During his six terms as mayor of Carmel, Jim Brainard has helped his suburban community swell from around 25,000 residents to 100,000. He’s also overseen its transition from a simple bedroom community into a bona fide destination, by building a pedestrian-friendly downtown from scratch.
“Successful cities across the globe have downtowns where people from different backgrounds, religions and races all have an opportunity to get together and know each other,” Brainard said. “If a city doesn’t have that, it’s not a city. It’s just urban sprawl.”
To avoid that fate, Brainard championed the conversion of the town’s neglected core into the Arts and Design District, created a second core five blocks south called City Center, then linked them with the Midtown project. In addition to shops, condos and walking paths, the improvements included such landmarks as the 1,600-seat Palladium concert hall, and a 500-seat theater called The Tarkington, both in the Center for the Performing Arts. Such amenities, he believes, are essential to attracting 21st-century employers.
“We have to compete for jobs with the best places everywhere, and we have no mountains, no ocean, and bad weather,” Brainard said. “Our competition isn’t Avon or Greenwood. Our competition is on the coasts and in Europe and Asia, so we’ve set very high standards for ourselves.”
The city also has set high standards for the installation of traffic roundabouts—more than 100 so far. But, as with Carmel’s new downtown, Brainard says they’re eminently practical. They’ve reduced accidents with injury almost 80%, and they also save gas.
“Great cities everywhere have had to learn how to move goods and people around safely and efficiently,” he said.