In October, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. took a trip to Indianapolis with about 85 Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce members, staff and local business and municipal leaders. The idea for the trip was nudged along by the chamber.
In the mayor's letter following the trip, Bartlett talked about Indy and how the city of Tulsa could benefit from following its example.
"Known as America's most walkable city, I believe Indianapolis, to be -- if not the best -- then one of the best-run cities in this country," the mayor wrote in his weekly letter on Oct. 18.
"You may recall that Indianapolis is the city where KPMG, the company who has been evaluating Tulsa, made its mark in realigning Indianapolis with efficient methods of government management," he continued.
Also, a high school principal from an Indianapolis high school addressed Tulsa Public School teachers during their convocation on Aug. 18.
Home of the Indianapolis 500, the city is a bustling Midwestern metropolitan with more than 800,000 residents. Indy has renewed its downtown and developed riverfront areas along the White River.
Sounds fantastic, right? While Indy has nice features, she's a little like a pretty face one forgets immediately after seeing her. The city doesn't quite capture one's imagination or inspire ideas about culture, art or healthy living.
Part of Tulsa's struggle seems to be with its own identity. Who will we become in the next 50 years? More like Indianapolis, pretty but forgettable? Or more like, say, quirky, artsy Austin? Or loud, industrious Oklahoma City? Or suburban utopia Kansas City? Or any other mid-sized U.S. city?
Perhaps the Rust Belt city is an impeccable Mecca for municipal leaders, but let's take a brief look at the city, the claims its boosters make, and how it compares to Tulsa and the rest of the nation.
When you pull up VisitIndy.com, a colorful banner splashes across a perfectly backlit building in downtown Indianapolis. It reads, "America's Most Walkable City."
But a quick check of WalkScore.com, an interesting website that ranks about 2,500 large and mid-sized U.S. cities for walkability, shows that cities with the highest "walk scores" were the ones you'd expect. Number one is New York City with a walk score of 85.5, followed by San Francisco (84.9), Boston (79.2) and Chicago (74.3).
In fact, according to an overall walk score (calculated by taking into account factors like a city's number of car-dependent neighborhoods and the ability of residents to accomplish errands without a car), Tulsa actually ranked higher than Indianapolis.
In the site's 2011 rankings, Tulsa came in 32nd with a walk score of 42.8. Indy's overall score was 37.
As a side note, Oklahoma City ranked as one of the nation's least walkable cities, with a score of 35.6.
But these numbers aren't exactly surprising, especially for Indianapolis, a city put on the map by its annual racing spectacle, the Indy 500.
Perhaps Tulsa leaders appreciate Indy's attempts to correct their car-lovin' ways in recent years.
Since 2006, Indy has been given credit for becoming more aware of sustainability. The city's farm vendors and community gardens are growing, according to a SustainLane annual survey.
One of Indy's twenty-somethings started up the Urban Farm Project, where a band of urban dwellers farm empty lots with organic food crops. A new alt-weekly newspaper called the Green Guide began publishing in 2008.
Sustainability and walkability are possible in Indy, but why do Tulsans need to look to the obscure Midwestern town for that advice? Tulsa, and Green Country as a whole, has a rich history of farming and raising cattle and horses.
Indy residents aren't necessarily happier, either. Before the 2008 downturn, Business Week ranked the 50 unhappiest cities in the U.S. -- Indy came in at number 14 out of 50 of the nation's largest metros. The ranking was based on factors like depression, suicide and divorce rates, plus unemployment, job losses and even the number of cloudy days per year.
Indianapolis is the 12th largest city in the U.S., but was ranked the 33rd most dangerous city for years 2008-2009. Also in 2008, Indy recorded 122 homicides. Today, the Rust Belt town has a homicide rate five times higher than the national average.
Comparatively, Tulsa still ranks worse nationwide when it comes to crime statistics. In other areas, Tulsa pulls ahead, especially in terms of cost of doing business, small business vitality, short commute times, minor league sports (hey, we've gotta start somewhere!) and cost of living.
Like Tulsa, the Indy metro area experienced rapid and extensive suburbanization and strained race relations. However, Indy was one of the only major cities that did not experience race riots, and today the city is considered one of the least segregated in the northern U.S.
This marks a major divergence between T-Town and Indianapolis, as Tulsa has the dubious distinction of experiencing the worst race riot in America's history.
Additionally, Indy has made great strides in developing its riverfront property along the White River, while Tulsans remain divided over how to build up retail, restaurant and social outlets along the Arkansas River.
By the 1970s and 80s, Indy began a thoughtful revitalization process for its urban core, and folded its city and county entities into one governing body.
Mayor Bartlett praised Indy for its successful city-county partnerships. "This model city has saved tremendously on those services where one vendor can do the work for both government entities," he said.
Indy has an elected mayor and a large city and county (combined) council that now holds a Republican majority. The council has four at-large councilors and another 25 councilors that represent districts.
Bartlett also noted in his letter that the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County are working and coordinating together pretty smoothly nowadays.
After the mayor and chamber's expensive trip (Imagining the price tag to fly, feed and accommodate upwards of 100 of Tulsa's mayoral and chamber entourage, and the price tag to search out new plans and opportunities for T-Town, he wrote, "The more we explore cities that have pioneered the tough roads to success, the less we have to re-invent the wheel, so to speak.
"Trips like the one to Indianapolis have allowed us to take advantage of learning tried and true methods we can use to develop Tulsa," he wrote.
How do you feel about being compared to Indianapolis? Would you like to see T-Town move toward a more Indy way of life? Which city would you like to see Tulsa become more like in the next 50 years (in our own unique way, natch)?
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