Opinion and Forefront

TAFT: Urban independents' frustration with pols

June 16, 2012

Bill TaftMost Friday afternoons, I join a group of friends at Tomlinson Tap Room in City Market to enjoy locally brewed beer and discuss our roles in the life of the city. These professionals are mostly a well-traveled and educated bunch in their 30s, and work in a range of creative and technical fields. They live in urban neighborhoods where they are raising young families after growing up in more rural or suburban settings.

While these friends come from a variety of political backgrounds, their views increasingly align around a strong opinion that neither Democrats nor Republicans represent what they want for Indianapolis.

They reject rigid party alignment and instead are excited about quality-of-life issues that will make the city a better place to live. These friends are utterly uninterested in the power struggles of parties that derail the priorities they care about.

I don’t believe this group is unique, and if we want to encourage such people to invest in our urban neighborhoods, our politicians will ignore them at their peril.

Center Township has lost more than 57 percent of its population since 1960, and while this loss used to be direct to the outer townships, it increasingly bleeds over county lines. Indianapolis now loses a growing number of middle-income families to surrounding counties, and its slight population growth in the past decade was due only to an influx of immigrants.

Many local groups increasingly focus on stemming this loss of residents—particularly the young creative professionals experts believe are fundamental to economic development.

Unless we turn away from the growing political polarization in our local and state government, we will not be able to make the bold investments necessary for this group to stay and invest their lives here.

So what do these independent urbanites want? They want truly urban amenities that will make our diverse older neighborhoods attractive places to live, work, educate their children, connect with the environment, and enjoy local culture and food—all with as little dependence on their cars as possible.

They demand a range of public educational options, and believe charter schools are a way to move in that direction. They want “complete” streets that are safe for walking and biking. They want urban neighborhoods with a range of housing types and price points without vacant and deteriorated homes around them.

They crave unique shopping and dining they can walk to, and hate to see our reliance on fast food and convenience stores. They seek daily access to art, nature and beauty right in their neighborhood parks and greenways, and expect environmentally contaminated sites to be cleaned for new businesses.

They want to feel safe enough to let their kids play on their front sidewalks, and to help achieve this by knowing and looking out for their diverse neighbors.

They want quality public services and tax levels that do not penalize or overcomplicate investment, and they expect their government to creatively use tools like tax increment financing to spur important redevelopment projects.

In short, they want to live a good life that is distinctly urban, and to share it with the wide range of neighbors around them.

This lifestyle is exactly what a growing number of Indiana youth are looking for, no matter where they live. They are increasingly sick of watching the old-school posturing of the two parties, and want to opt out of either party to support candidates who will actually advance government support for the future they hope to provide their families.

I hope our parties will wake up and support these key quality-of-life issues before we lose valuable human capital to other cities and states. I also hope that my Friday evening friends will stick around long enough to see their kids join them in living their own urban dreams.•

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Taft is Indianapolis executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corp., a not-for-profit that invests in neighborhood redevelopment projects. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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