EDITORIAL: Arts, parks need city investment: Amenities keep talent flowing here

September 15, 2008

Arts, parks need city investment Amenities keep talent flowing here Young, well-educated, married people seem to like Indianapolis. That's one of the pieces of good news that came out of a new IUPUI study that was the subject of a frontpage story in last week's IBJ. When it comes to young, well-educated singles, we still have a way to go. Indianapolis lags the national average 17 percent. Cities are chasing such young people to keep their communities and economies strong. And once these professionals hit their mid-30s, they tend to stay put. If we want to keep drawing plum residents, we need to keep making our city more appealing. Lacking natural attractions like mountains and beaches, we have to get creative.

One exciting development is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a bike and pedestrian path now under construction that will link neighborhoods, cultural districts, entertainment venues and greenways. This is the kind of bold thinking that makes our city more livable, and is likely to catch the eye of prospective residents.

Now for the bad news: The proposed city budget calls for cutting its already-token arts funding by a third, and parks funding 12 percent. This will not be fat, folks. It'll be meat.

The $34 million Indianapolis spent on parks in 2006 equaled $43 per resident, according to the Trust for Public Land. Columbus, Ohio, spends $70, and the national average for major cities is $76. Indianapolis has less parkland per person than other cities of similar size. And the new Indy Parks director says dozens of city playgrounds already lack something as basic as enough mulch to keep children safe.

The news is no better on the arts front. Indianapolis next year plans to spend $1 million (the Capital Improvement Board could kick in more). That compares with current spending of $4.6 million in Columbus, Ohio, and $3 million in Nashville, Tenn.

Of course, the city's contribution to the arts is largely symbolic. It doesn't come close to paying the bills. But slashing the already paltry allocation sends the message that the city does not place a high value on culture.

The prospect of cutbacks is ringing alarm bells all over the city. Nearly 200 people packed a meeting last month to protest the proposed budget. After all, parks and arts offer more than a way to kill a Saturday afternoon. Indy Parks provides summertime meals for poor children and programs to help at-risk youth channel their energy in positive ways. Some people even consider arts and parks to be crime prevention.

And arts funding is not just a handout. The arts are a $468 million local industry that produces $52 million in government revenue and supports 15,000 jobs, according to Americans for the Arts, based in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Granted, new property-tax caps have put the city in a bind. Public safety clearly must remain a priority. But if we can build the $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium, surely we can find a way to keep vibrancy in our arts and outdoor offerings.

The young talents we hope to attract deserve as much. And so do those of us who are already here.

To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.
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