Category Archives: Mass Transit

Ideas shape the terrain upon which we move!

“Ideas shape the terrain upon which we move” Antonio Gramsci

For the past several months I have removed myself from the landscape or “terrain” of the Indianapolis change-making community; Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC) programs and events, Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF),  directly and indirectly supported initiatives, Velocity, Quality of Life Plans supported by the Local Support Initiatives Corporation (LISC), it’s community partners and anything that has fallen under the purported improving Indianapolis, through “inclusiveness”, “transformation”,  “attracting new professionals” , “sustainability” , “food deserts”  and all the buzz words.

I removed myself from these efforts because of  various reasons but some of the key ones were:

  • My disillusionment about processes that seemed to come from a place of disfranchisement  and in-authenticity,  
  • The varied responses to my questioning of the process,
  • Quality of Life Planning in my local community and others  developed from a “power over” perspective and,
  • A  narrative that was already shaped and decided with an  illusion of community  decision-making.  

As an ardent supporter of “change” and “progress” working simultaneously, and a firm believer in social and economic justice, equality and equity leading to what call I “balanced development”. I became troubled with a reality that proved to have a blatant disregard in it’s planning efforts for communities on the margin, communities of color and communities where the challenges outweighed the available resources. Even when engaged  in a “asset” based  planning process there always tended to be a clear deflections and redirection of what those assets were, how they were defined and always in relation to a narrative that has/was already decided upon.

As I have  and continue to digest my experiences moving through all three lenses (background, middle-ground and fore-round) it is clear to me that what I was witnessing, in part endorsing at one point and experiencing was a reality that truly was “outside in” and not “inside out”.  For the most part the aforementioned change makers have the majority of residents, activist and  social change makers (actors/extras) believe there is only one set of  ideas, one narrative, their method is the correct approach and if you are not on board then consider yourself out. The request for our input as actors/extras comes with un-articulated conditions, which are something like this:

  • Only have an idea if it supports the current narrative,
  • Any creative idea must push forth the current agenda,
  • Speak nothing of Race unless it’s reflects the myth of a “post-racial society ” that can strengthen the  current narrative and,
  • Be grateful you are allowed “a place at the table”.  

Let me cap this off with the fact that some these change makers, organizational and individual intentions are well-intended but that’s where it starts and ends. They have become prisoners of their own narrative and dear not engage in any form of an alternate narrative or even an exercise to see what it can look and feel like, primarily because of a lack of courage and fear of the loss of the illusion of power they wield.

Truth be told the current process of change making in Indianapolis and other ctiys with like demographics is dominated by a comprehensive framework of corporate-conservative ideologies.  The ideas which are purported are grounded in a worldview of, beliefs, norms, value systems, core themes, popular wisdom and traditions of a dominant culture and dominant narrative; which for the most part are unexamined assumptionsby the various actors/extras doing the ground work to get what is called “buy-in”.

One need only look at the make up of  leadership and it’s clear the  initiatives for the most part reflect what is central its own/cultural worldview and how they walk through this community called Indianapolis. Intended change reflect what they would like too see under the guise of progress and a change which  by default creates negative effects of gentrification and a reality of “separate but not equal”.

By no means has it been easy for me not to be involved in advancing the well-being of my community, working side-by-side with neighbors, friends and colleagues for a single goal of creating a better Indianapolis, community and society. Community is place for me where I find life, it adds meaning to my existence and deepens my relationship to humanity.  However, it became a place that was not feeding me  but rather using my energy, my image and my gifts to advance ideas and narratives that  with every meeting was reflecting less of addressing the “world as it is” but rather creating a “world as it should be” reflective of the leaderships own dominant worldview/narrative.

It’s one thing when Enron, JP Morgan Chase,  and Wall Street conspired to the near-collapse of the financial sector in the Fall of 2008. It’s even understood how they managed to label the perpetrators as the victims and condemn the poor, public service workers, retirees, my self and many other workers as having the audacity to complain about the gross concentration of wealth and power in our society. (Worldview and the Contest of Ideas, It’s almost expected. However, when you see and experience these same ideas/narratives permeate, drive and even dominate the change making process under the guise of social and economic justice, one (me) is left wondering how authentic are these initiatives, organizations and individuals. I’ve always been a believer in the fact that it is,“the most difficult question/issues that need to be pursued”.  Yet, these issues, remain an after thought, marginalized within the landscape and terrain; not because it’s polarizing but of the lack of courage to address the structural inequities which maintain the status quo.

I hope at some point I find myself back in the process of Indianapolis challenges to become a great City that reflects an authentic narrative, based on ideas that truly shape the terrain upon which we move. I hope at some point I can see an honest reflection from the leadership accepting responsibility for  poorly managed change processes and the courage to create space for a new narrative that adds to the landscape and truly shapes the terrain upon which we all can move. I still have hope for Indianapolis, it’s greatness can only be equaled by its courage.





Filed under City Building, Community Development

Mass Transit and Equitable Development P.1

Several weeks ago legislation, House Bill 1011 passed the Indiana House getting one step closer to expanded mass transit for Central Indiana. However, according the Chris Sikich, writer for the Indianapolis Star and other advocates the proposal faces more obstacles in the Indiana Senate, where leading Republicans have questioned the cost and scope of transit advocates’ vision for a 10-year, $1.3 billion expansion. (Central Indiana Corporate Partnership)

A good majority of  Hoosiers  see no need for improvement and expansion of this infrastructure. In their analysis there is no added value and they would be damned if they have to pay for something they will not use. Essentially, give me my 2 cars and leave that awful contraption to the, go green geeks, undeserved and marginalized. Some arguments have been a bit more rationale, based on a lack of density to support such an improvement. “Central Indiana does not have high-density employment hubs or neighborhoods to justify mammoth investment in public transit. Yet once again, the movers and shakers are pushing the Legislature to pass a bill that would be the first step of a costly process setting up a regional mass transit system” (Andrea Neal is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation)

Transit For All

Transit For All

As they say for every action there is a reaction, so what would our democracy be worth if we could not debate the merits of such an important component impacting our lives. I for one am pro-mass transit. However, there are several reasons I do not use the current transportation system in Indianapolis: For one I’m spoiled by my London and New York City experience, the lack of frequency, poor infrastructure while waiting for a bus, lack of timeliness, poor planning of routes, times and locations. Otherwise, I would a frequent user with backpack in tow.

For a while now I have been following Transit Oriented-Development (TOD) discussion in Central Indiana. As a proponent, I have a biased view and while I understand the oppositions position I can not see tangible basis for arguments against expanding and improving mass transit. In fact, I have a history of being part of two TOD processes, East Harlem (102nd, 116th, 125th Street & Lexington avenue Stop) and South Bronx (Hunts Point Stop). Since NYC is transit friendly as a community member our conversations were focused on, frequency and connectivity, traffic patterns, children safety, local business development, job creation and stemming gentrification . In essence as resident stakeholder’s there was concern about equitable/balanced development.

Which brings me to the uphill battle of going before the Indiana Senate. As part of the legislative process the bill needs to pass the Senate to allow for a referendum. Simply, In Marion County, the city-county council decides whether to put the issue on the ballot. In the outlying counties, it depends on how they govern income tax collection. Essentially the plan suggests the required local funds be paid for with a .3% (three-tenths of a percent) increase in the local option income tax in Marion and Hamilton counties. For a family earning $50,000.00 it’s about $10month. (Indy Connect website).

Central Indiana Mass Transit Plan

Central Indiana Mass  Transit Plan (click to enlarge)

As you review Indy Connect’s website you can find all the information needed to better understand Central Indiana’s Mass Transit Plan. Upon review you will find ongoing community outreach and I emphasis “outreach” efforts to inform the public of the plan for mass transit. Bear in mind this a narrative that is shaped to build a ground swell around the legislative process pushing for community support for a referendum. On all accounts thus far this narrative is well-intended but far from holistic.

From my numerous conversations there seems to be the need to convince those earning $50,000.00 and above for an improved and effective mass transit. This narrative in my experience is an approach appealing to the upper-income communities and well to do,  increasing their comfort,  efficiency of daily living and discretionary income. A good strategy but one that has started out  relatively exclusive and at the expense of Low and Moderate-Income (LMI) communities.

Following the same script as the vast majority of economic and community development models in Central Indiana; this is a model approach laden with disproportionate representation at the leadership level and limited inclusion. It is clear why this mass transit narrative from the onset did a poor job of  including  LMI communities.  These communities historically are the last to be addressed, consulted and  thought of as involved  stakeholders and beneficiary’s until after the fact.  According to Matthew Soursourian, Equipping Communities to Achieve Equitable Transit-Oriented Development: Community Investments, Summer 2010/Volume 22, Issue 2:

“Most TOD projects, however, do not focus on LMI communities the population that stands to benefit the most from increased access to transit. In fact, many TODs target upper-income communities and seek to capitalize on the recent revival in urban living. In some cases, TOD can price LMI residents out of their neighborhoods and push them farther away from jobs and transit, since in order for a TOD to be successful, it will necessarily increase land and housing costs. When this happens, instead of benefitting LMI residents, TOD projects can have the opposite effect, dramatically disrupting low-income neighborhoods”

I would like to think that Central Indiana’s mass transit process moving forward will move closer to an intentional and granular level of engagement. Frankly,  there is a shared responsibility in this initiative and LMI communities  are equally responsible to inject itself in the conversation. Since this conversation and narrative has already been shaped it is difficult to feel included in a process that from the onset started out exclusive.  It’s time to expand the narrative even as the Bill is before the Indiana Senate, move beyond the community forum meetings and develop a strategy that drills down in specific neighborhoods.  Illuminating the benefits that are central to LMI communities may very well increase the level of resident engagement, education and involvement  this plan desperately needs. Matthew Soursourian, states:

“Transit-oriented development (TOD) is uniquely positioned to positively impact low and moderate-income (LMI) communities: it can connect workers to employment centers, create jobs, and has the potential to spur investment in areas that have suffered neglect and economic depression. Moreover, TOD reduces transportation costs, which can have a greater impact on LMI households since they spend a larger share of their income on transportation relative to higher-income households. This frees up household income that can be used on food, education, or other necessary expenses. Low income people are also less likely to own personal vehicles and therefore more likely to depend exclusively on public transportation to get to and from work, making reliable access to transit a necessity for their economic success.”

Indy Clergy Lobby Mass Transit

Indy Clergy Lobby Mass Transit

There is a shared responsibility and nonprofits, faith-based institutions, schools, local business and local health centers etc.  can impact this ongoing narrative by challenging the current process. It’s  time for those grass tops organizations/leadership to move to be fearless in challenging and crafting the opportunities that mass transit can bring to the residents of the neighborhoods they service. Do your research, investigate how Metro Planning Organization’s (MPO) are created and the type representation that is on the board. Question the specific job opportunities and help craft and shape them. Raise questions about the connection to the development of a new workforce and preparing  the  young men and women  for this 10 year 1.3 billion Phase One plan. Start thinking about Phase Two and what it looks like and where and how does your neighborhood ensures being a beneficiary. Mass transit is marathon, put your shoulder behind moving House Bill 1011 through the Senate while simultaneously challenging the current narrative. Remember:

Change  is a choice. You either stick with the status quo or confront it – you choose!

Equitable Transit

Mass Transit = Equitable Development

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Filed under Mass Transit