If you have ever read my blog urbanOut and followed the ‘Walking the Walk’ series about being car-free in Indy, you know that my walking habits rarely veered away from a few key streets in Downtown. For two years this was the life I lived, with no real desire to wander off course. But since June of this year, all that changed when my life took a significant detour off my normal walking routes and landed me in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I now live. Earlier this year, I pursued a career opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. After a long interview process, a lot of waiting around, and traveling to and from Philadelphia I eventually landed the job I sought out. I now work for a national planning and urban design firm in Center City, Philadelphia and am still trying to adjust to my new life and figure out the best walking routes to work (well…more like the best subway routes). With this detour away from Indiana and the Midwest came the realization that I must say goodbye to what was my home for the past two years. But as of now, I’m not sure how to say goodbye to Indianapolis.
I guess I have one of those ‘love-hate’ relationships with the City; so much so that I find myself torn between wanting to say “goodbye I will miss you – stay in touch” and “it’s not you, it’s me; don’t call me, I’ll call you.” For me to sort through this ambivalence I think a thorough list of the pros and cons of Indianapolis is required.
First the pros. I love Indianapolis because ultimately, the City will always be my city of firsts: my first big job out of school, my first apartment all to my self, my first car-free lifestyle experience, my first blog about urbanism, etc. These coming-of-age ‘firsts’ allowed me to become a stronger individual and develop a truer personal identity. So thank you Indianapolis for being the platform for these important ‘firsts’ in my young adult life, I truly appreciate it.
As these amorous feelings begin to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, I am quickly reminded of the dichotomous relationship I have with the Circle City and begin to think that maybe it’s a better idea to coldly text “goodbye” from my East Coast digs and never look back – simple and swift.
Now the cons. As an urban planner and designer and a self-proclaimed progressive in the field, I found Indianapolis frustrating, sometimes excruciatingly so. Among my like-minded peers, these sentiments are typical in mid-sized, newer Midwest cities like Columbus, Kansas City, and Des Moines where there is an urban legacy shortage on amenities such as a strong public transit system, high quality urban designs, and high residential densities. Therefore, there seems to be little dialogue on improving such amenities because, without a point of past reference, things are all-too-often seen as ‘fine as is’. And when there actually is a fair amount of dialogue, it is often met with strong resistance and bickering, eventually resulting in a product or improvement that is heavily watered down. Yes, it is fair to say I am thus far enjoying living in Philadelphia where these amenities are the rule not the exception.
So ok, I know I just seriously ragged on Indianapolis for the better part of the last paragraph. But upon further reflection regarding this issue of frustration and malaise with regard to urban planning progressivity in the City, I can’t help but also think that this downside, with all its implied shortcomings, is also what makes Indianapolis very intriguing. Given the size of Indianapolis, what better place to stand up, actually be heard, and make a difference on progressive urban issues? Whereas it seems rather easy to get lost in the shuffle in bigger cities like Philadelphia or New York, the progressive urbanist community in Indianapolis is smaller, providing an excellent arena to sharpen your point-of-view and make a difference on these issues moving forward. On top of this, the City provides a relative ‘blank canvas’ to work with, allowing progress to happen more quickly as opposed to other cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland where legacy costs and larger bureaucracies are more of an issue.
Ok, reflection time is over, for now anyway. In the end, I suppose the aforementioned cons of Indianapolis have, by the end of my reflection, turned into yet another pro for the City and why I see so much potential there. So it looks like my relationship with Indy won’t end via any awkward texts; no short emails; no uncomfortable phone calls. Instead, I’ll simply say “I’ll see you later.” I hope the City feels the same.