A conversation is starting about the health of this city’s urban core that everyone in the region should join.
The Carmel CEO, the young family in Plainfield, the business owner in Greenfield, and the teacher in Greenwood all have something at stake as an array of folks, from grass-roots activists to civic leaders, wrestle with this problem: Center Township in Marion County lost 15 percent of its population in the first decade of the 21st century—even as the Indianapolis region as a whole grew 15 percent.
The region is robust and the heart of downtown is relatively healthy, but the neighborhoods that surround downtown continue to lose population, tax base and jobs. The march of talent and treasure to outlying townships and ring counties continues four decades after leadership first began sounding the alarm.
Why should caring about this problem cross county lines? Because crime and misery left unchecked in the city’s core will eventually spread outward and threaten the region’s economy. And because it’s the right thing to do. No region can become great without a deep commitment from its residents to lift up those who have the least.
The Local Initiatives Support Corp., an organization that knows a thing or two about bringing urban neighborhoods back to life, is convening a series of public forums this year to help tear down the barriers to repopulating Center Township.
In conjunction with Indiana Humanities, LISC held the first conversation April 30 at Indiana Landmarks. About 200 people came together for a give-and-take with a panel of civic leaders accustomed to coping with the city’s challenges: Central Indiana Corporate Partnership CEO Mark Miles; City-County Council President Maggie Lewis; David Harris of education-reform group The Mind Trust; Central Indiana Transit Task Force leader Ron Gifford; and Joe Bowling, who runs a local community development corporation.
The goals are familiar: good schools, effective public transportation, safe streets. The jobs and population that contribute to a healthy tax base are found in neighborhoods that have these things.
It’s not as if the work is just starting. LISC has spent 20 years mobilizing neighbors and leveraging funds to improve neighborhoods. The Mind Trust has a laser focus on improving our public schools. The organizations that Gifford and Miles represent have worked tirelessly to hammer out a feasible transit plan.
The challenge now is to build support for these and other initiatives among the region’s business and civic leaders, politicians and the public at large. That means spreading the word about what’s at stake if we don’t succeed. And getting people to recognize that all of these strategies are working toward a common goal: rebuilding our urban core.
Join the conversation as the public forums continue Aug. 14, when the conversation will focus specifically on jobs; and on Nov. 8, with a discussion about housing. Exact times and locations aren’t nailed down yet.
These discussions will become even more productive if the entire region is represented and new voices are heard.•
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