In this space, we’ve discussed the plight of Indiana’s many smaller towns edging toward extinction as viable economic communities. This has even become a topic for political lip-service with emphasis on individual places rather than a systemic approach to a statewide problem.
The stagnation and decline of once thriving mid-sized Hoosier cities cause hands to be wrung and construction projects to be initiated that have little chance to make substantive change possible. Terre Haute’s numbers are virtually unchanged in this decade. Evansville and Richmond had population declines of two and four percent respectively.
Lake County saw 12 of its 17 municipalities lose population from 2010 to 2018. How has the state responded? Federal funds for the most part will be used to build a questionable nine-mile mega-million-dollar extension of a commuter rail line. The South Shore serves downtown Chicago, but job growth in the southern portions of the Chicago metro area may be far more important. No public transit from Indiana serves those jobs.
If these issues are ignored or misdiagnosed where decay is prevalent, then what about our prospering, growing urban areas? What lies ahead for suburban Indianapolis? Hamilton County’s quartet of places enjoyed population growth of 51,000 (21%) from 2010 to 2018. Four similar places in Hendricks County grew by 16,000 (22%) in the same period.
All of these places, large and small, growing and declining, will have municipal elections in November this year. Are the candidates for mayor, city or town council prepared with modern visions of their communities?
From what I’ve observed of local politics in Indiana the discussion in the next three and a half months will not stretch beyond potholes and policing.
The hard questions will not make it to the coffee-klatches or the bar room tables because the voting public has little interest in the future. Hoosier voters want immediate response to perceived present problems. They refuse to recognize that today’s problems are the result of their past indifference to the future.
Potholes and policing are problems because voters have not supported long-term solutions to foreseeable difficulties. Failures of our streets arise from decades of insufficient financing and satisfaction with inferior construction.
Our policing problems are the residue of widescale, successful efforts to diminish the status of professional educators. This shows up in the quality of students entering the profession, the remuneration of teachers, the centralized control of education, the disrespectful behavior of parents, and the increased focus on non-academic aspects of schooling.
If our cities and state are to thrive, changes are necessary at the local level. Municipalities must form strong regional and statewide political bonds because they cannot depend on the General Assembly.
On election day, we have an opportunity to elect candidates who are dissatisfied with present policies and willing to examine new approaches to development rather than just growth.