Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Downtowns

A brief news item by Jeff Swiatek and a follow-up by Erica Smith over at the IndyStar piqued my interest.

Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., now apparently going by Downtown Indy, on Tuesday, gave its version of how things are going in their namesake area.  I have looked high and low through the Googler, and I have been unsuccessful at finding their report, much less track down the data they relied upon.

The US Census does not have 2013 data for areas as small as downtown and nothing for 2014; the most recent are estimates for 2012.  So, where IDI got its numbers, I can't begin to guess.

According to Swiatek and Smith, IDI reports that downtown is humming along, with thousands of new residents whose household incomes average $90,000 a year, and who are employed in tech jobs.

The 2012 data from the US Census gives us a bit broader and more in depth look at the state of downtown Indy and the areas around it.  I pulled down the numbers and used the mapping function on the Census website for 24 census tracks.

The red line shows the generally accepted perimeter of "Downtown".  The numbers shown are those of the Census Tracts.
Downtown is composed essentially of three census tracts - 3910, 3542, and 3562.

Since Smith effused about all the tax money generated by Downtown residents, I feel I must add that property taxes are also used to fund police, fire, and equally important, schools.  Here is my best effort in sketching the various TIF districts in the Downtown area.  The TIFs are drawn in blue, and the 2012 estimated population is mapped.

The claim of an average household income of $90,000 is a bit high, compared with the 2012 US Census estimates, but not too much higher.

Note that the three Downtown census tracks top the household income in the immediate area.

But, that is only one way to look at income.  Another is a per capita view.  This is mapped below.

Viewed on a per capita basis, the income levels of the three downtown census tracts drop to numbers 1, 3, and 6.

One cannot look at income without looking at poverty rates.  The percentage of people living below the poverty line in each census tract is mapped next.

I find these poverty numbers stunning in how very high they are.  Downtown clearly is not spared residents who live below the poverty line. 

The data are generally worse when you look at the poverty rate among children.  Only three of the 24 census tracts show lower poverty rates for children than the general population, and two of those are Downtown census tracts.

What of the claims of tech jobs?  The Census has a few categories, but the one that seemed to fit the claims best included management, business, science, and art occupations.  The percentage of the workforce engaged in these jobs are mapped below.

The percentage of those in the service industry are mapped next.

So Downtown residents do hold more management and fewer service types jobs than the surrounding areas, generally.

What of the unemployed? The unemployment rate is mapped here.

There are some shockingly high unemployment rates right against Downtown.  The jobs being generated do not appear to be helping much beyond Downtown's perimeter.

While IDI likes to be a cheerleader for Downtown, the entire picture is somewhat different. 

By some indicators, Downtown does appear to have a better financial footing for its resident households.  However, unabated enthusiasm isn't warranted when one looks at per capita incomes, poverty, and unemployment. 

One would hope that the City's goals are to move everyone forward, and not just those who become attracted to new residences springing up thanks to taxpayer funded inducements.  To do that, we need a bigger view of Indianapolis than just the 2.6 square miles of Downtown. 


Anonymous said...

Great job documenting the "true" picture of what is happening to the city....The chart that I find particularly noteworthy is the one of the TIF districts -- so much of the property tax revenue is being diverted to paying off the TIF districts that it is truly warping or skewing the finances of the school districts, library's etc would think (and hope) that the few remaining public servants in our general assembly (I'm talking about you Luke) would begin to take notice and start fixing these matters.....but I can only dream.

One would also hope that the Indy Downtown folks would respond to this with some documentation of the numbers that they are using....I would love to see their response

Gary R. Welsh said...

Downtown is difficult to quantify for several reasons: a) there is a large student population living there who aren't poor, but they aren't earning much income; b) there are a significant number of people who live in low-income and income-qualified properties; c) there are a significant number of financially-secure but retired people; and d) there are probably at least a few dozen very high-income earning individuals who skew the numbers considerably. It's a real mixed bag of folks. You would be surprised how many people use food stamp cards to purchase groceries at the downtown Marsh.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Gary - the folks at IDI didn't have difficulty characterizing it.

Those folks are not what you'd call whizzes at math or data analysis. I've heard more than one update to the MDC. Geez.

Overpaid cheerleaders. WAAAAY overpaid.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Thanks Anon.

The sad fact is that most of those TIFs will not sunset unless the Legislature makes it happen. A perpetual slush fund that only redirects all investment to Downtown, in order for the developer to make higher profits.

They used to say you can't be a suburb of nowhere. Well you can't be the center of nothing, either.

Indy Student said...

My take away from this is great, downtown is doing good. I don't really see it helping the other areas, even the ones that are directly on the borders of what is traditionally considered downtown. It seems like all these service jobs are just being dumped into other areas.

And downtown can't really be vibrant without a lot of service workers. I bet a good chunk of them live outside of the traditional downtown area.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it's worth asking how these numbers might compare with similar central core numbers in similarly sized cities?

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon 10:00 - I'd say you are correct. I was thinking of looking at the income and poverty numbers around the County, first.

Any suggestions for similar sized cities - I'm thinking land area needs to be considered, as well. It would be unfair to compare with Boston or San Francisco, for instance, given they need only concern themselves with smaller footprint.

Anonymous said...

I'd think Louisville, Cincinatti & Columbus, with similar census tracts carved out?

Had Enough Indy? said...

Interesting choices. Let me see what I can do.

Anonymous said...

It's probably more up Adam Wren's alley, but it also might be helpful to see what's changed in these areas over the past census data, especially if you're looking for positive changes in the downtown.

Had Enough Indy? said...