Indianapolis has a really good city flag. Vexillologists — people who study flags — agree. The North American Vexillological Society rates the Indianapolis flag as eighth best city flag in the nation, behind Washington, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, St. Louis, Wichita, and Portland.
This fellow unfurled the Indianapolis flag after the city’s soccer team, the Indy Eleven, scored a goal in a game. Margaret and I were there to watch.
We live in the suburbs now, but before we married I lived in Indianapolis for 25 years. It’s the place I lived the longest, and I miss it.
That’s not to say I loved Indy from the moment I moved there. It took me a long time to adjust to living in Indianapolis. It was the largest city I’d ever lived in, and there was a lot to get used to. There was an ease about life in the small cities I’d lived in before. I was used to being able to zip to the grocery store for a needed item in twenty minutes round trip. But from where I lived in Indianapolis, that trip was always an hour because things were farther away and traffic was always heavy.
Holy cow, the traffic in Indianapolis. There was always so much of it, and it moved so fast! Lots of roads are multi-lane arteries. To get places fast, you have to use the Interstate highways that ring and cross the city. I am an anxious driver, and was triply so when I moved to Indy so many years ago. Driving around town was nerve-wracking. It took me a full ten years to feel comfortable navigating my city in my car.
But unlike the sleepier cities of my younger years, there was so much to do in Indianapolis! We have major-league football and basketball teams, minor-league baseball and soccer teams, a symphony, a repertory theater, a thriving bar scene, lots of terrific restaurants, and excellent shopping. I’ve enjoyed all of it in my time here.
I moved to Zionsville when Margaret and I married because her youngest son was finishing high school here. This is a northwest suburb of Indianapolis and highly regarded. Its center, which everyone here calls “the Village,” is charming as hell. Margaret and I love going there on random evenings for a walk and maybe some dinner and a drink.
It’s also a crazy expensive place to buy a house compared to the rest of Indiana. We can’t afford a house in the Village, so we live in one of the many subdivisions that push past it to the west. Ours is one of the farthest away from the Village — house prices rise proportionally to how easy it is to walk to the Village. For us, that walk is six miles.
Where we are, it’s all vinyl villages, big-box stores, and strip shopping centers. If you’ve seen one new suburb, you’ve seen them all.
But counterintuitively, this is the most walkable place I’ve ever lived. Our subdivision is behind a couple of shopping strips. We can walk to the stores in them in as little as ten minutes. In the strip closes to our home there’s a breakfast and lunch diner, a Mexican restaurant, a Thai place, and two pubs. The pharmacy where my prescriptions are filled is a couple minutes farther out. A little beyond that is a grocery store and a hardware store — both big-box retailers, not charming little local businesses, but they’re there and I can walk to them.
I haven’t lived in a neighborhood this walkable since I was a kid, and even then that place was a tenacious vestige of a passing era. From the same house today there’s nothing to walk to, and hasn’t been for decades.
There are walkable neighborhoods in Indianapolis, but thanks to gentrification, home prices are higher than Margaret and I are willing to pay. Outside those traditional neighborhoods, a lot of Indianapolis actually has a suburban feel to it. My last house in Indianapolis was built in 1969 on a large lot in a subdivision off a main road. I needed a car to get anywhere. Even if there were somewhere to walk to, the main road had no path for pedestrians.
I want that small-city ease of my younger years, with big-city amenities and excellent walkability. In other words, I’m searching for a purple unicorn.
Margaret and I have dreamed for years of where we’ll live after the last of our kids finally moves out. I’ve badly wanted to return to Indianapolis and buy a big, older home in a neighborhood that hasn’t fully gentrified yet.
But the other day as we walked over to one of the pubs near our home, it dawned on me that I have a lot of what I want right here. The big-city amenities are farther away, but we can still access them. Traffic here isn’t as heavy as in the city. We can walk to so many good things. And for the first time in my life, I can take long bike rides in the country with only the occasional passing car to bother me. But to keep all of this I have to live in one of these ill-built, vinyl-covered spec houses.
We are privileged — we can choose so many of our tradeoffs. It wasn’t that long ago when I didn’t make remotely enough money to live even in a vinyl village in Zionsville. That’s why I lived in the old suburban part of Indianapolis rather than in one of the more established and connected city neighborhoods. I had to go where I could afford to be, and my options were much more sharply limited. I lived where I had to, and I had to make the best of it.