“I’m surrounded by very bright, passionate people,” says Keep Indianapolis Beautiful’s Dave Forsell of his team of full- and part-time staffers — and KIB’s small army of volunteers. Indeed, every year approximately 30,000 people volunteer their time and energy on behalf of some 400 KIB projects. What keeps them coming back? “We get things done,” Forsell says.
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful dates back to the Hudnut Administration of the 1970s. The city’s image at that time was unflattering. As John Gunther wrote in his bestseller, Inside America, Indianapolis was “unkempt and unswept.” Hudnut initiated the Indianapolis Clean City Committee to change that by declaring war on litter. With the passage of time, the Clean City Committee evolved into KIB — and its mission grew.
Today, KIB is working to make Indianapolis a green city. “What I think is nice about our organization,” Forsell says, “is we provide traditional volunteer opportunities, but we’re also interested in creating change.”
A couple of projects exemplify what Forsell is talking about. The Neighborwoods program has received national attention as it works toward its goal of planting 100,000 new trees in Center Township in 10 years. To determine where the trees should go, KIB created a map showing the township’s most stressed-out neighborhoods, based on nine factors elucidating pre-existing environmental and socio-economic pressures. So far, KIB has planted 7,000 trees in township “hot spots” where the existence of trees can help the most. “We’re using our ends as a means towards growing leadership and a culture of ownership,” Forsell says.
In the meantime, KIB has begun the process of building itself a new headquarters — a structure that Forsell promises will be a “culture-shifter,” embodying state-of-the-art principles of green design. “We’ve planted our flag in terms of environmental and sustainable design — and we’re making it happen.”
Forsell describes KIB’s strategy for problem solving as “a third way,” an approach “where people with disparate values systems can work together for the common good.” This strategy defines a middle route between corporate interests on the one hand and environmental advocates on the other. “Sometimes we disappoint people on either side,” Forsell admits. But this means that KIB is also able to rally large numbers of people to its various activities. “We’re passionate and authentic and very interested in mutuality and reciprocity,” Forsell says. “These aren’t intangibles at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. They turn into tree plantings and beautiful parks.”
— David Hoppe