I watched my country turn into
a coast-to-coast strip mall
and I cried out in a song:
if we could do all that in thirty years,
then please tell me you all —
why does good change take so long?
Brown even makes it sound soothing despite its desperate overtones. So why did it hit me so hard? Well, for Indianapolis, my new city after three years in Chicago, it represents a monumental decision that must be faced in the future about the way our city looks, feels, acts and grows. But it’s not just physical appearance. It’s also time for us, as its citizens, to get off the sidelines. Yes, you may have to “cry out in a song.” It’s like my wise mother once told me, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
So here is what makes me well up inside. It is the fact that Hoosiers love traditions. I love ’em too! We love big, grossly oversized tenderloins at the State Fair. We revel in the late May sound of a distant hum of motors coming from 16th Street. We love the rolling stop at the neighborhood stop sign. Heck, we LOVE traditions. We don’t care how crazy, ridiculous or down-home they might be. We are in a love affair with being “traditional.”
Here’s a new one that’s not so new. Let’s make innovation our new tradition. It has happened before in our state. Drive through Columbus and look at the tradition of world-class architecture there. Take a trip through the state museum. We oozed with innovation at the turn of the century. Automobiles, televisions and even the most happenin’ jazz notes were getting pumped out of this ol’ rust belt idea factory. Well, hate to say it, but “It’s that time again.” And it is going to take everyone getting on board, putting aside thoughts of being uncomfortable with change and joining those in the state who are leading the way.
I can hear the rumblings already. The BioCrossroads. The Public Art Initiative. A (gasp) Rapid Transit System. The move to downtown urban living. Yes, the ground is shaking a little bit. But what needs to happen is an earthquake. And for this wonderful city, it is only going to happen when the people start making innovation their tradition.
It won’t be easy. We are a very comfortable community. You can drive alone almost anywhere in Indianapolis in 30 minutes! Great ... And our homes, ah yes, our new homes. “Yes, we’re almost to our house. It is the eighth tan one on the right, in between the two lighter tan ones.” Yup. It ain’t gonna be easy. But ask anyone in Indiana to tell you about his or her favorite tradition and I am positive the story will include overcoming some kind of adversity.
It is time for this state to find its direction again, care less about what others think or say and make itself a great place to live from the inside. If you want economic development you have to take care of yourself first, before you give away the farm to those businesses you so desperately want. It’s just like high school, the cool kids didn’t beg for your attention. They were cool because they took care of themselves and people wanted to be around them. If Indianapolis takes care of itself with high quality design and development, I will bet that the economics will follow. People will want to be here.
The fact of the matter is that all over the city there are pockets of people who are bringing the best of Indianapolis and this state to the table. They may never have left here before or they may be transplants from other locations but, ultimately, they are here to make a difference.
Whether the issue is public art or improving the environmental functionality of our buildings, the public also has to do some homework. We must become an educated population about things that will distinguish this state as a great place to live. Don’t worry, no one will mistake us for New York or the West Coast. But you know what? That is fantastic because we are Indianapolis and the great state of Indiana.
By the way, if you ever catch the song by Greg Brown, listen intently to his smoky voice on that last line. He is almost crying when he asks, “Why does good change take so long?” I came back to the Hoosier state because I love its traditions. I hope in 20 years we’re crying tears of joy because we took the risks to make innovation our tradition again.
Adam D. Thies, AICP EDEN Land & Design, Inc.