A Future for Indianapolis

Matthew Tully has a piece in the IndyStar from this week that just caught my attention. It’s an op-ed on the discussions that incumbent mayor Greg Ballard and challenger Melina Kennedy ought to be having about the future of our city. The op-ed says many folks around town don’t think either of them have much vision. This got me thinking about what I’d do if I were running for mayor…

Mass Transit

According to Tully, plenty of people want to see mass transit in the city. I don’t disagree that a lot of people want to see Indianapolis develop a great mass transit system. I just don’t think Indianapolis can support one – whether its more busses, light rails, trains or flying cars. Metro Indianapolis, however, probably could.

Indy’s transit woes come from our spread out, un-dense city. This is because the city is surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. Space and land is cheap, so why should or would someone build a house for $200,000 in Marion County when they can get the same thing for $150,000 in Hamilton County and enjoy a lot more peace and quiet?

My proposal: developing the Indianapolis Regional Metropolitan Area, which would include Marion, Hamilton, Hancock, Shelby, Johnson, Morgan, Hendricks and Boone Counties. My pie-in-the-sky idea would be to merge all of these areas into a sort of super-city with a much larger tax base, better equity in schools and highway construction and shared interest. County Councils in those counties should elect a single county executive to serve on the expanded City-County Council and a plan to phase out local county councils should be put into place. Those people can then go on to serve in the larger Metro-Council as a sort of “mini legislature”. People in the suburbs have to get over their fear of the “big city” and realize they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for that city.

With this combined area, taxes could be collected at similar rates that pour into a single pot to better the interests of this region. Those taxes can be used to fund schools, roads, cleanup, etc., but also a better mass transit system. When everyone pays into the system, everyone is more involved in the system, as it should be.

Start with increasing bus service per IndyConnect’s recommendations and expand on as necessary. Mass transit in Indianapolis is not a problem. The problem, as can be witnessed by any traffic report on a weekday, is always suburbanites on I-69, I-70 and I-65 coming from Fishers, Avon, Plainfield, Lebanon and Greenwood.

Parks and Green Space

According to Tully’s article, a number of people want to see green space improved and increased. This is kind of a weird request since most people would come to our city and assume the whole thing is “empty green space” compared to most other cities, but it’s worth thinking about.

My proposal: charter parks. They’re plenty of plots of empty earth in Marion County. I say we open the door to a sort of public-private system of parks. I see no reason why, say, Eli Lilly wouldn’t be interested in developing a park with recreational facilities and open space as a sort of benefit to their employees. It could be used by Lilly during the day and open to the public in the early mornings, evenings and weekends and holidays. Likewise with spaces on IUPUI’s campus which are, for all practical matters, completely closed to the public. Let the city furnish a lifeguard or two for the pool and let the public use it for free in the evenings. The pool’s always on, the lights are always on and it’s always ready-to-be-used. It’s just that IU, a public school, won’t allow it.

Crime

The other big to-do seems to be crime. Crime is, evidently, a natural part of living in a city. To be blunt, this is a very complex issue that raises too many issues to be solved with any one tactic.

My proposal: never mind extra police and security. Unless you can station an office at every street corner in the city, the very nature of police work is a reactionary after-the-fact service.

Instead, it’s going to take years of proper education, civility and cultural changes to get to a safe city and even then, I don’t think it can be achieved. Some people are just bad apples for one reason or another.

So how do you kind of scoop them up to alleviate some of the problems now? My suggestion would be hostels. Not a homeless shelter, but hostels. Places for people to go and live for cheap rates or where they can work in exchange for a place to live. Whether they’re publicly-owned or private, I don’t know. I prefer public-private partnerships when they can be done fairly, well and with the city’s best interests at heart.

When you realize that most living quarters fall into two categories: free or not-at-all-cheap, you leave a lot of gray area. A mother and child can’t live in a shelter, they can’t always afford an apartment and certainly not a house. Rent in this city is, at best, $400 a month if you want to live in near squaller conditions. $550+ gets you someplace at least a little attractive and that still includes the scant few studio apartments in town.

Dorm-like hostels could allow people to live comfortably, like in an apartment, for around $250 or $250 a month without the high costs associated with the rent as more people can fill a given area. If you build the structure with those needs in mind, you can build a building that’s cost-effective and easy to maintain.

It doesn’t have to be extravagant. In fact, I’d argue it shouldn’t be so as to encourage people to save up and move on to someplace better. That could keep a lot of slightly disadvantaged people from spending time on the streets or begging for money. It would also give police another tool besides jail to help people stay out of trouble.

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