example, why aren’t they calling on new Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to revisit the massively over-scaled and overpriced Ohio River Bridges project near Louisville? That $2.6 billion project is a poster child for my maxim that there’s no highway boondoggle big enough that even the most fiscally conservative governor is willing to cancel it. It’s also a disaster for Indiana motorists and taxpayers, especially since there’s a better alternative available at half the cost (see here, here, here and here – this project includes a $795M road segment that will cost Indiana over $100,000 per foot!). If Pence wants to prove his bona fides as a fiscal conservative, staging an intervention to save Hoosiers several hundred million dollars here would be a good place to start. If he won’t do that, it will be hard to take him seriously elsewhere.
I’ll eager await the Weekly Standard’s article taking the bridges project to task. In the meantime, there’s no need to bother with their subpar take on Indy’s proposed transit system.
Sunday, January 20th, 2013
Andrea Neal had a column in the Indianapolis Star last week called “Mass transit just isn’t a good fit for Indy.” This piece argues, basically, that because Indianapolis is low density, transit won’t work there.
Let me first say that I agree Indy is low density and transit is not something that’s needed to address a serious, near term transport issue, save for the embarrassing state of the basic bus network.
However, for a place like Indianapolis, the real case for transit is strategic. In a nutshell, the urban core of Indianapolis is collapsing because it offers an “urban lite” environment that is almost entirely automobile oriented and thus in direct competition with suburbs that are newer, of higher quality contemporary designs that meet the market demand of today, and which have better public services and lower taxes to boot.
That’s not a winning combination, and I made the argument a few years ago that if something was not done to change this, Indianapolis might simply implode.
Let’s take a look at the stark reality. Indianapolis has long boasted of having one of the best downtowns for a city its size in America – and with justification. From nothing, Downtown Indy has been successfully revitalized as a world class events and entertainment center, something all Hoosiers can be immensely proud of.
But the successful side of revitalization has hidden the less pleasant truth that downtown Indianapolis has been losing large numbers of private sector jobs and has been a national laggard when it comes to attracting residents. More troublingly, the larger urban core is in an advanced state of collapse.
After nearly two decades in which attracting residents and employment have been key goals of nearly every civic initiative, it is time to face the fact that these efforts have not worked. Without a change in direction, there is no reason to believe that they will succeed in the future either. Given the decline that has started to affect the township areas of outer Marion County, reversing urban core collapse is imperative if local leaders wish to avoid the real risk that Indianapolis becomes a failed city.
Unigov has disguised the degree to which the old city of Indianapolis has experienced a collapse in population and investment similar to some of America’s most notorious cities.
Data is no longer reported for the pre-Unigov city limits, but Center Township offers a reasonable proxy. When compared to non-Unigov municipalities elsewhere in the Midwest, Center Township’s population loss in the last decade was worse than St. Louis and comparable to Cleveland. One has to look at a Gary or Detroit to find a city with significantly worse core population loss.
These other declining cities all suffered from being in regions with almost no population growth, or even population decline. But metro Indy grew very strongly, which makes its large urban core losses even worse.
Even downtown Indy – defined as the area inside the inner loop and White River – has far fewer residents than is generally advertised. There are less than 10,000 downtown residents after the jail population is subtracted. This in what is, at 5 ½ square miles, one of America’s geographically biggest downtowns.
And despite frequent press accounts of residential construction, downtown added less than 1,000 total people in the last decade. This anemic population growth badly trailed regional peer cities – even Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Downtown Indianapolis (zip codes 46202 and 46204) has also struggled to retain its job base, losing 15% of its private sector jobs in the last ten years. And Marion County as a whole lost a large number of jobs as well:
Other cities have also experienced downtown private sector job losses, but that is cold comfort for Indianapolis.
It is difficult to look at these numbers after the extensive efforts – including large amount of public investment – put into the downtown and urban core and conclude otherwise but that these have not yet delivered on their goal of reversing population and job declines, except for population in the core of downtown – and even that has failed on a competitive basis.
The key problem, as I noted at the beginning of this post, is strategic. When you offer an older, inferior version of the same basic auto-oriented product as the suburbs, but with higher taxes, don’t expect many takers.
It’s likely that population losses will abate as Center Township runs out of choice consumers who can leave. But rebuilding to any material degree is going to require different policies.
To their credit, the civic leadership has stepped up with a number of initiatives designed not to just spend money propping things up, but to try to change the game on both the product definition (moving away from a purely auto-centric, urban-lite environment), and quality of services. Some of these, such as the Mayor’s charter schools or the Cultural Trail are already implemented. But major transformative efforts, such as reforming IPS, remain outstanding.
Transit is one of those outstanding items. I certainly wouldn’t rate a major investment in transit as the most pressing need. But it is something that is a key facilitator of things that need to happen in order to differentiate the urban core residential and commercial product so that it is not just in direct competition with the auto-oriented suburbs. That direct competition, as I noted, is doomed to fail. Only producing a distinctive product that you can’t get in the suburbs and that people are willing to buy on its own merits, will change these numbers.
Andrea Neal and other transit critics might have an idea of what to do here. If so, I’d enjoy hearing their take. But simply criticizing transit without offering an alternative set of proposals to reverse urban core decline isn’t credible.
And neither is acting like the urban core doesn’t matter. Neal’s point of view is that the battle’s over and the suburbs won. But just ask places like Cleveland and Detroit if you can have a thriving metro area once your core goes down the tubes. Metro growth will certainly not continue on pace as the #1 metro in the Midwest without improvement in the urban core. Indeed, there are already indications that the metro area as a whole is starting to stumble a bit, with troubling stats like labor force declines.
The simple case for transit is that it is a key piece of the puzzle in creating the differentiated product it needs to compete for residents. It’s not the only piece, but it is a piece. (Certainly a lot more courageous change is required). As a regional system, the IndyConnect transit proposal also facilitates regional travel to the central business district, and links inner city residents who need jobs but may not have cars with employers in the suburbs who need workers. That business impact is one reason the business community is so keen on transit.
I should also note that I’ve been a critic of rail transit in Indy. That’s why I am pleased to see that the IndyConnect transit proposal has very little rail, only one line to the northeast that’s clearly a political fillip to Fishers and Noblesville. The rest of the system is much more cost effective bus, which is a big plus for it. This is not a massive investment in fixed guideway capital, but a lower cost service that can be deployed incrementally and is flexible enough to be adjusted if market conditions change.
Pace Andrea Neal, the General Assembly should step up to the plate and give local residents a chance to decide for themselves whether or not they want to invest their own money in a transit system.
Friday, September 14th, 2012
Barring some unforeseen major change of events, US Rep. Mike Pence, a noted advocate of fiscal restraint in Washington, is going to be Indiana’s next governor. While focusing on fiscal matters in Washington can make a lot of sense, I wondered what Pence’s plan would be for Indiana as it’s much less fertile ground fiscally. Pence will be taking over from Mitch Daniels, another fiscal conservative who spent the past eight years tightening the screws, taking Indiana’s state employee headcount down to the lowest levels since the 1970s. Thus as Pence takes over, it’s virtually certain he won’t find large amounts of cutting left to do, at least ways not enough to make his mark as governor. He’ll have to stake out other ways to make a difference.
He took his stab at it this week when he unveiled his Roadmap for Indiana. Though both are fiscally conservative Republicans, this roadmap reveals a sharp contrast between Pence and Daniels and indeed almost represents a repudiation of Daniels core agenda.
Mitch Daniels made raising Hoosier incomes the central organizing principle of his administration. As he told the Weekly Standard magazine, “We will do everything we can to raise the net disposable income of individual Hoosiers.”
This goal is clearly an imperative for the state, as the chart below will show. Hoosiers once had more disposable income in their pockets than Americans as a whole did. Yet that has steadily declined and Hoosiers are now making much less. Indiana has been growing progressively impoverished for more than a generation.
But if you look at Mike Pence’s roadmap, raising Hoosier incomes is nowhere in it. Instead, Pence’s goal is to increase private sector employment. In effect, if this roadmap is to be taken at face value, Pence has abandoned the idea of reversing Indiana’s trend of progressive impoverishment in favor of a simple employment metric.
In a lot of ways, this makes sense. What’s the biggest problem in the country right now? Without a doubt, jobs. When millions of people can’t find work at all, then creating new jobs, even if low paying ones, is better than nothing.
Also, Daniels frankly wasn’t able to deliver on his aspirations. During the Daniels administration, Indiana’s per capita disposable income as a percentage of the US average declined from 90.8% to 86.0%. Indiana’s percentage growth in per capita disposable income was 48th out of all US states and underperformed Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, only beating Michigan in the region.
Perhaps Mike Pence figured that if Mitch Daniels couldn’t do it, he probably can’t either.
When you look at Daniels many actions in government, it’s clear that a lot of them would be favorable to business generally. He managed through the fiscal hurricane successfully and even managed to clip a credit rating upgrade for the state to AAA. He got the state onto daylight saving time. He implemented a massive highway building program. He instituted a constitutional property tax cap with de factos spending caps for local government. He implemented right to work legislation. Without a doubt he took a very pro-business approach, focusing on speed and breaking down barriers for major investments ranging from BP’s massive refinery upgrade to the Medco mail order pharmacy facility.
But apart from some limited transactional items like the Honda plant, it’s not intuitively obvious how these would raise incomes. Indeed, by focusing on cost items, the strategy is likely to attract those businesses that are most cost sensitive. And if they are very sensitive to items like their property tax rate, they are probably also sensitive to other cost items like labor. Thus these are likely to be lower value businesses with low paying jobs. Indeed, to the extent that Daniels job creation efforts were successful, the income metric probably suffered.
High value businesses care about cost and regulatory items, but items like having a highly educated workforce, global connectivity, an entrepreneurial mindset and ecosystem, etc. matter a lot too. This is where Indiana has been weak and there was little in the Daniels program that enhanced Indiana as a destination of choice for the high skill labor force and the like. It’s hard to grow your life sciences industry without getting more life scientists. It’s difficult to point to state programs that would attract this labor force. This is not purely a cost equation. While everyone knows price matters when shopping for a house, I suspect few people live in the cheapest house or apartment they could find. Rather, they are more likely to live in the nicest house they could afford, in the best neighborhood, with the best schools, the nicest amenities, etc. Cost is a factor, but it’s not the only factor. Cities and states, like houses, need curb appeal.
As for items that would improve the educational levels of home grown folks, that’s certainly laudable. But as education only makes people more mobile, increasing the educational attainment of natives only makes it more likely Indiana’s children will ultimately leave the state for better opportunities to deploy that education in a higher paying job elsewhere. Indiana University once put up a billboard that said, “More Brains, Less Drain.” But in fact the opposite is true. It’s “More Brains, More Drain” and the less educated you are, the more likely you are to stick around where you grew up.
On the other hand, given the continued income decline since 1950, it’s difficult to fault Daniels too much. His programs like Major Moves will continue to pay dividends long after he leaves. It may actually be too early to judge. And the types of policies that might have been more oriented toward high wage job creation might simply be unacceptable to most Hoosiers, people Daniels knows well.
And if you look at the country, you see an increasing bifurcation into high value “vertical” economies without much job growth like Silicon Valley and New York, and “horizontal” economies that are adding lots of jobs but with lower relative values and wages. Indiana and most of the Rust Belt is in a zone that has been producing neither good wages nor many jobs. Yet which of the other two groups is it likely to be easier to join? Clearly, joining the vertical club would be more difficult. That’s a degree of difficulty hard problem. Daniels was pretty bold to take it on. It was an aspirational choice.
Perhaps looking at the charts and what it would take to reverse the trend, Pence decided it wasn’t worth fighting such a difficult battle.
Pence’s abandonment of higher wage opportunities is also clear not just in the choice of metric, but in the target industry profiles. He is focusing on manufacturing, logistics, agriculture, and life sciences. Other than life sciences, these are not industries that are generating lots of high value jobs. The high tech sector, represented today through the Techpoint consortium as one of the state’s target growth sectors, is no longer present. I think that shows Pence is realistic about what his new direction means. He’s not going to promise something the approach won’t deliver. He kept life sciences, but unlike high tech, it’s an important legacy industry for the state.
Traditional union manufacturing jobs provided a standard of living that included home ownership, family vacations, a new family car, and the ability to put your kids through school. Though it may not have made people rich, it gave them the ability to live out the American dream. And the taxes from the workers and the plants enabled quality public services to be delivered. Today’s low wage manufacturing and distribution only affords a more marginal existence, and more marginal communities.
That more marginal existence would appear to be Indiana’s future, barring a change in economic macrotrends. As good middle class jobs exit and low wage ones take their place, low value, low wage industries will become entrenched as a constituency in their own right. This will reinforce the cycle.
This isn’t just a challenge and a choice facing Indiana. It’s the same in nearly every Rust Belt region. Will they seek to reinvent themselves as middle class or higher wage winners in the 21st century economy, with a very uncertain prospect of making it given the paucity of success stories? Or will they engage in a race to the bottom, seeking to underbid neighbors for low wage table scraps, while still remaining cost uncompetitive not just with overseas locations, but also with even lower cost and lower tax states in the South (including zero income tax states like Texas)? It’s an unappetizing choice to be sure. But for Indiana, Mitch Daniels chose one goal, Mike Pence is choosing the other.