Is a Sustainable Indianapolis possible?

I started this blog about a year ago. It started, like many blogs, as a therapeutic exercise. I needed an outlet. Now, I feel it is time to think about the central mission of this blog. It’s written right under the banner:”Dedicated to a sustainable Indianapolis.” With gas prices continuing to rise, it is starting to bring food prices along with them. Investment Banker Matt Simmons on the CNBC show Fast Money believes we’re still on the upslope with regards to the price of oil. The questions are many:

  • Is it already too late for Indianapolis? Are we just too spread out, and too car dependent, to adequately deal with a coming oil price surge, or even gas rationing?
  • What can be done to lessen the blow this city is poised to take, as people have to choose between filling their gas tank and buying food?
  • Most depressingly for our city’s sake: is “going rural” the only truly sustainable option? Will we just have to abandon the city and live communally?

On a somewhat separate subject, I have realized that I have to come forward with a proposal. I will always readily admit that I’m no economist, nor businessman, nor urban planner, nor architect. I work in Geographic Information Systems. So that goes towards another goal of this blog: to reach out to experts and seek their researched opinions. Reading a technical blog like the Oil Drum, and then reading this one makes me feel pretty meek in comparison. There are several readers here who could make killer posts. I do not want to dominate the conversation. So, see this post as an invitation for contributers to the front page of the blog.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the conversation so far. This has been quite the learning experience.

Comments 10

  • yes Indy is sustainable, but all your comments about rapid transit not being right for Indy are wrong.
    Indy should (has to move forward) with lite rail…they should have been doing it ten years ago). The time is now for Indy to make it’s move. Why should we be paying for bridges over Kentucky’s river with our tax dollars…when we need to take care of our transit needs.

  • I’m not sure what you are referring to. I’m a huge rapid transit proponent. Perhaps you’re confusing me with the Urbanophile?

    But it is expensive. So Bus rapid Transit might be the best first step to make at this point for cost purposes alone. However, if they are powered by diesel, we can already see a problem, because diesel is now more expensive than gasoline. Electric buses might be a better option, but of course, more expensive.

    This city, and many others in America, really messed up when we got rid of the interurbans and streetcars.

  • I think you have made a great contribution to the city and it’s sustainable future by hosting this blog. Your postings always seemed relevant to me.
    Personally, I don’t think Indy must be abandoned because of any perceived non-sustainable threat. Its inhabitants are much too clever to let a lack of oil stop us, but the heavy cars will probably give way to smaller cars before people change their lifestyle in any appreciable way.
    I’m not sure the solution is a light-rail system, but multi-modal transportation options should be encouraged at every step. Separated pedestrian and biking routes are a great start. But sustainability is not all about transportation. There are many land-use policies in effect that inhibit density, maybe we can all write our city officials and request zoning laws that make sense for urban areas.
    I think Indy is doing well, and the US at large has just turned the corner on environmental action and sustainability, so let’s wait a few years and see if a proactive government can make a positive change. Chicago is a definite leader in greening up city hall, lets hope Indy tries to keep up with the example they have set.
    Finally, I would never advocate leaving the city for a “sustainable rural environment”. This is disguised urban sprawl, and can easily ruin an entire ecosystem. I don’t think we should stop people from living in rural areas, but those who do and believe they are protecting nature are fooling themselves.

  • Graeme, thank you. I hope you are right that we can turn this around.

    With regards to that final bullet point, I am talking about building small-scale communities and living off of the land. Localizing everything, especially food production. Basically, a return to the way things worked in a pre-oil society. Perhaps it’s a radical idea now, but we may need to start looking in that direction, and soon.

    A better option for us urbanophiles may be to keep the inner city intact and densify the housing, let the burbs rot or use them for salvage, and grow crops on the “urban prairies” and parks. There already is a small Community Supported Agriculture place known as Basic Roots over on the Eastside. We will probably need more of them.

    Regardless of what happens, I think it is a blessing that Indy’s in a climate that is quite suitable for agriculture. I wouldn’t be moving to the desert southwest right now.

  • Kevin, intensive food-crop agriculture doesn’t take much land. I have a large urban lot, of which less than half is in front yard, house, driveway and garage. If inclined to garden and can/preserve produce, I could grow fruit trees and vegetables sufficient for myself and probably several more people. I could probably also keep a goat and chickens, but I think a pig and cow would be pushing it.

    I suppose I could keep a horse for getting to work, but I suspect maintenance and upkeep on a horse is a lot more than I know about.

  • Unfortunately my house is on a very small and heavily shaded lot. The front yard is more attractive for crop growing, but of course it will be frowned upon by the neighbors until the time calls for such measures. Also, it would be more difficult to defend from thieves. My fiancee has done a great job of taking advantage of the tiny space between the house and the driveway: herbs are in the flowerbox, and eggplants and peppers are in the soil. The backyard would be for chickens. Goats would be awesome, but apparently they like fresh running water, and more space than I have.

  • I don’t think that growing all of our own food in the local community is either doable or desirable. Except for extremely poor subsistence farmers, people have always imported or exported food, even in the pre-oil days. The great cattle drives of 150 years ago were designed to bring the cattle to Chicago, where they would be slaughtered and the meat delivered across the US. In the 1600s, English and Dutch fishing fleets did the same thing with cod and herring.

    I don’t think it’s realistic or desirable for people to try and emulate, on a large scale, commune-based lifestyles that, among other things, don’t provide much variety. Also, I like coffee.

    On the other hand, our current system – where it requires special steps to find *any* local food – is far from ideal by any metric.

    Without being religious about it, I try to consume as much local food as a can, though Farm Fresh Delivery, farmer’s markets in the summer, traders point creamery, moody meats, etc. (In the winter, of course, there isn’t much local produce in IN, though). But it does require extra steps (and, of course, extra money, depending).

    What we should try to emphasize, somehow, is making it easier and more convenient to purchase local foods, at least when they are in season. It makes no sense to me, for example, that the only broccoli available at Marsh is from California, even during times when there is broccoli from IN available. I’m not sure how to encourage this type of agriculture; I suspect that there are complicated incentives in place that encourage large scale monoculture and discourage smaller and more diverse production for local consumption.

    So we should certainly try to work to reverse these perverse incentives, and I think that people should try to eat local food to the extent that this is reasonably possible. But, as I said before, I don’t think that eating 100% local food year round is realistically possible or desireable.

  • Good comment Peter. I love coffee, sugar, chocolate, tea, and bananas. Life would suck without them.

    In the new Library there’s a small display with a poster from World War I. It encourages people not to buy sugar because “sugar means ships”. We needed the ships for war preparations. Such sacrifice has not been seen on such a level for most of America since WWII.

    Your comment about Marsh is also a good one.

  • Check out “indyfoodcoop” at Yahoo Groups, Peter and Kevin. The day is coming.

  • Shouldn’t Indianapolis have mandatory curbside recycling? It’s standard in the last two cities where three cities where I’ve lived (Louisville, KY; Austin, TX; Raleigh, NC). It seems a simple place to start. Right now, it’s an add-on service that most people don’t even seem to know about.

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