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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Indy’s inertia over teens hanging out downtown

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If you ask young people in Indianapolis what there is to do for fun, for recreation, their answers will be limited to going to the movies and going to the malls.

Many of you reading this will remember your teen days in Indianapolis. You may have walked the sidewalks at Glendale, Meadows and Southern Plaza malls. You patronized the skating rinks and bowling alleys located inside the old city limits. The city’s neighborhood centers and some churches sponsored teen dances on weekends where one could practice the dances you’d seen on TV on “American Bandstand” or “Soul Train” during the week.

Today, skating rinks are down to two. There are no bowling alleys inside the old city limits; only on Indy’s fringes or in the suburbs.

Community centers aren’t open Friday and Saturday nights.

Dances are seemingly regarded by police and city officials as a threat to homeland security with code enforcement police dedicated to eradicating dances and parties for teens.

In short, unless you want to go to the movies or get a bite to eat, there’s very little recreation for the city’s teens. Except do what millions of teens do in American cities from coast to coast – hang out at shopping malls.

Indy’s got plenty of bars in Broad Ripple, Mass Avenue and that strip of south Meridian Street called the “wholesale district.” These are the hangouts for Indy’s growing 21 to 34 year olds; the demographic the Ballard administration seems enamored with appealing to with trendy buzzwords like sustainability, bike paths and electric car chargers.

Meanwhile the generation behind the current darlings of the mayor are bored because every mayor since Steve Goldsmith has worked to stamp out activities that would really appeal to today’s teens. Opportunities for the 14 to 19-year-old set to socialize, booze free are virtually non existent because the city’s made it virtually impossible for anyone to hold teen dances.

At the same time, traditional youth organizations, starved for donations because of a shift in philanthropic giving toward programs for pre-school kids and not those older, have cut back weekend and evening programming hours. The emphasis is on providing after school activities. Not Friday and Saturday evening activities.

So, when you’re bored with the Xbox and Madden games, you go to the malls to meet friends, pursue the opposite sex and hang out.

Some teen encounters have resulted in fights and the occasional shooting incident that makes the city anxious and paranoid.

Ground Zero of teen hangouts is Simon Property Group’s Circle Centre mall. Police, community leaders involved in the streets and folks with common sense know what the problem is. But mall operator Simon resists efforts to be a partner in solving the problem of teens hanging out in their downtown showcase mall.

We must be clear about the Simon company of the 21st century. This isn’t the Simon built by the genial entrepreneurs Mel(vin) and Herb(ert) Simon. Today’s Simon is a multinational corporate behemoth.

Last year, Simon Property Group, which operates malls worldwide, had revenues of $4.88 billion dollars, up some half billion from 2011. Basic profits before taxes were $1.43 billion.

Obviously, the folks that run Circle Centre, Castleton, Clay Terrace, Keystone at the Crossing, Hamilton Town Center, and even struggling Washington Square are doing well.

Several groups of ministers including the Ten Point Coalition and the current leadership of the Baptist Ministers Alliance and Interdenominational Ministers Alliance spoke out forcefully last week saying it was time for Circle Centre and Simon to take a very hard look at instituting what the ministers called a “curfew”; but what is really a parental escort policy.

This is the concept Simon invented in the mid-1990’s, when they owned the mega Mall of America in Minneapolis that prohibits unescorted youth and teens on Friday and Saturday evenings.

This policy works at Mall of America and some 70-plus malls throughout the country. But Simon is loath to institute a policy they originated here.

Mall operators covet teens’ business and patronage despite problems. Simon claims their security can handle any eventuality.

That’s what they’ve told the ministers group including Ten Point, who remains skeptical. They’re afraid if Simon doesn’t help them with prevention, we could see a tragedy in Circle Centre or perhaps other Indy malls that would be too great to bear.

Is that the legacy Simon wants in their hometown?

What I’m hearing

in the streets

The desire of Indiana’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz not to be in the business of running takeover public schools and the desire of Mayor Greg Ballard to be an ersatz school superintendent have merged.

Ritz isn’t objecting to the city being the day to day overseer of the four former IPS schools the state took over last summer.

Mayor Ballard, or more realistically Deputy Mayor for Education Jason Kloth, will now oversee Arlington, Manual and Howe high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School.

The takeover to be approved by the rubber stamp State Board of Education, will give the mayor’s office combined oversight of 25 charter schools with an enrollment of 11,660.

That makes the mayor’s charter schools the sixth biggest school district in the city/county after IPS and Wayne, Perry, Lawrence and Warren townships.

At 6,205 Ballard and Kloth will oversee schools that comprise the third largest Black enrollment of any district after IPS and Pike.

Democrat Ritz and City-County Council President Maggie Lewis and new Vice President John Barth signed off on the deal. Barth’s Community Affairs Committee says they’ll provide oversight on Kloth’s oversight of these four new additions to the mayor’s charter portfolio. But the move will give ammunition to those who say its way past time for a slowdown or moratorium on new charter schools in Indianapolis.

Or at least end the overbuilding of charter schools in minority and poor neighborhoods; while not placing them in middle class and upscale neighborhoods.

See ‘ya next week.

You can email comments to Amos Brown III at acbrown@aol.com.

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