Community development in Indianapolis has varied over time, ranging from physical and economic development to human development and poverty alleviation to public safety. Three factors enhance community development efforts in Indianapolis: partnership across sectors (government, business, and philanthropy), the city’s manageable size, and strong volunteer spirit.

The partnership among nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies is commonly cited as the key to community development in Indianapolis. Each sector sought a role in shaping the city’s future, but no single sector had adequate resources to meet the community’s needs. The partnership has become formalized through the creation of facilitating organizations such as the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, the Corporate Community Council, the Indianapolis Economic Development Corporation, the Indiana Sports Corporation, and the Indianapolis Project

Examples of the partnership among sectors include the downtown tennis complex, built with $4 million of public money, $1.5 million from the lilly endowment, inc. $1.5 million from business, and a lease of campus land from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (1979); the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP), established in 1988 by for-profit lending institutions, nonprofit funders, human service providers, and community development corporations to increase available housing for low and moderate-income families; and the “Dream Wall” project at 40th and Boulevard Place, which, with assistance from the Arts Council Of Indianapolis, foundations, businesses, and neighborhood children, transformed a graffiti-covered wall into a community landmark (1993).

The second factor in Indianapolis’ development, its medium size, makes contributions to community development more visible than in a larger city. The city’s size also facilitates cooperation, as when local radio and television stations cooperated in 1992 to simulcast primetime coverage of the united way campaign.

A third factor contributing to community development, volunteer spirit, is evident in the voluntary time given to nonprofit organizations like the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., the Coalition for Human Service Planning, and the neighborhood associations. Events such as the National Sports Festival, the annual One America 500 FESTIVAL Mini-Marathon, SUPER BOWL XLVI, and the Tenth Pan American Games were made possible because thousands of volunteers provided crucial services. Volunteering is given an impetus by Indianapolis congregations, which encourage members to participate in helping communities and which offer space to voluntary groups. Corporations give employees time off for voluntary activities and expect their upper-level managers to donate time to community affairs.

The beginning of community development in Indianapolis, in its modern, planned, comprehensive form, is commonly associated with the establishment of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC) in 1965 during the administration of Mayor John J. Barton. GIPC has served as a sounding board, advisory council, and primary advocate for major projects (e.g., Eagle Creek Park, Unigov, and the Convention Center). Its task forces have reported on salient public issues (e.g., highway construction, jail overcrowding, the Regional Center Plans, and government reorganization); its studies have stimulated the establishment of organizations to respond to community needs (e.g., the Economic Development Corporation).

The creation of UNIGOV (1970) and increased interaction among government, business, and nonprofits during Richard G. Lugar’s mayoral administration (1968-1976), established formal and informal mechanisms essential to community development. Indianapolis received national attention through its involvement in the Model Cities Program and Lugar’s heading to the National League of Cities. During this period community development included buildings (Market Square Arena, City Market ) and legislation supporting the expansion and merger of Indiana University and Purdue University regional campuses in Indianapolis into a full-scale university (IUPUI). Proponents of IUPUI believed that a large public university complementing established professional schools such as medicine and law, was an essential resource for community development.

The pace of community development increased during the administration of Mayor WILLIAM H. HUDNUT III (1976-1992). Hudnut’s ability to build coalitions and enthusiasm for his image of the new Indianapolis mobilized support for an array of bricks-and-mortar projects, which included the Hoosier Dome, the Indianapolis Zoo, the Natatorium, Capitol Commons, Pan American Plaza, the Eiteljorg Museum Of American Indians And Western Art, and renovation of Union Station, Indiana Repertory Theatre, and Circle Theatre. The Hudnut administration also supported community development corporations, worked for legislation that would permit more aggressive action in blighted neighborhoods. This focus also led to establishment of the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership.

Human service projects received steady support during the 1980s from the city, Indianapolis Foundation and United Way. Lilly Endowment supported social welfare during the 1980s through grants to United Way, by underwriting the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) grants, and by providing seed funding to Community Centers, Inc.

The economic boom of the post-World War II decades increased public revenues and corporate profits, both of which enhanced generosity on the part of the corporate community. Lilly Endowment was crucial to community development projects. In some instances, such as White River State Park, the Endowment catalyzed matching public funds. Lilly Endowment’s commitment to Indianapolis—even expanding its professional staff to better support its community development activities—set a standard for community involvement by others. Because of its size and willingness to support community development, Lilly Endowment at times has overshadowed other important contributors.

The Indianapolis Foundation carried out its role in community projects and has been a mainstay of cultural organizations and human service programs. The United Way expanded its combined campaign and provided crucial planning and research services to identify and respond to community needs. The Corporate Community Council underwrote projects and organizations with wide community impact: the Tenth Pan American Games, the Indianapolis Project, the Indianapolis Economic Development Corporation, and Vision Indianapolis Tomorrow.

The economy took a downturn near the end of the Hudnut administration and enthusiasm for community development waned. Hudnut’s successor, Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, appointed a deputy mayor for neighborhood services, convened a Neighborhood Roundtable to discuss neighborhood needs, and targeted funds for rehabilitating homes, strengthening the physical infrastructure, and improving human services. Lilly Endowment increased support for housing, community development corporations, and education.

The Goldsmith administration (1991-2000) developed a national reputation for building innovative public-private partnerships. The mayor led the revival of the city’s downtown and “Building Better Neighborhoods,” a comprehensive effort, supported by national foundations, to dramatically improve the physical and social infrastructure of Indy’s urban communities.

Downtown Indianapolis experienced a rebirth with Circle Centre Mall’s 1995 opening. With the mall came restaurant, bar, and retail openings as the number of downtown visitors exploded. Conseco (Gainbridge) Fieldhouse followed, then a $50 million remodeling of the Indiana Convention Center, the Ncaa Headquarters, Anthem’S 2,500-worker offices, Emmis Broadcasting’s offices on Monument Circle, and Union Station’s renovation. Goldsmith later promoted the public-private partnerships in his seven books, including The Power of Social Innovation (2010) and Governing by Network: The New Shape of the Public Sector (2004).

In 1997 Goldsmith formed the “Front Porch Alliance,” to match churches and neighborhood groups with government resources and expertise. The alliance inspired national faith-based and nonprofit initiatives under the Bush administration that continue today. Another result was the Ten Point Coalition, independent of city government but engaging churches and faith-based groups to prevent crime. The Indy Ten Point Coalition (ITPC) reaches young people, families, and neighborhoods with a “boots-on-the-ground” approach to reducing violence, increasing employment, and enhancing educational achievement. ITPC targeted three “high risk” neighborhoods in its first year: United Northwest Area (UNWA), Mapleton-Fall Creek, and Haughville. Homicides were reduced by 40 percent in these selected neighborhoods.

Mayor Bart Peterson (2000-2008) focused on education and the arts during his administration. Peterson in 2001 spurred legislation that allowed Indiana mayors to authorize charter schools, public schools that are independent of school districts. Peterson and David Harris launched The Mind Trust in 2006, a nonprofit that recruits teachers and launches charter schools. Peterson’s education policy and efforts to improve the schools in Indianapolis included arts education as a major component.

Peterson focused on making Indianapolis an artistic and cultural destination during his administration. He doubled public sector arts funding and launched a $10 million cultural development and tourism initiative funded by a public-private partnership with the Lilly Endowment. This collaborative effort included the Arts Council of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., and the Mayor’s Office. Peterson elevated the public awareness of the city’s arts offerings and supported collaborative efforts promoting the arts in tourism efforts.

In 1999, Indianapolis officially designated six Cultural Districts: Massachusetts Avenue, Fountain Square the Canal and White river state park, Indiana Avenue, the Wholesale District, and Broad Ripple. Cultural Development Commissioners (CDC) were charged with finding ways to promote the city’s cultural assets. Brian Payne, president of Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), raised both $63 million of public and philanthropic funds that created the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick, an 8-mile world-class urban bike and pedestrian path in downtown Indianapolis. The trail includes $4 million of public art and is accessible 365 days a year.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is managed by a nonprofit organization, Indianapolis Cultural Trail Inc (ICT Inc). The IU Public Policy Institute in 2015 reported that the trail has had a direct economic impact: property assessments within approximately one block of the eight-mile Trail had increased 148 percent since 2008, an increase of $1 billion in assessed property value.

Mayor Greg Ballard (2008-2016) undertook the city’s RebuildIndy initiative, a $55 million package of the street, sidewalk, and bridge projects to strengthen infrastructure. He oversaw the city’s hosting of the 2012 Super Bowl, resulting from intersectoral partnerships and completion of Lucas Oil Stadium. Ballard ended his administration with an emphasis on the environment, an all-electric car-sharing service, and a contract to begin converting city vehicles to electric power.

Joe Hogsett (2016-present) occupied the mayor’s office during the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice movements. One result has been a gradual refocusing on issues related to equity and addressing racism. Crime prevention, infrastructure improvements, and opportunities for working families also have been elements of the Hogsett administration’s community development efforts. Along these lines, Lilly Endowment pledged $100 million to the National Urban League in August 2020 to fund an Indianapolis initiative to address the unique challenges its African American community faces.

Revised March 2021

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