A conversation about cities with William Hudnut In any other city they would have called him "Boss." No Mayor in Indianapolis history has been as formidable a vote-magnet as William Hudnut. A Presbyterian minister and former congressman, Hudnut was elected to four consecutive terms as Indy"s chief executive, a 16-year span running from 1976 to 1992.
During his tenure, the city"s downtown was re-envisioned and over 30 building projects, including the Hoosier - now RCA - Dome, Circle Centre Mall, Union Station, White River Park campus and IUPUI expansion, were undertaken. Hudnut was also architect of the drive to identify Indianapolis as a sports capital. He landed the Colts in 1984 and the city hosted the Pan Am Games in 1987. After losing a statewide race for secretary of state in 1990, Hudnut declined to run for a fifth term. For the past decade, Hudnut has acted as a kind of urban scholar and consultant. He is now a senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute and lives in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington, D.C. Earlier this fall, Hudnut returned to Indianapolis to attend the groundbreaking for the new Central Library and to speak at a conference of the Indiana chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. He took time to grant NUVO the following interview, in which he speaks freely about the need for affordable housing, Mayor Peterson"s cultural initiative, urban sprawl, taxes and the Colts. NUVO: What changes have you seen in cities since you were mayor of Indianapolis? HUDNUT: I think a fundamental shift that"s been going on for more than 10 years is the shift back to local authority and responsibility - and less of a reliance on the federal government. Particularly now, because the federal government is strapped like everybody else. So it"s a question of mayors across the country becoming more entrepreneurial, more innovative - trying to figure out how to finance this or that. NUVO: Some people suggest the office of mayor is one of the more creative public roles. HUDNUT: I think absolutely. For example, look at the problems Mayor Peterson"s having holding the Colts. He"s got some innovative ideas and it wouldn"t be a burden to the taxpayer if his ideas work out. Mayors have to innovate and be creative. I think this is a fundamental shift. Another is that mayors across the country are paying more attention to growth issues than they used to. To sprawl, to unplanned development, to higher population densities, to using mass transit, to making places pedestrian friendly. It"s a real interesting shift. When I was mayor, I wanted to capture growth wherever I could. Indiana was basically a brain drain state and we were losing business so I"d go after growth wherever I could find it - back there in the '80s. But now the growth is here. We"re not going to stop growing. The question is how. That question is being asked by more and more Mayors. I run a series of Mayors" forums for the Land Institute. We"ve done about 20 of them since I"ve been around and every single one focuses on bringing community back to the city. Every single mayor is interested in holding the center against the centrifugal forces of suburbanization. I think there are three basic demographic cohorts right now that are trending back to the city. One is the Generation Y and X people who are tired of suburban living and into the Internet age. They like the amenities of urban life. The second are couples and artist-craftspersons, gay and lesbian couples and so forth, all of whom seem more attracted to city life than suburban life. The third is the happy empty nesters. I call these cohorts the singles, the mingles and the jingles. The happy empty nesters don"t want to fight that commute anymore. They may be in a second job. They may be retired. Chicago is full of people who have moved in from the suburbs to these downtown condos because they want to be closer to the places of entertainment, recreational venues, sports and all that. I think there is a trend back to the city that is going to keep on even if Sept. 11 scared people about living in cities. Workforce housing NUVO: Studies have recently shown that the rich have been getting richer in this country while the poor have been getting poorer. How do we build communal bridges in cities between haves and have-nots? HUDNUT: I think this is a fundamental issue that America"s facing. We don"t want to become a schizophrenic nation. It"s not part of the American dream to have one group living in the shadows of life while others are out in the sunlight. One way that our organization feels this bridge can be built is through mixed income housing, where you combine the higher end stuff with some affordable housing that may or may not be subsidized. For example, in Montgomery County, Md., where I live, they have what"s called Inclusionary Zoning, which requires a developer who"s building a multifamily complex of, say, 50 or more units, to set aside 15 percent of those units for low and moderate income people who are then sprinkled in next to the people who can buy at the market rate. There"s a whole cohort of people who need this kind of what I call "Workforce Housing." They"re not people who are on the dole or on welfare. They"re people who are working and make too much money to qualify for a subsidy but not enough to buy a mortgage ñ I"m talking about entry level fire and police officers, nurses, teachers. All over the United States there"s a growing concern about the need for more affordable housing. The national housing conference says that there are 4 million working families - working families - that have critical housing needs, which they define as living in severely substandard housing or spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing. These people need help. I think you do that in two ways. One, the mixed income housing and, two, by building more affordable housing. NUVO: How can cities work to attract the human capital necessary for economic growth? HUDNUT: We"re going to have to learn to embrace diversity as a core strength in America because the population is becoming more diverse and all different kinds of people are being mixed together. Twenty-five percent of new growth that America is going to experience is coming from immigrants. They"re flocking, basically, to the shore cities - Miami, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle. They"re Asian -Americans, they"re Hispanic Americans. They come from all over. At least in their first generation they provide a lot of entrepreneurial energy for the country. You can"t go around Washington, for example, and find the traditional worker or traditional African- American worker on a construction project. They"re practically all Hispanic - and they"re helping to build America. Where the action is NUVO: What do you think of Mayor Peterson"s cultural development initiative? HUDNUT: I think it"s a good initiative. As probably a lot of people know, I emphasized sports to leverage economic opportunity. Doing culture, I think, is very important and I wish him well. Way, way, way back when I think it was Pericles who gave the Athenians their motto, which was: "Honor God, serve your fellow man, and adorn the city." In a sense, culture is adorning the city ñ not in being a peripheral, "nice" thing to have, but in expressing the aspirations and frustrations of people. Maybe it"s in poetry, maybe it"s in dance. Maybe it"s in the visual arts, maybe in public art. But it helps to maintain a continuity in the human race. NUVO: It connects to the brain drain issue as well, does it not? HUDNUT: To be honest, Indiana, I think, has a real problem that way. It"s not solved by one mayor"s term. It"s a problem for a long time. The kids grow up and they"ll maybe go to Notre Dame or Purdue or IU - but they don"t necessarily come home. They"ll go to Chicago or Boston. NUVO: What accounts for this problem? HUDNUT: I think the excitement, the verve and the energy of urban amenities. They like the energy of the big city. I think Indianapolis has come a long ways. But there were a lot of people who, when I was campaigning statewide throughout Indiana, were very envious of Indianapolis because it seemed to be developing some of that verve with restaurants and other nice things - the opening of the Circle Centre Mall and all that. The Generation Y group - these young people - they want to go where the action is. NUVO: Has the role of sports in the life of cities changed or evolved over time? HUDNUT: I think it"s changed in that the athletes, by and large, are more spoiled. They"re making so much more money - and the owners are more greedy, wanting to keep up. The ticket prices keep going up and I think, ultimately, they"ll price themselves out of the market. Secondly, I think it"s very important for Indianapolis to try and keep the Colts. Not that they contribute that much to the economic base of the community, but they contribute to the psychological base and I think they provide a lot of lift to the spirit of the community. A professional franchise means more to a middle-size city like Indianapolis than to a big city like Los Angeles or New York or Chicago. Los Angeles, as we all know, is without a professional football team. It may be the Colts think the grass is greener out there on the West Coast, but I think it would be a severe loss to the image of Indianapolis if the Colts got away. I"m puzzled by it. I don"t know all the details. I haven"t talked to Jim Irsay about it. But it surprises me that this stadium - which we built 20 years ago and thought was state-of-the-art in terms of the number of seats and everything - now seems to be obsolete. This feeds into the problem of the loss of home-owned businesses in Indianapolis and Indiana. You know the banks have been bought out in the last 10 years or 12 years. They"re owned by people elsewhere. The power and light company and on and on. You have people running these institutions who don"t have the vested interest in Indianapolis that maybe 20 years ago, that generation did. We were able to sell out the boxes we had in 1984. We had 250,000 applications, incidentally, in 1984 for 60,000 seats from the general public. So there was that reservoir of interest. I think the Colts need to put a winning team on the field. If they do, that will help a lot. But I just feel in my heart it would be very sad if the Colts - or the Pacers - left. I worked hard to keep the Pacers because one of the owners - before the Simons - was going to take them to Sacramento. NUVO: What does a city need to do to become a major destination in this day and age? HUDNUT: Indianapolis, for a long time, was regarded as a city that you fly over to get somewhere else - and we want to make it a destination city. I think there"s no one magic bullet. A dynamic downtown is part of it, with quality developments in the suburbs - and more people. There are going to be 60 million more people in the U.S. in 2020 than there were in 2000. Not many of them are gravitating toward the Midwest, with the exception of Chicago. They"re going to the seaboard cities. We have to somehow make a conscious effort to be the kind of city that attracts the cohorts I was talking about. That"s not done overnight. But the emphasis on sports, the emphasis on culture, the emphasis on a clean city that"s well-run, that doesn"t have a lot of political in-fighting: All of this makes a difference. NUVO: What"s Chicago done right? HUDNUT: Well, Chicago has the lakeshore, which is a great amenity. It"s done right with its green space. It"s done right with having lots of downtown entertainment. It"s done right with having new condos going up downtown where people can live. It"s done right with a wonderful transportation system. It"s done right with its school system, which has improved remarkably in the last few years. Meanwhile, Cook County is sprawling. Chicago"s moving west in terms of the demographic center of the city. The competition from the suburbs is strong. That whole DuPage County up there is a strong, strong engine, maybe stronger than Chicago itself. But the city is big enough that it can handle that kind of growth and yet retain the downtown. That"s why I say it would be great if Indianapolis had more people. Minding the store NUVO: If you had to pick three priorities for any Indianapolis administration in the near future, what would they be? HUDNUT: Urban education is one. I happen to believe that the educational apparatus would be better run if the mayor had the power to appoint the school board. I also think it would help if we could divide the present school districts up into a pie-shaped school district where you"d have eight pieces of the pie all coming into the center, which would create more of a heterogeneous community within each district. But that may never happen given our love of the townships and our township form of government. The second thing is this cultural initiative. That doesn"t just mean pretty public art; it means some kind of deep commitment like I saw this morning - a $104 million library campaign was kicked off for the Central Library, which is remarkable. Libraries can be safe havens for kids who maybe have two working parents. They can be places for folks who can"t afford a computer to log on to the Internet. They can be a place for community meetings. They"re a community resource and not just a place to go and read a book. So I think the cultural initiative is important. Thirdly, I guess I"d say there"s no substitute for running a good city. The first job of local government is to mind the store. Make sure you"ve got efficient delivery of services and that you try to keep taxes down as best you can but that you keep on serving people. I think sometimes that"s neglected because it"s sort of mundane. But I used to hear it when people"s trash wasn"t picked up. They want these services. NUVO: Could you place our property taxes in context? It seems ours are remarkably low for a city this size. HUDNUT: I think that"s probably true. The key, I think, is to diversify your streams of income. Maybe a little more emphasis on the sales tax. Gov. Bowen, a few years ago, was able to get himself re-elected even though he had doubled the sales tax. But he capped the property tax - because that"s so visible. I was told I would never be re-elected if we put a tax on food and beverages in order to fund our share of the Hoosier Dome, as it was called then. But we were able to get that tax through, which was a 1 percent tax on food and beverage - it"s not onerous. I think Indianapolis people and Indiana people don"t appreciate the fact that compared to a lot of other communities they probably have it pretty good so far as everything from taxes to transportation congestion is concerned. It"s always easy to say, "I don"t want my taxes raised," but as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Taxes are the price we pay for civilization."