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Can Transit Reverse Indianapolis’ Center-City Slide?

11:02 AM EST on January 23, 2013

At the Indiana statehouse today, a committee is discussing a transit plan that could revolutionize Indianapolis. The proposal would drastically expand transit investment, and add a rapid transit element, in an attempt to make this relatively auto-centric city a more authentically urban place.

But changing the transportation culture of a city is hard. And some of the state's top opinionators have dismissed the whole idea, most recently Andrea Neal, a columnist at the Indianapolis Star. Since Indianapolis is so low-density and oriented around the car, according to Neal, it's foolish to devote more resources to transit.

Aaron Renn of Network blog the Urbanophile says Neal may be right about the current transportation dynamic, but argues there are important reasons to support transit anyway. Like the future of the region's economy:

Let’s take a look at the stark reality. Indianapolis has long boasted of having one of the best downtowns for a city its size in America -- and with justification. From nothing, Downtown Indy has been successfully revitalized as a world class events and entertainment center, something all Hoosiers can be immensely proud of.

But the successful side of revitalization has hidden the less pleasant truth that downtown Indianapolis has been losing large numbers of private sector jobs and has been a national laggard when it comes to attracting residents. More troublingly, the larger urban core is in an advanced state of collapse.

Renn points out that Center Township -- the centermost portion of Indianpolis' Marion County -- experienced pretty significant population loss over the last decade: 14.5 percent, a statistic that puts it in league with cities like Buffalo and Cleveland. Meanwhile, as shown in the above chart, residential growth in the city's downtown areas has been anemic and the city has been hemorrhaging jobs to suburban locations.

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