The Best Economic Development Policy? Investing in Us.

There has been quite a bit of chatter recently about “big ideas” to change Indianapolis and take us to the “next level.” Not all of these ideas are necessarily bad (making Monument Circle more amenable to pedestrians would be great), but these often come in the form of flashy projects, like an “iconic” architectural feature unique to Indianapolis (which we already have), more stadiums, or other Downtown-based entertainment experiences. But these projects aren’t for Indianapolitans. They’re not even really for out-of-town tourists. They’re for the occasional visitor from the suburbs who wants to visit the city for a night out.

The harsh reality is that we have treated the few walkable neighborhoods with living commercial centers we have left (the ones that weren’t devastated by urban renewal, highways-as-“slum”-clearance, and land use/housing policies that pushed the middle class to the suburbs) as entertainment districts, not functional neighborhoods (keep an eye out for a post on the “Disneyland Effect” in the near future).

If we want to creating a city worth visiting, then we need to create a city worth living in; not the other way around. Indianapolis doesn’t need big, expensive, bold ideas that create a one-time “wow” factor. We need investments in us and for us to create vibrant neighborhoods that have something new to explore around every corner. Modest, targeted investments in our struggling neighborhoods to inspire walkability, bikability, accessibility, housing, public arts (CreateIndy is a good step in that direction), and long-term affordability for small businesses in neighborhood commercial districts should be our strategy.

Posted by StrongIndy

1 comment

I’m afraid this misperception comes from what is known as the “Bilbao effect”. The Bilbao Guggenheim did, in fact, put Bilbao on the map. But looking at history, it was more of a fluke than a rule. Iconic architecture does not make a city great.

I’ve heard about these types of projects, “It could be our City’s Eiffel Tower”. To which my response is, The Eiffel Tower didn’t make Paris a great city. Paris was already a great city, and from that great city came the Eiffel Tower.

Think big, but at the scale of people. Would a big, expensive project like replacing the DT freeways with a beautiful, walkable, boulevard with new development in the heart of Indy be worth the effort and money? Probably Yes. Would building the world’s biggest ferris wheel on the White River make Indy a great city, and improve the life of residents? Probably not. Knowing the difference is important.

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