The Outstater

June 9, 2023

“SO GO DOWNTOWN; Where all the lights are bright; downtown waiting for you tonight; downtown you’re gonna be alright; downtown, downtown,” or so Petula Clark sang in 1964.

Indiana’s major cities, as we note in the upcoming quarterly journal, are losing their regular citizens. Regular citizens? Yes, the kind that pay taxes, hold full-time jobs, buy things, look to one day owning secure property, perhaps raising a family and not getting mugged regularly.

But that is not the reality we are meant to see. We are to imagine a continuing influx of Baby Boomers, forever young and in need of night spots, artistic venues, museums and sports stadiums, all within a safe, pleasant walk to a pricy but cute studio apartment.

Wishing, however, does not make it so.

Downtowns are limited real-estate niches and have been since the 1980s despite billions of dollars in economic development. Our Sam Staley, an urban specialist now at Florida State, told it like it was in an early Indiana Policy Review: “The chief accomplishment of some (development projects) is to offer a more stimulating lunchtime environment for downtown office workers who have commuted in from the suburbs.”

And more recently, Aaron Renn, an urban policy consultant based in Indianapolis, thinks that the downtown eco-devo game is near an end:

“The dirty little secret is that a lot of these places have been growing their youth populations by hoovering up the children of their hinterlands. To the extent that urban population growth is dependent on intrastate migration in these states with declining working-age populations, at some point there are just plain going to be a lot fewer youngster to move to the big city.”

Indianapolis is the poster child for this folly. Since 2000, about 95 percent of the metro area’s net migration has come from outstate, Renn says. About half of the state’s counties are projected to lose population by 2050 with Indiana projected to add only 100,000 15-44 year olds by 2050 “Even if 100 percent of them, or even more than 100 percent of them, are in Indianapolis, this still implies a fairly modest growth rate,” he argues Renn.

So what would actually benefit Indiana’s major cities?

Again, it’s something of a secret. That’s because to mention crime in a post-George Floyd America is to be bigoted. In fact, though, public safety is about all a downtown needs to prosper. But to fix it people would have to be arrested and prosecuted in uncomfortable racial proportions, or so FBI data indicates.

Nonetheless, we try to keep tabs on crime for the safety of our membership, and here are two new works that bring us up to date:

“The Culprits Behind White Flight,” a New York Times op-ed by Princeton professor Leah Boustan, while confirming that the big-city exodus is serious, brushes it off as old-fashioned prejudice. But “Untenable: The True Story of White Ethnic Flight from America’s Cities” by Jack Cashill of the American Spectator has a different take:

“What drove people from the leftist strongholds were two related phenomena: the hysteria generated by the liberal media and the draconian response to that hysteria by local authorities. Those who can flee oppression, flee. Even the woke. To anyone paying attention, which excludes most of the major media, crime was a driving factor (of the exodus). With the police in blue cities handcuffed during and after the George Floyd summer of 2020, murder rates shot up at a pace not seen since the 1960s. For the woke to protest crime, however, was to sound altogether too MAGA. Better to just add a wing to that summer cottage and call it home.”

That or put some more Petula Clark on the Crosley. — tcl


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