What happened in downtown Indianapolis between the 1970s and the present day is often referred to as one of the best examples of urban revitalization in recent years. This is with good reason. Thirty years ago, the city’s nickname was ‘naptown’, today we’re preparing to host the Super Bowl. It would be wrong to deny or discount the massive changes for the better that have benefited the Circle City over these last three decades.
But it’s not enough.
To oversimplify things a bit, the growth in Indy’s downtown has been driven by civic and government leaders focused on three things:
– Sports and events
– Retail and entertainment
All three of these strategies have successfully built downtown into a desirable destination for an evening or a weekend. By themselves, however, they have not built our downtown into an engaging place to live. The recent announcement that the downtown Borders location would be among those that the bookseller would be shuttering in the near future is a reminder that we live in a fast-changing world with emerging trends that don’t necessarily benefit the strategies Indianapolis has employed to drive the growth in its downtown sector. Obviously, Borders is specifically struggling because more and more people are either ordering books online or using e-reading devices. But this isn’t strictly about selling reading material. Consumer and business behavior is changing dramatically. More and more consumer behavior is no longer centered around going to a shopping district. More and more businesses are allowing employees to work from home or decentralized offices. To survive in such a changing world, downtown Indy can no longer be a place to work, a place to eat, a place to shop, and a place to watch a football game.
It must be home.
Today, downtown’s #1 goal should be to make itself the most resident-friendly downtown in the Midwest. Certainly, steps taken recently have pushed us in the right direction. The Cultural Trail is a great pedestrian-centric initiative that deserves all the praise it’s been given. Indianapolis Downtown Inc. has done a great job promoting Indy as a place to live. Recent apartment developments have been announced that will push downtown’s population higher. But work is still left to be done to make downtown a residential center of the city.
When the downtown population at night is equal to what it is during the day, then Indianapolis will really have something to brag about.