Opinion and Forefront

WESTERHAUS-RENFROW: Crime undermines Indy’s many advancements

March 15, 2014

Westerhaus-Renfrow
In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Ballard expanded on a familiar theme of making Indianapolis a more livable city, one that can build on its unique amenities to attract middle- and upper-income residents back into Marion County and even the old city limits.

But one of the most essential roles of local government is to protect the lives and property of all its residents and businesses. The surge of recent high-profile violent crime in Indianapolis may neutralize efforts to rebuild its urban neighborhoods and restock the city’s tax rolls.

Safety has caused a wide spectrum of residents to flee urban areas that have (or are perceived to have) high crime rates. University of Chicago and University of California sociologists say every single homicide in a given city leads to a total population decline of 70 people.

What causes high crime rates? Unfortunately, there is no single answer.

One thing’s for sure. The majority of the victims of crime in urban areas are the poor.

The annual National Crime Victimization Survey reports that those with household incomes below $7,500 are three times more likely to be robbed than those with incomes above $75,000.

One in five people live below the poverty line in Indianapolis and a large number of them live in inner-city neighborhoods that have higher crime rates than the wealthier suburbs.

The majority of citizens in Indianapolis, rich and poor, black and white, old and young, are good, law-abiding citizens. Local community groups, churches and wonderful, generous volunteers and professionals are devoting time and energy to make our neighborhoods safe and a source of pride.

Ballard’s call for longer prison sentences for criminals who use guns while committing crimes is also a move in the right direction. Moreover, the City-County Council’s recent approval to add 80 new Indianapolis police officers is the right thing to do.

For someone who rode to office on a wave of anti-tax populism, Ballard realizes a low-tax environment is important, but not the end-all for economic vitality. With nearly half the city’s revenue coming from individual income taxes, it’s a fiscal necessity to repopulate the urban core with taxpayers.

Economic opportunities and vitality follow productive and talented people. Indianapolis-area businesses demand the proximity of a high-quality work force. You don’t have to look far for a local example in Eli Lilly and Co., which was willing to invest in building a “neighborhood” (the CityWay development) nearly from scratch to give white-collar employees an attractive place to live near its headquarters.

Ballard gets the people-first approach and the need for a reliable transit system. Amenities like the Monon and Cultural trails help raise Indianapolis’ profile as a forward-thinking city. Developments in cultural districts like Mass Ave provide a reason to visit.

Good schools are also essential—and there have been notable successes in the city’s portfolio of charter schools, and real momentum for change in IPS.

But when it comes right down to it, when people choose where they want to live, they don’t just look for the lowest taxes, the best schools and the most interesting neighborhoods.

Without safe neighborhoods, all other livability efforts are imperiled.

I believe Ballard understands that this issue may well define his remaining tenure in office. I look forward to hearing how he and city leaders plan to elevate Indianapolis on issues related to safe urban communities for all.•

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Westerhaus-Renfrow is a senior lecturer at the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, president of ChangePro LLC, and a former vice president of diversity and inclusion at the NCAA. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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