David Hoppe

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:: Dear mayor

An open letter to the 25th floor

By David Hoppe

Congratulations. You've won. As political races go, this was a pretty low-key campaign. I'm not sure whether that was because of a lack of real controversy, voter apathy or because you were all so doggone civil (at least until the last week), but this will go down as one of the quieter mayoral contests in Indianapolis history.

There could, of course, be another reason all of you kept the mute button pressed over the past few months. That would be because you've read the writing on the wall and concluded the next four years is likely to amount to a long fight just to maintain today's status quo.

There's hardly a city in the country that's not afflicted with red ink. Most urban centers are hard-pressed to come up with the funds necessary to provide the services people need. This situation is probably going to get worse.

In Washington, D.C., the rage to cut the budget deficit will mean that federal funding to cities is bound to be seriously reduced. That may look good to deficit hawks, but in a city like Indianapolis, it means that dollars we've depended on for housing and community development, transportation, education, health and public safety projects are likely to be seriously curtailed in the near future.

And in Indiana, we have a Republican-controlled state legislature that, time and again, has demonstrated a decidedly anti-urban bias. This group is not only allergic to taxes, it has legislated against the diversity that makes cities thrive by endorsing a constitutional amendment that doesn't just ban same-sex marriages, but civil unions as well.

As for public transportation, you can forget it, as far as this bunch is concerned. It's going to take a minor miracle to even get them to allow a referendum aimed at determining how many of us are ready to leave our cars behind.

All of which suggests that Indianapolis is going to have to be self-sufficient to an extraordinary degree during the next four years. This doesn't mean learning how to do more with less - that slogan will be about as relevant as a VHS machine. It means that you're going to find yourself saying "No" a lot -- and to a lot of ideas you're sure would make the city better.

But you didn't go to all the trouble of running for mayor to just say "No." Being mayor gives you the chance to make a difference, to create policies capable of shaping the character of this city for years to come. Times may be tough, but tough times can create new openings for creativity.

It's time for Indianapolis to finally come to grips with its identity: with what it means to be a medium-size city in the middle of North America in the 21 st century.

We may not have the financial muscle of larger metro areas, or the natural attractions associated with the coasts, but we have the talent to make Indianapolis a strikingly livable city - and a beautiful city, too.

It's high time Indianapolis borrowed a page from some of our farming neighbors. These folks have been creating a renaissance in Indiana food through the creation of artisanal products, ranging from grass-fed beef and pork to goat cheeses, maple syrup and brandy capable of winning national awards and sought by chefs in world-renowned restaurants. Within our own metropolitan area, Trader's Point Creamery is producing state-of-the-art dairy products with grass-fed cows that are raised in an environmentally sustainable way.

It's time we applied this model to our city as a whole, emphasizing best practices in urban design, neighborhood redevelopment, and environmental well-being.

As mayor, a major part of your job is about selling Indianapolis so that people in other places are made curious enough to want to come here to see what we've got. Imagine being able to say that in Indianapolis it is our city's policy to seek out the best ideas when we design our buildings and public spaces; that we actively create opportunities for creative people to contribute to public works projects through incentives like a percent for art set-aside whenever new construction is undertaken.

What if you could say that Indianapolis isn't just about supporting the arts, but putting artists to work on projects that help to revive struggling neighborhoods and provide kids with pre-school enrichment opportunities.

Think about what it would be like to tell people that Indianapolis is a success story in how an urban area can clean up its air and water. That in this city we reward people for recycling, and we're a leader in the transformation of waste into moneymaking materials.

We've seen how locally-owned, independent restaurants have brought a fresh sense of place to particular neighborhoods. These businesses aren't just places to eat, they impart an atmosphere and energy that help to define their community's character. Indianapolis should brag about being a city where independent and locally-owned is the preferred way of doing business.

Mayor, we both know that Indianapolis is facing more than its share of challenges in the next four years. But we're not so big we can't get our arms around these things. Sometimes small really is beautiful. Making this city truly beautiful - for as many people as we can - is within reach.