Some Things Change and Other Things Stay the Same

October 2011 St Paul Minnesota, Marshall Ave -Window Washer on bike pulling ladder and gear

I grew up in Indianapolis Indiana during what some historians call the 60’s and one TV show called, The Wonder Years. The city always felt like a small town. We joked as teenagers that all we had was traffic lights, cops and cornfields. This was a time when trends on the East Coast and West Coast took  like ten years to catch on. Our 60’s actually happened in the 70’s. While the Viet Nam War was going on I can’t remember a single local anti-war demonstration that made the news. After a time though the place did catch up with American life. Fact is the city was a prime testing site for commercial marketing. If they like it in Indy then it could be sold anywhere.

From the age of 10 until I left for good at 33 I was a Hoosier for better and worse. And so maybe, while the country goes forward I can reflect on Indianapolis today as the American city that embodies the spirit of Americans for better and worse.

Remember the slogan “love it or leave it” and “the south will rise again”? This was big along with hillbilly hats and muscle cars.  The hooded KKK and John Birch society had headquarters in Indy along with the national headquarters of the American Legion. My summer reprieve from the oppressive humidity and heat was the Riviera swim club that was whites only when we joined. When I go back to visit I still take a short tour of the two houses we rented and the house I grew up in that my parents bought for $15,000 in 1967. It’s over 45 years since we moved from that first rental on 35th and Winthrop. The neighborhood was changing quickly in 1965 and has hardly seen a white face since civil rights.

Just yesterday I thought I would catch up on what might be happening in Indy and see how things were coming along in my old home town. Now, it might be a stretch to report on a city from 600 miles away although, I have done some research through local papers and blog postings. The Indy I googled street scene was the old Winthrop neighborhood we moved from and the old place had not changed much sad to say. I followed Fairfield to College Ave and then went north to 38th St. The abandoned brick buildings still standing for the past thirty years are still abandoned. It’s sadly magical that in one google scene the abandoned building is there and then it is torn down. Wow! In Indy they call abandoned buildings an “eyesore” I think that is peculiar since  the building owner and the city and the people who live around these buildings don’t do anything to revitalize.

Navigating the google street camera view to the place we lived in 1966 is only about a mile away. I didn’t know what to expect. The 3900 block on Ruckle Ave looked better than when I was a boy. The duplex was brightly painted and the sidewalks were new and level and the neighbors had clean lawns and flower beds. The block hadn’t ever looked better! This is where I want to stop for a second and say to those of you who have not been to Indy. The core city has some of the most beautiful houses of any city in America. But, time is taking a toll on these houses when a real conservation effort should be rebuilding neighborhoods like Fairfield.

If there was one reason I left Indianapolis it would be the disrespect that the community has for the core residential city. Where is the spirit of America? Is it in Indianapolis or Detroit or St. Louis? Who can live in or about these cities and not want to move as far away as they can? But, people are not moving and can’t move anymore and maybe it’s time to change those things about you that are long overdue for change. If residential areas are to be revitalized it will take back-breaking work, but take heart it will be worth it. Everyplace goes through a rebuilding when times dictate. These are the times when we have to occupy the places we live to rebuild on a scale that would eliminate  or limit automobile use.

Florence Italy 2011…Woman and vending machine late at night

The alternative to mass transit by the 1950’s in America was the individual ownership of automobiles. The automobile destroyed the core city. Indianapolis is no different from other cities of that era. Trolley lines were dismantled, local business was uprooted and Interstates ripped through not around cities. Where this leaves us today is with the opportunity to re-think transportation. In Indianapolis there are over 3000 miles of streets. Simply, this is one big F#ing flat grid. The residents of the city have really only one choice if they want to come out of the next ten years with success. That choice is to turn over some of these streets to bike riders only. Pretty radical idea when the city is only now installing their first bike lanes.

Well, if Indy really is the spirit of America it could start living up to its “Indian” name. I really hope that the bull shit car driving nation that is headquartered in our heartland will go “native” with its spirit. Good luck America and Indy.


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