Sharing a vision for a better Indianapolis

January 12, 2009
To help Mayor Greg Ballard clarify his vision for Indianapolis as the city begins its second year under his leadership, following are six recommendations:

• Inspire Indianapolis with redevelopment of the Market Square Arena site.
Great civilizations are known for their culture. The quadrennial International Violin Competition, the biennial American Pianists Association competitions, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Indy Fringe Festival, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Heartland Film Festival are a few of our widely recognized cultural assets.

Philadelphia; Toronto; Nashville, Tenn.; and Omaha, Neb., have all constructed glorious facilities for their performing-arts groups, to wide acclaim and community support. The current proposals of a park, transit center or criminal justice building for the former MSA site are quotidian proposals for such a grand canvas. The site should be home to functional, inspirational architecture that serves the community's vibrant performing-arts community and that generates national acclaim.

• Foster educational entrepreneurship. The Mind Trust, an outgrowth of former Mayor Bart Peterson's educational reform efforts, is building a national reputation. It's bringing entrepreneurial thought to education by empowering the nation's most promising education entrepreneurs to launch transformative education initiatives and helping expand the city's most successful entrepreneurial organizations.

Continued investment in persistent, bold experimentation is required to improve the educational attainment of Indianapolis' youth. If we are unable to address the pernicious academic challenges faced by many of our schools, Indianapolis and its citizens will be unable to attain greatness.

• Implement mass transit. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency classified multiple central Indiana counties as being in nonattainment for ground-level pollutant ozone or for fine particulate matter. Deteriorating air quality and congested transportation infrastructure are symptomatic of a region that lacks an efficient transportation system. Mass transit is about safely making the connections that facilitate the free flow of ideas, commerce and capital. Central Indiana has paid for multiple studies and recommendations on where and how to implement a mass-transit system. It is time for the city to have the mass transit it deserves.

• Improve public safety. With the consolidation of the city and county police forces, the mayor must now ensure that training, equipment and funding are sufficient to allow officers to fulfill their responsibilities. Indianapolis also needs to recruit more exemplary men and women as patrol officers.

However, more officers apprehending criminals will not solve the problem if we do not also have more prosecutors, judges, courtrooms, jails and probation officers. Expanded substance-abuse programs, improved child-abuse and domestic-violence services, coordinated mentoring programs for youth, and continued neighborhood involvement are all needed to address the root causes of criminality.

• Complete Unigov. In 1966, community discussions regarding consolidation began with then-Mayor Richard Lugar advocating the consolidation of the 11 school districts in Marion County. The 1969 session of the General Assembly intentionally did not address county and township government or the consolidation of schools or police and fire services. The resulting Unigov resulted in more than 50 taxing authorities with nearly 60 different tax rates, four cities and an extant county government. Recently, the city has made progress in government reform. The taxpayers and the recipients of government services, whether they are individuals receiving relief or businesses seeking tax benefits, would both benefit from efficiency and better use of the community's assets.

• Spur economic development. The region should keep investing in life sciences, technology, logistics and advanced manufacturing and pursue bold, persistent experimentation in nurturing additional entrepreneurial activity.

The role of the mayor is to ensure that essential government services are provided efficiently and economically for the benefit of citizens. The mayor must also inspire the citizenry in identifying, articulating and promoting a vision that makes Indianapolis an enticing place to live, work and play. These recommendations will pay benefits for all of us.


Williams is regional venture partner of Hopewell Ventures, a Midwest-focused private-equity firm. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at bwilliams@ibj.com.
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