Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Melina Kennedy's Speech to the Kiwanis Club, July 22, 2011

Making Indianapolis a Quality of Life Capital
July 22, 2011

I’m sure everyone here knows that Indianapolis’ old city hall sits at the northwest corner of Ohio and Alabama Streets.

What you may or may not have noticed is, carved into the cornerstone of the building is a saying attributed to Mayor Charles Bookwalter back in 1909 – it reads: "I am myself a citizen of no mean city.”

As I used to pass the old city hall on my way to the City-County Building and see that statement, I always thought it was odd that a mayor would want these words carved into stone .

Words saying that people in his city were "nice." It was only later that I discovered Mayor Bookwalter’s statement was drawn from a much older saying from the Apostle Paul, and was referring not to the attitude of our citizens but to the importance of the city.

By “no mean city”, Bookwalter meant “no average city” – signaling his pride in Indianapolis and literally chiseling into stone at City Hall a challenge to the city’s leaders to strive for greatness instead of mediocrity.

Since the cornerstone was laid at the old city hall, Indianapolis has had its trials and triumphs – sometimes living up to Bookwalter’s challenge and sometimes falling short.

In recent decades, our city has several times transformed its image and economies – from manufacturing center – to amateur sports capital – to life sciences hub.

Today, we are still all of those things, in greater or lesser amounts, which you might expect as the city and the world around it has evolved. But it is time to think of the next transformation for our city – the next thing that we are credibly known for and that we can layer on top of our past successes.

Today, I challenge our city to become extraordinary as a quality of life capital. A quality of life capital that is not just "mean" or average, but extraordinary.

A place that people want to come for a job; and for an education; for recreation; and for peace of mind and safety. Wouldn't you like to live in a place whose residents easily say about their city, "it's a great place to live – I have an extraordinary quality of life there."

Well, to do that we have to dream big – to have a vision and see the future we want. And dreaming big means not just building big things, but doing big things – things that invest in people and the society they belong to.

Things that invest not just in physical capital like roads, but human capital, like our residents. In this way, we can give Bookwalter's statement a double meaning – becoming an extraordinary city that is nice to inhabit in every respect.

We know there are increasing financial pressures on local governments, including Indianapolis. Because of this, more is required of our city’s leaders than ever.

For an average city, tight budgets can mean fewer services to residents. For an average city, struggling to address only the nuts and bolts means that big ideas get put on hold. To strive to be extraordinary in hard times, it takes courage and commitment from city leadership, and residents that demand more from their leaders and themselves.

Today, the biggest idea on the table from the current city administration is using hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds to repair roads and sidewalks.

It is hard to disagree that Indianapolis has significant infrastructure needs, and I agree that Indianapolis residents deserve to have drivable roads and walkable sidewalks.

But I can't help asking: Is that all there is? Is that the only investment we are willing to make in our children's future – to pave roads that will need to be repaved again before a third grader today graduates from high school ten years from now?

And I can't help but ask, while we are paving roads, where is it that we are going? It seems to me the mayor is paving roads but not telling us what path we are on. Where will be in ten years and what will it take to get there?

More and more, I'm convinced that it cannot be just bricks and mortar that define a city, but rather the ingenuity, work ethic and health of its people.

Today, while the city leadership toils to pave roads, it ignores that we are at a crossroads of opportunity to cater to broader and more important priorities. We cannot expect to become an extraordinary city – a quality of life capital – solely by paving roads.

Paving a road doesn’t prepare a child for school. Paving a road doesn’t keep teenagers who are vulnerable to becoming crime statistics off the streets.

And paving roads does us no good if those roads don’t lead our kids to good schools or if those roads and trails aren't safe for families to travel.

To be a city with an extraordinary quality of life, we need to be a city that graduates its high school kids and retains its college grads.

We need workers with job skills to meet employment needs, and we need the commitment to do job training for those who lose their jobs. And we need neighborhoods where residents feel safe and secure.

So, we've got choices before us. Will we be satisfied with paving roads as our biggest idea, or will we make more significant investments in people?

Will we have the resolve to do what it takes for Indianapolis to become a quality of life capital or be satisfied with the status quo? Will we be a "mean city" or an extraordinary city?

While there is much to do to promote Indianapolis as a quality of life capital, today I propose that we focus on three critical things. First, and foremost, we have to improve educational outcomes.

Education is, unfortunately, an area where our city is failing to score even at the mean in some cases. A mayor can’t sit in the back of the class while public education slips behind.

We should not be willing to just accept the status quo. We should not settle for an ordinary education system, but we should demand of ourselves an education system that is extraordinary.

Our children deserve it and the future of our city depends on it.

We know the problems. Too many of our children do not graduate from high school on time or at all. Our graduation rates are hovering around 60% at best and even then, many of our graduating students are not prepared for success later in life.

They are not prepared to continue their education, and many are not prepared with the necessary skills to enter the workforce and contribute to a better Indianapolis.

That lack of academic success and failure to learn meaningful skills in turn contributes to much higher poverty, crime, and ill health, and those problems significantly drive up the costs of social services.

To make a significant impact in this area, we need to make sure that every child in our schools can read by third grade.

Here's why: children who do not read at grade level by the end of third grade are 4 times less likely to graduate from high school. Dropouts are 8 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated.

And dropouts are 3 times more likely than college graduates to be unemployed.
Here's what we must do to make a difference: First, we need to make sure our children enter school ready to learn at the earliest ages. This keeps kids in school and better prepares them for life after school.

In no uncertain terms, we must make childhood literacy and early childhood education a TOP priority. In order to achieve 3rd grade proficiency, we must invest early in our children’s education.

Every $1 invested in high-quality pre-kindergarten can save taxpayers up to $7 by reducing the need for remedial and special education, welfare, and criminal justice services.

One study showed that at risk children in Chicago without early learning were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime before their 18th birthday than their peers who received early learning.

Another study showed that kids in Chicago who attended pre-k, were 29% more likely to graduate from high school than peers with no pre-k.

Study after study shows that pre-kindergarten works and it is clear that education impacts our business community and education helps to prevent crime before it starts.

If, as the present mayor has said, shrinking budgets are the new paradigm, then it is even more important to invest our resources wisely.

Achieving 3rd grade reading proficiency by making early childhood education a priority will be the result of that wise investment – and that will be a step on our way to becoming an extraordinary city.

Second, we must get crime under control. Crime is up in our city and it has a very real impact on quality of life measurements. Rising crime keeps residents from being engaged in our city, and it inhibits our ability to attract new businesses and residents.

According to Congressional Quarterly, an independent, non-partisan publication, recently distributed its 2010-2011 crime rankings, and listed Indianapolis as the 6th most dangerous among the ten cities with a population over 500,000 with the highest crime rates.

This is not acceptable. To have the quality of life we want, people can’t expect as normal, nightly shootings, residential burglaries, and violence in the parks, on the trails and at the bus stops.

We have to be more dedicated to fundamentally changing the sense of safety in the city than to employing bureaucrats to fudge crime and manpower statistics in order to hope against hope that we are safer.

We’ve heard this administration say that crime is down, yet we know violent crimes like aggravated assaults - one of the most significant barometers of a city’s crime trend, are up. Indianapolis residents report that they don’t feel safe and they expect more.

The city government committed in 2007 to use $5million per year to fund crime prevention grants – money dedicated to stopping crime before it starts by seeding non-profits, faith-based groups, and community organizations with funds to impact vulnerable populations.

Cities across the country realize that the future of cost-effective crime fighting is in crime prevention. It saves money in the long run to prevent crimes rather than pay for the costs of policing, prosecution and incarceration.

Studies have shown that spending one dollar on crime prevention can save $7 dollars in crime-related costs. But the present city administration has simply turned its back on that commitment and crime prevention grants have been cut by more than half. We must restore this funding.

Third, too many of our fellow citizens are out of work. The city has lost more than 35,000 jobs in the last few years. We need a strategy of how to get these neighbors back to work, and we need it now. Overseas junkets are nice, but that can’t be all we do.

We need a strategy that emphasizes the men and women here at home who are entrepreneurs or run small businesses. The leaders of Indianapolis need to focus on the engine that drives our local economy – small business. We must spur local job growth to enhance Indianapolis’s quality of life. The majority of new jobs are created by employers with 500 or fewer employees and this is where we should focus the majority of our energy.

By creating an environment that promotes job growth within our existing business community, we will also become a magnet for other companies who are trying to decide where to locate and grow their businesses and it will help to put more of our neighbors back to work.

And, we need to help those without a job to attain the training and skills to rejoin the workforce and contribute to our local economy.

As a former deputy mayor for economic development for Indianapolis, there was simply no more rewarding activity than trying to find jobs for people who had lost them. We did that when United Airlines pulled out of the maintenance center at the Airport, by restoring nearly 1,000 jobs when we brought AAR into the facility. It is much easier for people with jobs to contribute to the quality of life in the community, so let us dedicate ourselves to job training as an important facet of our city’s economic development initiatives. We must establish and fund new job training programs to get our neighbors back to work.

Right now, it is a sad irony - employers are looking for qualified workers and many report having difficulty filling positions because the workforce does not have the necessary skills. And families all over the city are struggling because parents don’t have the skills to fill jobs.

A 2009 report showed that about 55% of Indiana's jobs were middle skill jobs that require specialized training, but only half of the state's workers have the appropriate training for these jobs.

It’s ironic that we enough jobs available to significantly reduce the unemployment rate, but we can’t only because of the gap between what employers need and the skills employees have. As a result of this challenge, job creation and economic growth are stifled. This has to be changed.

We have to work with employers to develop job training, retraining and technical training programs to meet the needs of employers, get our residents back to work, and we can recharge our local economy.

This will help not only our residents find jobs, but our employers to invest, expand and grow right here.

As we dream big about the future, let us also be realistic. To be successful, the dream of making Indianapolis an extraordinary quality of life capital will require the investments of time, attention and resources.

As mayor, I will create a program dedicated to the three initiatives I have outlined today – early education, crime prevention, and job training. I think of this as the “2021 Vision” – a reference to the year we will celebrate the bicentennial of Indianapolis when it comes just 10 years from now.

Think about what we could become in ten years’ time. In 2021, an eight year old who is just starting life’s journey will be graduating from high school. Shouldn’t we do everything we can to make sure that child has grown up in safety, has been intellectually challenged at school, and is poised to stay in or return to Indianapolis after college?

We want that young adult to contribute to our economy, to start a family here, and to do his or her part to improve the quality of life in our community.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself - where will money for the 2021 Vision come from? When properly used, tax dollars are investments in the community and its quality of life. But now is no time to ask the community to make greater investments through higher taxes – and I will not ask that we raise taxes to accomplish these goals.

Frankly, the community needs to start seeing some results from the taxes that have been raised already by this Administration.

So, I propose funds from two sources for the 2021 Vision. First, of the more than $400 million in proceeds from the transfer of the city’s water and sewer assets, we should place $150 million in an endowment to fund the 2021 Vision, making the over $250 million focused on infrastructure needs and road repairs. In no uncertain terms, the 2021 Vision will send a message that we are serious about doing the things necessary to be a quality of life capital.

Second, we should not be content to just live off the interest and principle from this endowment to the fund. We must use that initial investment as seed money and work hard to secure philanthropic contributions from people who share this vision and want to make a difference.

This is difficult, but other cities have been successful in creating such funds. Here in Indianapolis, we have recently seen how generous our citizens can be – as in the case of the recent $40 million gift to Wishard Hospital. This approach will also allow us to leverage additional federal funding and grants as well. The current city administration has not capitalize on federal funding and grants, and I am committed to ensuring that we take advantage of every non-tax dollar that is available to us.

Let me be clear that I have my reservations about the current mayor’s actions in transferring the city’s water and sewer assets in exchange for the money the city is receiving.

And I have said before that no one in our community should be deceived into thinking that money like this falls from trees. It is the public’s money – sewer and water ratepayers are contributing to it one way or another.

But that decision has been made, the money is on its way to city accounts, and let’s resolve to make the best public use of it. Indeed, let’s see it as an opportunity to make the city a quality of life capital.

Again, we confront a choice: in 2021, the bulk of that money will either have been used to pave roads that have already worn out, or for having been a substantial part of transforming educational outcomes, public safety and the economy.

In 2021, that eight year old girl may be walking on a paved road that once again needs repair, or may be walking away with a diploma ready for college and ready to make her mark in this world. For me, the choice is clear.

Let me also say that my proposal to spend the transfer proceeds on what I view as higher priorities, there is still a significant portion of the remaining proceeds for infrastructure needs.

Many of those dollars have been spent, but many remain and I propose that the remaining infrastructure dollars be spent in a way that makes sense for neighborhoods. So we can measure the use of this remaining infrastructure money not in the miles of roads paved, but in impact to neighborhoods based on their stated needs.

So where do we go from here? Over the next few weeks, I will be announcing four plans that go hand-in-glove with the proposal I have made today.

Third-grade literacy and early childhood education is the most important thing we can do in education. And, I will outline this plan after I complete the numerous meetings with parents, children, teachers, administrators and community leaders that I committed to.
Similarly, crime prevention is key to the future of public safety, but at a time when most people in our city report that they don’t feel safe, there are many other things that must we must do to fight crime.

As just one example, we desperately need more officers actually on the streets. I will soon be announcing a detailed crime plan taking that reality into account.

And job training is obviously only one part of my economic development plan. In addition to a trained workforce, we must have policies that encourage small business development and big business retention.

Finally, we cannot become a quality of life capital if we don’t recognize neighborhoods as the basic building blocks of the city. Currently, we are paving roads in neighborhoods in a top down manner.

We need a plan that empowers the leaders and residents of each of our unique neighborhoods. We need to retool the process by which we work to enhance our neighborhoods.

In short, we need to improve quality of life measures in every zip code. I will announce a plan to completely reorganize how we make investments in, and provide services, to neighborhoods.

In the coming weeks, and starting today, here, I will be advocating to city councilors, the administration and most importantly the community at large that we make early education, crime prevention and job training a real priority especially at this very critical juncture where we find ourselves at a moment of great challenge and also, opportunity.

I am glad that Mayor Bookwalter’s words from 100 years ago are still so clearly visible at the Old City Hall. We should accept and meet his challenge of being “no mean city”.

Our success will be measured not in how many new building cornerstones are laid over the next ten years, and certainly not in how many roads are paved, but in the recognition by our children ten years from now that they can be happy here and thrive. We’ve got a lot of work to do to become a quality of life capital before 2021, but I am confident the citizens of this extraordinary city are up to the challenge.

1 comment:

Doug said...

It may be fact or it may be legend (Check the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis), but I think Mark Twain is responsible for the phrase, "Indianapolis is no mean city."