Five Cities' Great Ideas That Could Work in Indy

The popular urban-affairs e-newsletter We Are City calls it quits this month, but not before sharing with <em>IM</em> these concepts for the future of Indy.

Despite our city’s imperfections (and there are many), Indy is a great place. We have excellent pro sports, a vibrant downtown, the Cultural Trail, old neighborhoods, and a high Frozen Yogurt Economic Index. But plenty of other cities are trying new things to compete for businesses and citizens, too. We thought it would be worthwhile to share five innovative ideas from across the globe that could work here.
The Oval / Philadelphia
Indianapolis has a lot of parking lots. So do most cities, including Philadelphia. One parking lot in particular, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was a wasteland of activity. Though it was in a beautiful place, it became a sea of car roofs during the day but stood empty at night. Now, The Oval is an oasis of activity. In the summer, the cars are gone, and various contributors have filled the space with art, food, and energy. People can use The Oval just as casually as they would use any other park in Philadelphia, but they might find something a little more exciting when they get there. We have a lot of spaces like The Oval that could use some public intervention in the same way we’ve rejuvenated Georgia Street.
Open Data / Surrey, Canada
Cities have a lot of data sitting around. Usually it stays there, locked behind bureaucracy or inactivity. But in the last five years, many cities have opened up their data to the public, letting other applications interact with the data. Why would an open-data policy help Indianapolis? Imagine being able to look at health-code violations before you ate at a restaurant. Or get a text when your city-county councillor votes on something. Or determine the ideal neighborhood to start a new business. A city like New York City has dozens of apps plugging into its data. Chicago has lots of open data. But if a mid-sized town like Surrey, British Columbia, can do it, so can we.
Civic Participation / Every City in New Zealand
Recent national research
tells us that civic participation is at an all-time low, with only about a fifth of us contacting our local elected officials in any given year and only a fourth of us showing up to public meetings. And when we are participating, we are mostly doing it to the detriment of development. A neighborhood in Chicago is hoping to boost voter turnout in the hope it will increase civic engagement. A start-up in California is trying to reverse the trend by creating a social platform to boost civic and political participation. Perhaps we can take a page from the cities of New Zealand, where schoolkids are learning the process of civic engagement and the importance of voting in a program that promises to be “bigger than ever.” Here’s to more ideas like Indiana Humanities’ “All-In.”
Diversity in Marketing / Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow
is a new Fox show that is as campy as it is patriotic. But it’s different from most prime-time shows in a noticeable way: Fox TV executives realized that minorities are no longer niche; they’re mainstream. Says one Fox executive, “Diversity is good business as well as a good deed.” The casting in Sleepy Hollow presents a version of America that includes disabled folks, blacks, and Asians as often as the typical able-bodied white people. In other words, a majority of minorities. Indy marketing firms, and organizations are hopping on the YouTube viral train, and that’s a good (and fun!) thing. The problem is that these videos overwhelmingly feature white people. But we’re a diverse city. Let’s take a page from Sleepy Hollow. Our face should reflect the city we are.
Safe by Design / Copenhagen, Denmark
Oliver Blank
, one of our We Are City visiting residents, is prone to saying, “Cities are dangerous places.” Put people together, and we will do everything that humans do. That sometimes includes hurting each other. That’s happening here in Indy. Violent crime is a “wicked” problem. But what we like about how Copenhagen is handling its crime problem (which is similar to the U.K.’s Secured By Design) is that instead of relying on reactionary policies, the city is trying to “design out” crime. That means strengthening people’s attachments to their neighborhood, increasing natural surveillance, and only using locks, security cameras, and fences as a last resort. The city’s ideas are realistic. Yes, danger is a part of living in a big city, but maybe there’s a more peaceful path to living together.
See more from We Are City here.

This article is a companion piece to the “Big Ideas” cover feature in the August 2014 issue.