Riley Parr: Don’t let Indy’s downtown slide backward

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Riley ParrA few weeks ago, I met a friend for mid-morning coffee on a weekday at the Starbucks on Monument Circle. We sat on the south-facing steps of the Circle for nearly an hour-and-a-half.

During that time, it’s not an exaggeration to say, 80% of the people we saw were homeless. I walked to the Circle over lunch the other day, and, though the percentage was lower, the number of homeless people was still substantial.

Despite the fact that the majority of 2020 has been spent in some state of lockdown (self-imposed or otherwise), Indianapolis, similar to other major cities, is on pace to set a record for homicides. And it’s not even close.

Pre-pandemic Indianapolis did not pop into existence by happenstance. The thing is, people forget, or they never knew, what downtown Indy was like pre-mid 2000s. Luxury apartments did not dot the skyline, the explosion of restaurants had not yet happened, the migration back to downtown living was still a few years away, and people tended to stay away from downtown after nightfall.

And that was just 15 years ago. My parents grew up in an Indianapolis that earned the nickname “Naptown” for good reason.

It’s been two months since the riots downtown, yet some businesses within blocks of the Circle still look like a hurricane is about to make landfall.

When people have commented over the last decade with concerns over the trajectory of the country—the explosion of the federal debt, or the ever-expanding powers of government into the lives of Americans—I’ve remained optimistic because of our history.

At every major juncture in America’s past, leaders have stepped forward. Before I moved out of Marion County, I drove every day past the Landmark for Peace within Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park off College Avenue that marks the place where Bobby Kennedy’s remarks on the night of King’s assassination helped make Indianapolis the only major U.S. city that did not riot.

Mayor Joe Hogsett is no Bobby Kennedy. The Saturday of the riots, Hogsett left his office in the afternoon and went home. Until recently, the mayor had made about as many public appearances as Joe Biden—that is to say, hardly any. And since that weekend, neither he nor the City-County Council (Democrats or Republicans) have put forward any legitimate proposals addressing the damage caused by the riots, changing police training, improving race relations, or helping the marginalized in our community reach their full potential.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the rule rather than the exception nowadays, regardless of the level of government or which party is in control. Even if, somehow, sound policy based on actual facts manages to make it into a proposal, its defeat is all but assured by the opposing party.

From Dick Lugar to Greg Ballard, the story of Indianapolis has been consistent improvement. To hear longtime Indy residents tell it, the city finally came into its own about a decade ago. But the practical effect of the mayor’s and City-County Council’s inaction is that Indy is regressing to pre-2000 Indianapolis, with the problems—homelessness and violence, in particular—of a big city.

Over the last dozen years, I’ve often wondered what would stymie the influx of young professionals to downtown. The mix of coronavirus, riots, working from home, homelessness, murders and a government incapable of acting might just be it.

But the story is not yet written. I hope those with practical proposals based on facts, rather than politically popular platitudes, will soon be in high demand. Indianapolis deserves it.•

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Parr is a student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis and is executive director of the Indiana Young Republicans and president of the IU McKinney Federalist Society. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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One thought on “Riley Parr: Don’t let Indy’s downtown slide backward

  1. I love your understanding and clear vision of what has happened & what is happening. It’s incredible how all the gentle & progressive progress that had turned downtown into a desirable locale for fun & work, could b RC taken- down mainly by an unseen enemy. Resilience is the word & backbone of our citizens.. as you say we need to mobilize ideas and create once again what we had, which was a true gem.

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