Sometimes suburbia needs a reset. This is one of those times.
A little over 15 years ago, we relocated to a midsized town outside of Indianapolis. Fishers was a mix of farmland and suburbia and easy enough to get to Indianapolis (and other cities) to get our attention.
We heard from those who grew up here or had recently relocated that it was easy to get lost in the bubble.
The bubble explained this community that lived in their own little world, that focused on a false utopia and was able to place anything that happened outside their boundaries into a box that got little attention.
Due to the nature of my work, I spent enough time outside the place we called home to understand regional, national, and international realities. At home, we saw the bubble pounding their chest with pride over state awards. I realized quickly that sometimes what matters most is national comparisons, not state. I’ve never been more grateful for the reality check that my professional experiences have provided. There is a lot happening outside the bubble, and we can learn from and reflect on so much of what is happening elsewhere.
During the last fifteen years, we have watched the bubble of Fishers grow more and more self-sufficient, somewhat arrogant, and a lot more exclusive.
As Fishers moved from town to City, we watched farmland (and a lot of green space) turn into shops, offices, restaurants, and more. We saw continual movements that shifted one’s need to leave the bubble. Our family is intentional about cross-community and cultural experiences; we saw more and more people move in and get swallowed up.
The bubble effect is strong and has a magnetism for a certain breed of education, upper middle class, lifelong residents, and predominantly white individuals.
We saw old parks refreshed and some smallish new places pop up. But nothing outlandish in terms of public amenities. We saw the slow pace of becoming a retail destination take hold (hello, Ikea). Saw the growth of restaurants and wondered who would staff all these shiny new eateries.
We saw it and noticed it all as it alarmingly happened in slow motion right before our eyes.
I remember eight years ago talking with friends who had moved here from New York (Manhattan area) who loved the parks. But those same friends struggled to find people with whom they could connect.
I remember seven years ago seeing adults at the youth ballpark so focused on their kid winning that I wondered how many kids would stop playing sports by age 12 because they were done with the pressure of trying to be the next Aaron Judge.
I remember six years ago talking to former neighbors who were Black, they fortunately never felt unsafe, but they, unfortunately, felt unwelcome.
I remember five years ago being at a hotel gym in Los Angeles and seeing our City on the news because a school board member made asinine comments relating anorexia to being gay, stating something to the extent of “gay is trendy.” On the way home from the Denver airport, I saw the same clip play on a different national news outlet.
I started to wonder if people in Fishers knew just what their community looked like on the national stage.
I remember four years ago telling school leaders that they would be well served to start community conversations about learning. I saw too many families holding onto yesteryear of Fishers and thinking classrooms should look like those they found comfort in during the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
And I saw too much focus on things that were nationally known as increasingly irrelevant priorities.
I remember three years ago looking at our non-progress in community commitments about equity and racial division and wondering how long it would be until a hate group realized how easy it would be to come in and take advantage of this story laced with whiteness.
I remember two years ago feeling hyper-aware that there was more division in our community than coming together. Around this same time, I recall seeing data showing increases in alcohol use, abuse, suicides, and attempted suicides and wondering what we were going to do to bolster our community.
I remember just a year ago sitting down with a stressed-out mom because her kids didn’t get all A’s in third grade. The pressure that mom felt to keep up appearances and allow an external factor like that to bolster or crush her children was appalling.
I remember at that moment wondering what kind of community we were becoming when we cared more about labels, scores, and accolades than just loving one another and our kids.
I remember just a few months ago when friends from Connecticut, Washington DC, Texas, Utah, and Oregon all texted within the same 24 hours asking about the national news that had reached them. They had heard the story of our county spouting support for Hitler and removing a beautiful book by Taye Diggs (which he wrote for his own children) from the picture books located in the youth section all in the same few days. Then the next month, hearing from more friends scattered throughout the country that had seen the news of our public library spending $300k on implementing a policy to relocate a growing number of books to adult-oriented sections. Then a few weeks ago, seeing more than ten national news outlets highlighting the censorship policies in place at our local library (thanks John Green for your assist).
I wondered if I should sell our house and run to disassociate with the hate and backward thinking that is sure to crush economic opportunity and sustained growth.
And my thought today is that this bubble has become an iron gate where differing viewpoints aren’t welcome and differing choices are silenced or canceled out. The debate is so full of contradictions it's unfathomable.
I get asked often in professional settings why I don’t publicly share where I am from. This is why: It’s embarrassing.
It’s embarrassing that a young mayor put energy and attention into mental health initiatives, yet our schools almost had to return a 5 million dollar grant to support mental health. Even though we have a near 800:1 ratio of people needing care to availability of trained mental health professionals, we don’t really want to bolster support in our schools and acknowledge that our community needs help.
It’s embarrassing that a school board would have enough votes to remove a micro-aggression policy when that same week, there were racial slurs thrown around by adults at the grocery store.
It’s embarrassing that even though we had a school shooting less than 15 miles away, we stand behind gun rights so much that in little Fishers, Indiana, I can’t go to the grocery store closest to my house without seeing at least three sidearms (this is not what our founding fathers wanted when they penned the bill of rights).
It’s horrifying that when we moved to Indiana, I had to select a party on my voter registration, the first time in multiple states that I couldn’t exist as an independent. I don’t vote by party; I vote by intellect.
It’s embarrassing that I have to look at campaign finance reports to see who is donating to whom or paying thousands of dollars to out-of-state PR firms to help destroy our community.
It’s ridiculous that the data suggests we have become a test bed for national hate groups, a place where voters don’t show up because they know the same old white guys will win, where an us-versus-them philosophy is deteriorating our democracy, and where elected officials are continuously putting party and politics over people.
And it’s embarrassing to see this cute town that we were so excited to move to become a place lacking connection, true collaboration, and kindness.
No community is perfect, but this community needs a reset.
I want to see more people wave a welcome and fewer people honk with impatience.
I want to see more love than hate in the news and in the behavior of our elected officials.
I want to see more people walking their dogs and stopping to chat.
I want to see more random hellos and unplanned porch visits.
I want to see our kids under less stress and more time spent celebrating diversity rather than limiting it.
I want to see more representation of democracy than a single-party bulldozer.
I want us to look as closely at what we are doing wrong with our growth and development as we do at what we are doing right.
I want us to care for one another with respect and understanding, knowing that differing beliefs do not dictate any citizens' access to learning and voice inside the bubble.
That’s a lot to ask, but I have no doubt we can get to this place if we make the right choices and decide we care enough to use our voices.
By nature, I’m a firm believer in data. It helps us see what we can’t notice. It helps take the emotion out of any situation and tell you a story you may be too blind to see. Let me hit you with some facts.
➡️ Fishers is only growing by less than 2% annually, and we still have less than 125,000 citizens and are land-locked with a small 36ish square miles of land (we can only grow so much).
➡️ According to a sweep of the daily log for the local police, in the last 180ish days, we have seen a steady increase in 911 calls for wellness checks and quality of life calls and more than 25 calls related to abuse.
➡️ Since October 2022, we have had nearly 120 police calls about someone threatening suicide. That count equates to almost an entire elementary school full of Kindergarten kids (let that mental picture sink in). We have (in the past) had more suicides than homicides.
I, for one, wonder what next year’s data will show.
➡️ Our schools have continued to be ranked among the highest in the state yet are among the lowest funded overall.
➡️ Our library is amazing, yet even with thousands of people signing petitions against moving books, no policy changes have been implemented.
➡️ Even though our rate of binge drinking is above the national average, we now have more liquor stores, larger liquor stores, and even home delivery from those liquor stores.
Our community isn’t perfect, and sometimes we need to own it.
Sometimes we need to stand up and ask why we aren’t addressing those imperfections or why we aren’t being better to one another. I look at the newest data, reflect on other reports, and look through my notes from speakers and conversations within our community over the last five years, and I know a few things for sure.
In Fishers, Indiana, the more you make, the more likely you are to binge drink, abuse is on the rise, and the rate of suicide attempts or threats should be a call to action. But throughout it all, we remain here because of our kids' close connections and the nurtured and close-knit circle of people we care deeply about. Could we leave because the yucky is sometimes overwhelming? Yes. But we shouldn’t have to.
Beyond all the numbers (both good and horrifying), there are a few things I know that we can do.
- We can be helpful to our neighbors that are hurting.
- We can acknowledge our imperfections and bolster our social infrastructure to be better as a community.
- We can be kinder to one another, not seeking consensus but seeking acceptance that difference is actually a beautiful thing.
- We can ensure that one set of values does not become the set of values that everyone must adhere to.
- We can be more welcoming to diversity (in race and thought).
- We can look at our data and which of our 36 miles are relegated to the hardest of circumstances.
- We can make policies that support people and democracy and really commit to being our best.
- We can reset this political boiling pot and realize that getting our way all the time is never a productive way for any leader to live.
- We can acknowledge that no single political party has the answer.
- We can vote YES on the upcoming referendum to ensure that the value which quality public education brings to our households remains secure in our community.
- We can vote for the people who can make our community more robust as a collective unit and not work so diligently towards silencing and dismissing divergent voices (this independent at heart is exhausted by the nonsense of it all).
This November is a big moment for this bubble that we call home. There is a good chance this bubble might just burst, and I can’t wait to see the great things that come when it does.
Jody is a thought leader in education, and serves as coach for others as they strive to develop clear strategy and integrate the use of data to drive innovation (especially in communities). You can keep up with her work at JodyBritten.com.