The 46218 zip code is a large chunk of Indianapolis on the city’s northeast side, taking up roughly nine square miles. Its reputation is essentially the urban stereotype: majority Black and brown, high poverty rates, a lack of resources, run-down houses and businesses, no good jobs and underperforming schools. The numbers seem to support this, and depending on who’s giving their opinion, 46218 lives down to that reputation.
According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, 38.2 percent of residents lived below the poverty level in 2017. The median household income was $23,771, down from $27,664 in 2011. Unemployment was at 17.3 percent, compared to 3.6 percent in Marion County in October this year. Educational attainment is down: 72 percent of those 65 and older graduated from high school (or equivalent), compared to just 40 percent of those 25 and older.
To hear Latoya Johnson, 54, tell it from where she was sitting outside the Safeway grocery store on Sherman Drive, 46218 is practically a trap.
“Nobody has money,” she said. “They say it’s a ghetto.”
Johnson moved into the area about two years ago and said she’s been robbed at least four times since then. Crime and drugs are two of the biggest issues facing the community, she assessed, and she’s considering moving to Kentucky to be closer to family and friends.
Indianapolis has one of the worst food desert problems in the country. There are different classifications for what qualifies as a food desert, but it basically means residents don’t have easy access to healthy and affordable food. City-County Councilor Zach Adamson represents District 17, which encompasses 46218, and he pointed out issues such as poverty and food deserts affect Indianapolis as a whole, but have a disproportionate presence in his area.
Adamson said a more engaged community would help alleviate some of these problems, but there are also fixes outside the control of everyday residents. He said there should be more investment from businesses in lieu of traditional industrial jobs, and the city should improve mass transit to give residents access to jobs outside the area. (IndyGo’s Marion County Transit Plan includes all bus routes going seven days a week by the second half of 2019.)
Amy Harwell, who’s on the board of One Voice Martindale-Brightwood, the umbrella organization of the various neighborhood associations, said another community issue is renters who don’t take care of their properties. According to Harwell, as older people die, younger people buy homes and rent to “just anyone,” calling it a “cultural clash.”
“They have no respect for the community,” Harwell said, referencing as an example Hispanic residents who bring pigs to start a pig farm. “‘I’m renting, so why do I care? I don’t have to keep it up.’”
But there are also those who see a brighter side of 46218. They don’t try to mask the problems or brush them to the side, they just want others to see that the area’s bad reputation doesn’t reach every corner of the zip code. Dennis Mayes Sr., 68, was born in the area. Like most others who shared their thoughts on 46218, he insisted there are effectively two sides of the zip code, and Keystone Avenue seems to be the informal divide. It’s easier to find a positive opinion on the west side of Keystone than it is on the east side.
“We don’t have the high crime like they say we have in 46218,” Mayes said. “Everybody over here takes care of each other. The crime over here has stayed down.”
Charles Knight, a board member of the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, credits the various community entities for improving the area. The Edna Martin Christian Center recently completed renovations to its Leadership and Legacy Campus on Ralston Avenue, KIPP Indy Public Schools is opening high school next to the new center, and the Brightwood library branch recently broke ground on a new building on East 25th Street that will have more meeting space and better technology. In all, Knight said, the community is “progressing.”
“Sure, not as fast as we want, and sure, not with the rest of the city,” he said, “but it’s a positive effort that’s out there.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.