Nothing about Indianapolis is new right now. The Citizen’s Energy Dig Indy project is not new — we’ve put pipes in the ground before. Indy is hardly first in installing an LED lightbulb. Plenty of other cities in the US and around the world have bike lanes and rapid transit bus stations. The Cultural Trail is excellent, and even more celebrated that much of it was privately donated. But the idea of a separated wayfinding path away from cars and trucks have been well documented in plenty of European and American cities.
Even our crime problems are not new. Plenty of cities have had it worse, have it worse now, and have made significant changes to reduce crime rates.
As convenient and knee-jerk it is to wring hands over “How can this possibly work?” It’s important to remember these are all solved problems.
Take policing as one example. New York’s turnaround from the ’80s and ’90s to today is an excellent example of a city that got its crime rate under control for a city of its class and size. Part of how it got there was a serious investment in its police force and its culture.
Marion County, by contrast, routinely has the federally mandated minimum standard for officers-to-resident ratio. Officers have told me that during the Ballard years civilian workers in the Sheriff’s office were reassigned as deputies to meet the standard. But their work responsibilities never put them in a policing role. Officers have also told me the hiring freeze during the recession put them so far behind they’re just treading water at best and recruiting lesser qualified officers at worse today to catch up.
What is unique to Indianapolis and any city is how they decide to respond to some challenges. And for many, it’s just straight-up money. More police officers don’t necessarily equate to lower crime, but current staffing levels are thin for a city of our geographic size. No one thinks officers should work for peanuts. That has a cost, and it’s one we’re evidently not willing to recognize.
In some cases, Indianapolis is prohibited by State law from taking measures to spend. The merits of those policies are debatable. But it’s undeniable the effect they have on some City services.
The Mayor just announced a new street-sweeping service paid for with parking revenue. Again, street sweeping isn’t exactly new. Regardless if the City does it or pays a company to do it (how many street sweeping contractors can there be?) doesn’t matter. It costs money. And paying for it saves you the sunk cost of a nail in your tire.
Even the growth of our metro area is not new. The idea that outer-ring suburbs will somehow defy the inertia of history by never having a pothole or aging water system is short-sighted. In 50 years, Fishers will look a lot like Lawrence and Pendleton will look more like Fishers today.
Our policy debates have repeated throughout history. There has never been a time in Indianapolis’ history where people haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about public safety and schools. It’s good that we heap a lot of attention to those problems. It’s good that we continually examine and question their efficiency and service.
None of these things is a big surprise. They may be new to you or someone who’s never traveled outside of the state, but they are not uncharted territory.