Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A response to Governor Daniels' announcement of a massive "Commerce Connector" tollway he wants to build around Central Indiana

It’s unfortunate that Governor Daniels has used “provincialism” to label those who respectfully disagree with his plans to spread sprawl in the region. An apology to former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, at least, is in order. The people who are voicing resistance to the Governor’s intentions are not myopic thinkers. They have valid concerns that should be duly considered. Thoughtful urban planners and regional strategists believe the Governor’s idea has significant downsides, perhaps tragic flaws. The vitality of Indianapolis and Central Indiana’s economy is distinct in significant ways from other U.S. metropolitan areas that have invested in “big donut” strategies like the Governor has proposed.

Instead of being in “sell mode” and representing primarily a business interest bloc, Mr. Daniels might do well to take a few steps back for the sake of wider consideration. A robust public dialogue might prove quite fruitful. A better outcome might emerge if foregone conclusions that serve a relatively small range of citizen interests were taken off the table.

Unfortunately, Central Indiana is not prepared to fend for itself or be proactive as a cohesive unit in the face of such state-led initiatives, or more narrowly-focused decisions of singular cities or towns. A regional planning council would be an appropriate forum for such strategic development considerations. Regional planning and development commissions serve some U.S. urban regions quite effectively, offering better outcomes than any single-interest group could hope to provide. Equal input and buy-in from each county and community within the region would spare many hard feelings and territorial missteps, not to mention misspent tax dollars.

I do not know if officials in cities, towns, and counties in Central Indiana have the political will to come together for such regional planning and decision-making. Past efforts at real region-wide consideration through MAGIC and CIRCL were vibrant but short-lived. But in the face of a unilateral decision by the Governor to define the future of Indianapolis and each county into the foreseeable future, for good or for ill, the urgency of a regional planning entity is apparent.

I submitted this to the Indianapolis Star editor last evening

Note: this letter was published in the Indianapolis Star's "Focus" section on Sunday, November 19, 2006

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