About the series on the Phoenix

Dateline: Mon 08 Oct 2007

I hate to start off Monday by sounding like a bitch, but the Star's stories on the terrible horrible deplorable conditions at the Phoenix apartments at 38th/Rural/Keystone is just so much wallowing in the issue.

Matt Tully is a fine reporter, but his tale-telling has a definite slant: gee, the crime is rampant, the living conditions appalling and ain't it awful? Yes. So?

The most interesting side story was the account of the Phoenix, then the Meadows, in the early 1960s, when the complex was the place for young white professionals to live, shop, recreate, etc. The Meadows was not built as a public housing project, but as a high-end, all encompassing landing and launching pad.

So what happened? Obviously that is a key question, but one not answered so far in the series.

As Gary Welsh pointedly notes on Advance Indiana, the Star's editorial today asls no hard questions of the Peterson administration regarding this public housing/crime fiasco. Nor do the stories, so far, include any of the history lessons that contributed to the problems rampant today: UniGov, federally-ordered school busing, and white flight, all taking place in the late 1960s and thru the 1970s. An amateur historian told me that the building of the IUPUI campus contributed to social problems in Indy in the 1970s: poor black residents of the Near Westside were displaced, some literally tossed out of longtime homes. Families ended up relocating along Meridian and adjoining streets, but many ended up losing the social glue of neighborhood.

I'd also be interested to see an account of the history of some of the women, men and children living in the Phoenix: how many generations of welfare recipients are represented? What about the welfare-to-work plans promoted under the Clinton administration --- did they have any affect on public housing residents in Indy? The only scrap of history about efforts to correct the downward spiral was the small nod to former Mayor Steve Goldsmith's efforts to "fix" the Meadows with a Cub Foods, various programs, etc. But that, too, was a flop. Although it was an least an attempt -- more than we are getting now.

I suspect the intent of the stories is to focus on crime, which is, rightfully, a big issue for Tully and others at the paper. But it's distressing to simply read anecdote after anecdote about the dangers there with no hint of how it got so bad and who might possibly be responsible or what the fixes might include. The Star has written about "the projects" in the past, and typically those stories too were more feature material than hard reporting.

Time to quit wallowing and start digging. There's a story to be told about the Meadows, but what the Star is offering is only skimming.


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