My house is in a completely useless part of town. I live on the southeast side of Indianapolis and you’d be excused if you didn’t know what was down there. It’s a sparsely populated (relative to the rest of town) area with no major industry or cultural significance. So is much of the southwest and northwest side. They should be abandoned by the City.
In the 70’s when then-Mayor Richard Lugar put together the UniGov plan to merge the City of Indianapolis and Marion County governments, it made sense with the information they had. It increased the tax base, propped up and spread the wealth around a bit, and was a useful mechanism for capturing suburban flight.
But today the suburbs extend beyond Marion County, which in all aspects should be considered exurbs. The suburbs we inherited through to today, like Lawrence, Beech Grove, Speedway, and Southport, don’t even want to be part of Indianapolis. And as we’ve seen with mergers of fire departments and other services, there’s really not a ton of savings to be had from merging them in anymore.
Indianapolis should abandon the outer portions of Marion County and some of the inner rings, and I’m not talking about “undoing UniGov”. I’m talking about consciously declaring no more investment in those areas.
What are these areas? Anything south of Raymond is a good start. On the southeast side anything east of Emerson and south of Brookville can go. And on the southwest side, anything east of Kentucky Ave and again south of Raymond can go. To facilitate some thoroughfares and chunks that have “expensive infrastructure”, like the Harding Street IPL plant, maintain corridors along Harding, Troy, South Emerson, and Meridian and Madison. That props up the University of Indianapolis, some decent development along the northern boundary of Johnson County, existing hospitals, and electric infrastructure.
Likewise, on the Northwest Side anything in that corner of town north of Eagle Creek Park and south of US 52 in Pike Township can go.
Maintaining these borderline rural areas of Pike, Franklin, and Decatur Townships is cost prohibitive and holds the rest of the viable City back.
Decatur Township has a population of 32,000 people. Franklin with 54,000 and is so broke they can’t afford to bus kids to school, and Pike 78,000.
Whereas Center Township has 146,000, Lawrence 118,000, Perry 108,000, Warren with 99,000, Washington with 132,000, and Wayne 137,000.
In other words, Decatur, Franklin, and Pike Townships have only slightly more people combined than any of the others do alone.
What specifically, then, should Indianapolis do?
- Resolve not to expand roads in the south side and northwest side, barring the unlikely advances necessary to support Indianapolis International Airport.
- Only major existing corridors like the aforementioned Madison, Troy, and Harding Streets, should be maintained modestly.
- Building permits should be denied in these zones.
- Water and sewer infrastructure should maintained to the necessity of public safety and health, as should police, fire, and medical coverage.
- As buildings deteriorate, fail, or are otherwise abandoned, they should be razed.
- Public transit should stop service.
- Public schools should close and be razed as population declines.
Indianapolis, like a lot of cities, are unable to do enough to maintain a high quality of life in large parts of town. Lack of viable sidewalk, sewer, transit, fitness, multi-use, and new roads are plague these parts of town now. Indianapolis should signal to the people who live there, “We will not be investing any more in these parts of town.” Stop people from moving there expecting to receive viable services.
Taxes for those residents living in these zones should be maintained at current legal levels and instead of updating sewers, roads, etc. as needed, money should instead be spent on buying people out of their homes, allowing the elderly and those with no mortgages to sustain themselves, or assisting them with relocating. This will be a long process that will take over a generation. But in three, four, five, generations, Indianapolis will have a stronger core at a sustainable rate of taxation and investment.
When the City looks around and doesn’t know how to pay for or maintain the roads it has, you have too many roads. When schools don’t know how to pay for or maintain their buildings or get kids to school, you screwed up and live in an unsustainable area.
Return it to a truly rural area and leave it as such for those that choose or desire that life. But as with a rural life, that comes with no municipal water, sewer, transit, numerous roads, sidewalks, parks, or other desired municipal benefits.
Refocus the efforts and money of the City’s resources to the parts of town where people can receive more benefit.
This dance we’re doing of trying to keep stuff together isn’t working, because most of these Townships are falling apart or undesirable.
The only way to fix this without abandonment is to receive State legislation barring more development in the outer ring “doughnut” counties, which would force smarter land use and make developing Pike, Franklin, and Decatur Townships more desirable to developers and make rehabilitating existing structures necessary. This would, however, drive up real estate prices and rents, which can be useful and harmful at the same time.
We have too much city proclaiming to be an actual city. It isn’t, and it’s dragging the rest of the area down.