The Washington Post looks at Indy's Eastside

Dateline: Mon 21 Aug 2006

Under the heading "better late than never," did anybody else see the June 21 Washington Post story on the loss of middle-class neighborhoods from U.S. cities, including Indianapolis?

Jim Burns read the story written by Post staff writer Blaine Harden, which was based on a study by the Brookings Institution. Burns mentioned in a recent email to me that Indy and our Eastside Irvington neighborhood were prominently featured. He wondered why he never read anything about it in local news media.

The news hook, sad to say, is Indy's increasing crime rate, poor test scores in Indianapolis Public Schools and the resulting middle-class flight. Nothing new in any of this, but it is significant that The Post and the Brookings wonks have turned their sights our way.

Here are some excerpts from the story:

"The housing industry in the Midwest and the Northeast routinely floods local markets with new, ever-larger houses. In greater Indianapolis, more than 27,500 houses were constructed between 2000 and 2004, even though the population grew by only 3,000."

After talking about other cities and the overall trend of the "vanishing middle-class neighborhoods," the writer returns to the Midwest:

"In Indianapolis, it is an abundance of housing that lures the middle class out of established neighborhoods.

"Until last month, Jim and Lynn Russell lived with their 1-year-old son, Adam, in a middle-income neighborhood called Irvington on the city's near east side. The area of restored historic houses is 20 minutes by car from downtown, where they both work as bank executives.

"But the Russells, who have another baby due in the fall, were worried about mediocre test scores at nearby public schools. They were also concerned about safety. A mass killing -- seven people shot in their home -- took place this month not far from their former house.

" 'Things like that don't happen in Carmel," said Lynn Russell, 31, who grew up in Indianapolis, as did her husband.

"Carmel, where the Russells just bought a house, is not a close-in suburb. About 45 minutes north of downtown at rush hour, it is one of the fastest-growing communities in greater Indianapolis. Schools are among the best in Indiana, and housing is abundant and, by national standards, extremely affordable for professional couples. The Russells bought their four-bedroom house on half an acre for $230,000.

"Urban planners complain that exurbs such as Carmel are bleeding cities of the middle class. But Jim Russell said he and his wife have made 'the logical choice' by moving to a upper-income neighborhood that is safe, comfortable and better for their growing family.

You can read the entire story at this link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/21/AR2006062101735_pf.html

One of the last columns I wrote at the Star was about the deteriorating Near Eastside and the city's prolonged indifference to some serious problems -- potholes, weed-infested vacant lots, abandoned housing, drugs, gangbangas, the whole "broken window" sceanario. When I'm in Indy this week, I'll try to visit the family I interviewed and see what, if anything, has changed for them. They lived west of Irvington, just off Washington Street and a few blocks from where the seven murders took place.

I know firsthand how hard some residents fight to preserve their neighborhood's dignity, safety and well-being. Again, it seems, crime, poor planning and out-of-control development are conspiring to make life in Indianapolis less than comfortable for many families.

Thanks to reader Jim Burns for being on the alert.

Contact me at ruth@ruthholladay.com

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