“There Can’t Be a Successful Indianapolis Without a Successful Indiana”


Back in 2008 or 2009 I gave a Pecha Kucha presentation in Indianapolis in which I said:

"Cities can’t survive on gentrification alone. The broad community has to be a participant in its success. That’s why I’m somewhat down on the notion of the creative class. It’s good as far as it goes, but it’s a self-consciously elitist vision. Where’s the working class in that?

Arguing among ourselves [city vs. suburbs] is like beggars fighting over table scraps. We need to build the city up without tearing the suburbs down.

There can’t be a successful Indianapolis without a successful Indiana….While [metro] Indy has 25% of the states’ population, it has 60% of the state’s population growth and 80% of its economic growth. That’s not healthy. Like it or not, we’re dependent on the state for critical infrastructure funds and other things. So our challenge is how to bring the rest of the state along with us."

I’ve long been an advocate for the restoration what I call the commonwealth, the idea that we rise and fall together as a people and all have skin the game. This idea has gone by the wayside to say the least.

It may well be that American society has become irredeemably tribalized. I hope not. At a minimum, there are significant sized groups with fundamentally incompatible ideas of the public good. There’s a lot to unpack in that statement, but not today.

Richard Florida has talked about a “great reset” of the economy. Clearly we need some sort of institutional reset to contain or resolve these differences. We’ve done this before in creating the original Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, fighting a Civil War and redefining the federalism of that constitution, the New Deal era changes, and perhaps others.

What that looks like, I don’t know. But if we are to reach it without even more severe upheavals, it’s likely to involve some renewed form of federalism, agree to disagree, live and let live, etc – and on durable basis, not just an opportunistic and self-interested one.

This will involve painful change and difficult decisions. One of them is that we must be willing to give others the freedom to make choices for themselves and their communities that we fundamentally disagree with.

To the extent that we believe all of the big decisions of our society are morally determined, and thus not properly the subject of political debate, this means we are in a winner take all world. If you want that world, you’d better be really sure you are right and sure you are going to win – because you face ruination if you’re wrong on either count.

It also means that we need to figure out how to have both love and accountability towards all of our citizens. Right now that means that rural white Republicans in victory cannot ignore the continued urgent need to integrate urban black America into full participation in middle class success and to address other aspects of what Richard Florida has labeled the “new urban crisis.”

It also means that working class whites must be challenged to change. I have made no secret in these pages that these communities too often have sabotaging traits that really aren’t necessary to cling to – such as the disparagement of ambition for better.

But urban and left leaning populations, including minority groups, need to likewise address travails of the white working class, and be willing to make painful changes of their own.

To be honest, I’m not optimistic. But I am hopeful. The future hold possibilities for ill that we cannot know – but it likewise holds the possibility for good things we can’t yet imagine.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian, Forbes.com, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Photo: By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons