Monday, March 4, 2013

We're Not as Big as They Say

Bravo - This researcher from IUPUI puts it all in a nutshell.  Arthur Farnsley II penned the following letter to the editor, which ran in this morning's IndyStar

We're not as big as we think, but that's OK

By any common-sense measure, Indianapolis is not the 12th most populous city in America. This is not a matter of academic nit-picking. When we think about urban issues like traffic, crime, mass transit, professional sports or Downtown jobs, we need to see ourselves as we really are.

A recent story in The Star, “Why you can’t see a good indie flick in Indy,” repeats this unhelpful “fact” about us being 12th biggest, but the misinformation routinely shows up elsewhere too.

Indianapolis is in fact the 12th largest “incorporated area” in America. Unfortunately, “incorporated area” is not a useful way to think about cities. As the name says, this category has mostly to do with how city limits are drawn.

Uni-Gov created a uniquely large incorporated area for Indianapolis, so by this measure we seem very big. But to accept that Indianapolis is 12th, you would also have to accept that Boston is 21st, Baltimore is 24th, Washington, D.C., is 25th and Atlanta is 40th. That’s right. Judging by “incorporated area,” Atlanta is half the size of Indy. But our common sense about cities tells us that is not true.

Much more useful is the measure is of primary statistical area (PSA), which takes in all of the outlying areas that are part of a city and pays no attention to arbitrary city limit signs. The Indianapolis PSA, for instance, includes Anderson and Columbus.

By this measure, the Baltimore-D.C. corridor moves to fourth, Boston moves to fifth and Atlanta to 10th, which we all know is closer to the truth about their relative size. The Indianapolis-Anderson–Columbus PSA ranks 29th, which we all know is also closer to the truth. (If you like, you can use the even-broader combined statistical area, by which Indy ranks 23rd.)

Here’s the thing: Being 29th is not a problem. I love the size of Indianapolis. I live here by choice. For the 29th biggest city in America, I love that we have hosted the Super Bowl, have the greatest motorsports venue in the world, and have two major-league sports teams. I love that we have a great urban public university and several great private ones. I love that you can walk safely Downtown and we have excellent arts venues, shopping, and restaurants, all with cheap parking and moderate traffic.

When we think about indie films or mass transit or Downtown employment, we should not make the mistake of thinking “12th most populous,” which means comparing ourselves to cities more than twice our size. Our comparison group is not Houston or Atlanta, but Kansas City, Columbus and Cincinnati.

In our hearts we know this. But somehow we keep using “12th most populous” either to make ourselves sound bigger or to lament how such a metropolis can be lacking whatever it is the speaker thinks we need.

We’re 29th biggest, and I’d take us over any other cities in our weight class. But let’s be realistic about who we are as we think about who we can be.
Farnsley is a research professor in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.


Anonymous said...

This has little to do with the mass transit debate. New Orleans, Kansas City, Nashville Salt Lake City and others have multi-county mass transit systems (some with light rail, some with express buses) that leave our neglected and narrowly focused IndyGo system in the dust. And that puts aside the rather difficult problem that so much of our suburban population is densely packed into two places, both of which could easily be served by some type of mass transit system.

Anonymous said...

It is good to have a realistic assessment of urban size but, no Indie films in Indy? Must not have head of keystone arts, heartland film festival, indianapolis international film festival, indianapolis lgbt film festival, campicinema ...

Had Enough Indy? said...

Anon 10:03 - it does change how one approaches mass transit, among other things. Surely there is no real objection there?

As for your statement that there are tow densely packed foci for mass transit - that's not correct. There are two donor counties willing to sign on to one expensive rail line and a regional authority with little accountability.

Unigov said...

Going by SMSA, Indy is 35th. PSA includes Brown County, for cryin out loud.

Wonder what the author meant by "a great urban public university" - all we have is IUPUI.

Septly said...

This article is more than a bit silly.

Yes, the "12 largest city" title is misleading, but Indianapolis is a large city, even as only the 29th largest MSA in the nation.

And if our peer cities are Kansas City and Columbus, OH. Well, both those cities have much more extensive and better mass transit systems than Indianapolis.

Even a few smaller cities in Indiana have better mass transit for their size compared to Indianapolis.

As for art films? Huh? I have seen several of them in Indianapolis. Also, art films are not unique to large cities, you can see them in many small towns.

In any event, I hate to break it to the professor, but Indianapolis is a big city, by any standard. And, as a big city, Indianapolis has big city problems and big city needs.

If you want to live in a small town--move to Fulton, Indiana.

Anonymous said...

Bring back the downtown grain elevators

Had Enough Indy? said...

Using reality as a starting place for your plans for the future does not bring back the silos. It makes your plans more likely to reach your goals.

Anonymous said...

bring back the downtown grain elevators as a Hoosier oriented theme park?

Had Enough Indy? said...

Wasn't that what they were going to do in the Garfield (the cat, not the park) Amusement Park that was proposed for the Clayton exit on I-70?

You could make a good zip-line from one of those....

Anonymous said...


Had Enough Indy? said...

I like it !

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The mass transit in indianapolis is actually a wonderful idea will bring a even more city feel. Ive lived shortly in minneapolis theyre system works well (not really smart planning) but it will work out well with smart planning . Itll increase growth, business, efficiency and pace ...please do make the mass transit light rail system in Indianapolis. ..