Hammer: Ahmadinejad's hard truths

 

The city's idea

of closing off Monument Circle to vehicular traffic during August is a good

one, I think. Turning the Circle into a pedestrian-only enclave will eliminate

idiotic drivers zooming around dangerously and make the Circle what it was

always intended to be, a gathering point for the people of this city.

If it works and

is made permanent, it will mark the first time in recent history that the city

has taken a step to improve the everyday lives of people who live and work

downtown.

Just about every

other addition to the city over the past three decades, as wonderful as some of

them have been, have been implemented for rich people, conventioneers, tourists

or all three groups. I'll be paying taxes for Lucas Oil Stadium for the rest of

my life, but it's doubtful I'll ever be able to afford tickets to a Colts game

unless they start sucking again.

The Circle Center

Mall is a lovely place but just about the only thing I can afford to buy there

is a cup of coffee or a Cinnabon. More importantly, when actual citizens of

Indianapolis try to use the mall, for example, during Black Expo and Classic

weekend, they often get ushered out in order to make room for out-of-towners

who might be frightened.

Downtown has

spawned dozens of great restaurants but almost all of them are priced out of

most people's range. They're there for the conventioneers and business

travelers, not the average Joe, Jane or Jamaal who works in a downtown office.

I have no problem

with tourists, business travelers and convention-goers. It doesn't bother me

when they come to town, injure themselves, drink our liquor and frequent our

prostitutes. I would do the same things if placed in their shoes. I also

understand the economic benefit of hosting tens of thousands of yahoos on an

annual basis.

But make no

mistake about it: Whatever improvements that have been made downtown, rest assured

they weren't made for the benefit of you or me. If you happen to get some

enjoyment out of some of them, then good for you. It's entirely accidental.

Sometimes the

interests of the big-money people and me overlap each other. For example, the

likely city-county bailout of Conseco Fieldhouse's operating costs will keep my

beloved Indiana Pacers in town for a few more years. But the government won't

be doing it because I don't want the Pacers to leave; it's because there will

be a corresponding drop in revenue and prestige if they go.

Frankly,

most of what the city government does directly negatively impacts me. Cutting

mass transit routes when we need them most hurts me. Closing library branches

at a time when people most desperately need the information, knowledge and

sense of community they bring hurts all of us. Not finding appropriate,

sustainable revenue sources to keep buses running and libraries open while

sports teams get bailouts is contemptible.

At this time last year, I was in downtown Detroit on a week-long business trip.

I saw firsthand what a dying city center looks like: entire blocks of vacant

retail space. Skyscrapers with boarded-up windows. People too frightened to

leave their homes after dark. I'm not hoping anything similar happens to

Indianapolis.

And I'm old

enough to remember when Monument Circle was not a pleasant place to be and the

downtown area was somewhere you avoided at all costs. The transformation of the

city since the 1970s is nothing short of amazing. It's one of the cleanest,

safest and most pleasant of all the great city centers of the nation.

But that

transformation has not been without cost: shopping areas where locals are not

especially welcomed; restaurants and hotels you'll never likely enter; massive

taxpayer-funded sports arenas the inside of which you'll only see on

television, never in person.

So it's nice to

know that, for a month at least, I can walk to Monument Circle during my lunch

hour and enjoy my PBJ sandwich without some asshole driver almost running me

over. It's better than nothing. It's also quite literally the very least the

city government can do to make a positive impact on my life.

As I sit in the

sun and eat my sandwich, though, I'll be secure in the knowledge that this

small pleasure benefits me only by accident, like everything else the city

government has done in the last 35 years.

shammer@nuvo.net

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