Is Gentrification the Problem in Indianapolis?

A recent report by the Center for Community Progress was presented at Development on Tap, a monthly discussion hosted by LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation), which finally acknowledged that gentrification is real.

While the author acknowledged that gentrification is real, he argued that it is a relatively small issue compared to neighborhood decline and increasing poverty throughout the city.

Now that the issue has been broached maybe we can begin a conversation about how the phenomena of gentrification and neighborhood decay are connected, rooted in a broader economic system and approach to development used in Indianapolis and across the world.

Our failure to acknowledge the correlation between the two will only lead to further economic, social and cultural decay in our community.

What does the data tell us?

The Indy Star highlighted key data from the report in a recent article “Indianapolis decline explained in charts”.

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*In the map above, the areas shaded yellow represent census tracts in which median household income dropped by 20 percent or higher between 2000 and 2014.

In almost every neighborhood in Indianapolis the median income has dropped more than 20% since 2000.

Additionally PolicyLink, a think tank focused on equity, released the National Equity Atlas which provides data on cities across the country.

Their data shows that income has dropped for all income brackets in Marion County between 1980 to 2014.

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*Click here for the full set of data.

How can this inform us?

This downward trend over the last 30 years demands that we take a critical look at the approach used for community and economic development. Strictly from the data, it is clear that the current approach has had minimum or no impact on reducing poverty and in fact research is warranted on whether these strategies have exacerbated the challenges faced by working-class communities and communities of color.

For example the presenter from the Center for Community Progress recommended increasing home ownership as the best approach to stabilizing communities that are in the midst of decay.

If incomes are on the decline, how will existing residents be able to purchase a home?

Based on the data, it appears that this approach requires migration of residents into the city that can afford to purchase a home, which is a factor that contributes to gentrified communities.

If the goal is to improve the lives of all residents, this strategy is problematic because it does not fundamentally improve the economic conditions of existing residents.

Reconsidering our Current Approach

In 2016 the 8-month series led by Kheprw Institute and Spirit & Place Festival created a space for a broad community to come together and have critical discourse on the issue of gentrification.

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Gentrification and neighborhood decay are undoubtedly intertwined as much as Siamese twins. There is no separating gentrification from neighborhood decay. It’s like arguing that putting toxins at one end of the stream does not harm the whole river. Gentrified communities are often the results of historical disinvestment that creates spaces that can be gentrified. This disinvestment can be tied to local and global economic phenomena and failed social and economic policies at the local and national level, not to mention the financial collapse of 2008 that led to the real estate collapse.

Professionals in economic development are more familiar with the failures of current model than I am.

The challenge for authentic leadership is to take an objective and critical look at current practices that are similar to historic practices and how those practices will potentially lead to the same outcome.

An objective look will require facing the brutal facts. Yesterday’s world is not today’s world. Any solutions grounded in yesterday’s worldview will only lead to more of the same failed outcomes.

The old paradigm had a heavy emphasis on manufacturing in a much less globalized world. In addition, the economic growth that led to a large working middle class was a direct outcome of WWII, an aberration which positioned the United States to become the predominant global economic power.

The current globalized economy dominated by corporations has made the pursuit of profit the primary meaning of life. This pursuit permeates through all aspects of our lives, our social structures and our personal decisions.

The biggest challenge for the emergence of authentic leadership is the personal and professional benefits we receive by adhering to the old paradigm: our jobs, our businesses, our sense of self are tied to the old paradigm.

What’s needed are authentic voices in a variety of circles and the courage to speak directly to these challenges.

Possibilities for Moving Forward

First we must place more emphasis on rebuilding, restoring and expanding the social capital and relationships in our communities. These relationships provide an opportunity for new solutions to be created that are grounded in community and understanding.

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These relationships cannot be grounded in profit and loss statements, appraised property values or the construction of buildings. They must be grounded in authentic relationships with each other to open ourselves to ways of thinking outside of the the material paradigm.

Although social capital and relationship building will not adequately address the structural issues of race, class, gender, etc, it can begin to create the cultural spaces to allow us to begin addressing these structural challenges.

The truth of the matter is that most opportunities that people receive are the result of who they know more so than what they know. Expanding social capital across race, class, gender and social lines is an immediate tool to address equity in distressed communities.

And despite the fact that this perspective is likely to be rejected by many, a few bold and courageous voices are serving to demonstrate this possibility. By taking actions in our local communities to connect with others who are willing to embrace creative approaches to thinking and doing, we  begin to explore more equitable ways of dealing with neighborhood decline and other issues.

While it is important for us to continue to be critics to the old model, the majority of our emphasis should be on building institutions rooted in and controlled by community with an emphasis on people over material gain. Anything less than that will lead to the same outcomes: social decay, failing mental health and increased cultural/social polarization.


Please join Kheprw Institute and Spirit & Place starting in January 2017 for critical conversations about the challenges of equity in Indianapolis. For more information visit equity.kheprw.org.

Imhotep Adisa
Imhotep Adisa
Since 2004, Imhotep has served as the Executive Director of the Kheprw Institute. He has spent over thirty years working to lift up issues of equity across public, civic and business sectors. Over the years, Imhotep’s primary emphasis has been to promote indigenous, youth-building initiatives and to engage young people in advancing sustainable practices within themselves and their surrounding community.