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Episode 53 Guest Brian Payne

Whether it was the development of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail or revamping the Central Indiana Community Foundation’s mission to overcome the scourge of systemic racism, Brian Payne’s bold moves are remaking how all residents of Indianapolis access opportunity.

Episode Transcript

Cohen: Josh Cohen
Payne: Brian Payne

Cohen: One of the best things about traveling or meeting people in new areas is learning from locals what is special about their community that maybe isn’t obvious to outsiders. This episode of The Movement podcast with Brian Payne of the Central Indiana Community Foundation helps us learn just what that something special is for Indianapolis and how that’s enabled them to accomplish some special things. Let’s go.

F: Mobility is an essential component to the cities of our future. To build this future, we need to do more than invest in technology; we need to invest in the people who will make the hard decisions necessary to create vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities. Welcome to The Movement where we talk to the brave leaders who are effecting change in an effort to build a coalition of leaders who will make tomorrow real. Here is your host, TransLoc’s National Director of Policy, Josh Cohen.

Cohen: As loyal listeners know, I like to look to areas that are approximate to mobility and see what I can and you learn. So my guest today certainly fits into that category. He’s trained in the arts, which I think is a neat connection here. Brian Payne is now the president and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Indianapolis Foundation, where he’s led a number of bold initiatives including founding the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and bringing the topic of access to opportunity specifically through the lens of race into the forefront. So welcome to The Movement, Brian.

Payne: Hey, thanks. Appreciate being here.

Cohen: So I want to kind of jump right into this topic of equity and access to opportunity. And, in fact, I guess you recently changed your mission and which I just want to read just so we can kind of ground this all in the same place here. So the mission, the new—and you’ll tell us how new it is, but the mission of the Central Indiana Community Foundation is quote, “To mobilize people, ideas, and investments to make this a community where all individuals have equitable opportunity to reach their full potential, no matter place, race, or identity,” end quote. So give us the background on changing that mission.

Payne: Yeah, sure. Well, we’re a 103-year-old foundation. We’re one of the oldest community foundations in the world, started in 1916.

Cohen: Wow.

Payne: And our mission had always been, you know, to do grantmaking. I mean, our prior mission as it was written was that we inspire, support, and practice philanthropy, leadership, and service in Central Indiana, which was maybe a 20-year articulation, but that was generally what our mission was for a hundred years. But changing a mission after a hundred years is a pretty significant thing, but what it was is that we went on this journey where we kept getting—we had a new strategic plan we had to create.

And we just felt that after having basically an extension of one plan that was very successful for us for 15 years, that we had completed a lot of that work, that things were shifting nationally and regionally around economic mobility, around economic opportunity. We were one of those organizations that was all in on trying to make our city and our region more attractive to young professionals—

Cohen: Sure.

Payne: —as every city was talking about in the early 2000’s. And now that cities have grown with young professionals, a lot of cities, what we’ve found out is that growth hasn’t helped the people who’ve been living in Indianapolis with low-wage jobs or working-class jobs. Nothing’s gotten better for them; in fact, everything’s gotten more challenging and more expensive. And we had a number of catalysts that were built around national and local data that said that people are not having the opportunity to succeed and when these cities like ours tries to attract young professionals it becomes a great place for people from other places but it becomes a more challenging, financially challenging place for people who’ve lived in our own city for generations. And that just seemed unjust. And as we got deeper into it we learned that systemic racism is the biggest barrier to reaching your full potential or to opportunity, and so we are all in on that too.

Cohen: So I want to dig in on that a little bit because I guess there’s plenty of organizations that could have been faced with that similar data that might not have taken such a kind of a bold step forward in this direction. Because—look—there’s plenty of data out there about all kinds of things that impact us every day that we don’t make changes about. So I guess I’m really trying to understand, like—you know, you spearheaded this decision to do this; you accepted this data; you kind of leaned into this. It sounds like your own moral kind of feelings that, like, this was just unjust. I mean, you know, certainly there’s something here that I feel like is deeper than just seeing this data, because I feel you.

Payne: [INDISCERNIBLE] sees the data. Right? Everyone sees it.

Cohen: Yeah.

Payne: Yeah. That’s a great question. I think the way that my career and life has—the way that I have observed how things work at least in my world, in my career and my life, is that sometimes there’s just this moment where things align. And if you’re observant to it and you see the opportunities of alignment, I think that actually—I think every human has superpowers. I used to think that every human had innate creativity when I worked in the arts, but I actually think it’s bigger that that.

I think we’re all born with superpowers. What happens is a lot of people get their superpowers beat out of them, you know, through childhood trauma or a teacher or a bullying or whatever it is, you know, public policy, poverty. A lot of people get their superpowers really beat out of them. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had mine nurtured mostly through hanging out with artists in my entire adult life. But I actually think that my superpower is that I can see where things can connect and align. But I’m not the guy who brought all the things. You know, I just saw how they could connect. I mean, I brought some of the things that we needed to align, but there’s a lot of people who brought others, a lot of my staff, a lot of my board, people who’ve inspired us, who’ve taught us, national people, data.

I mean, there’s been a lot of things that have aligned, and there was this moment, you know. And not to get political but, you know, if Barack Obama was still president, if they allowed him to have three or four terms like Trump would like to have, that, you know, we wouldn’t be in this moment. Right? During the Obama years everyone thought that we were beyond—you know, not everyone, but some people—you know, the idea that we were in a post-racial society, which was for me a moment of nirvana that lasted, you know, maybe a few months. And it’s like, “Well, that’s a ridiculous idea.” But the catalyst is all this hate that has come out, all this racism that has been unleashed or that was bottled up to some degree and now someone’s taken the top off the bottle and it’s unleashed.

So everyone is kind of reacting to that in some way, and that was another part that we aligned to. But we had just enough diversity of people of color, just enough that we let those voices come forth, and now we have a lot more, and now we’re committed to it. So there was a lot of things. One of it is, as the CEO, I have a—we do a lot of work on what people’s values are because we try to help them align their philanthropy to their values. That’s when philanthropy is its most meaningful for someone, is when they’re doing something in the world that aligns with their values. And I’ve done that work over the last 20 years.

And, you know, my number one value is fairness, which is kind of like justice. I know the world is not fair, but we should do everything we can to make it fair through law and public policy and how we treat people and making sure that when there is a sense of competition and game that the rules are level and that everyone has a change, you know, that the rules aren’t rigged, the game isn’t rigged. And what I’ve found out in our study over the last five years, this journey I’ve taken, is America’s been rigged; it’s been rigged for people who have money. It’s been rigged for white people of European descent, and it’s been rigged against other people who aren’t from European descent. And that’s just not the world I want to live in or the country that I thought I was growing up in.

Cohen: Wow. Yeah, I mean, that’s a heck of a story. And I love that concept of the superpower, because I actually think about that a lot. I agree with you on that. I love that lens of looking at that and saying, like, “Everyone’s got that, and if you’re really lucky you get a chance to find it.” Right?

Payne: Yeah.

Cohen: And develop it and so forth. And some folks just never had that opportunity, which certainly I appreciate you trying to maybe unearth that a little bit and nurture that. So I want to maybe think a little bit about tactics here a little bit. So I mentioned this cultural trail before. And I know that was a huge, huge portion of your life, and we may even want to introduce that a little bit before we get started.

But I guess the question I want to kind of think about, bringing about significant amounts of change in your community, whether that’s creating this cultural trail, whether that’s changing the mission of this organization, you know, requires leadership, it requires courage. And I really want to think about what our audience can pull from those experiences that you’ve done expanding the mission here to have this focus on systemic racism and advancing opportunity to everyone.
I really want to kind of try to understand a little bit more of the tactics necessary or some of the things that you’ve tried that maybe our audience can learn from. So that’s kind of what’s coming.

So before we get to that maybe introduce the cultural trail here.

Payne: All right. Well, thanks. Yeah. So the cultural trail is an eight-mile, pedestrian-and-bicycle pathway that connects through the heart of Downtown Indianapolis and connects to six downtown cultural districts and, in fact, connects to every significant arts, cultural, heritage, sports, and entertainment venue in Indianapolis. It also is the hub of the entire greenway trail system. And we have a really terrific greenway trail system because we’re the crossroads of America, and before we were that because of freeways we were that because of railroads. And so we have a number of rail trails that this also connects to.

And then physically what the trail is, is it’s a beautifully paved, richly landscaped, artfully lighted, beautiful bicycle-and-pedestrian pathway with $4 million of public art. And it was built to really elevate the future of Indianapolis, the connectivity, you know, to kind of jumpstart Indianapolis in the early 2000s into an environmental consciousness, because we didn’t used to have one; now we do. And also it was about to highlight the importance of arts and culture, because it connects the cultural districts where there is a lot of arts and culture. That’s why it’s called the cultural trail.
And so it does a lot of things. It was a $63-million project. We had to take eight miles of mostly a traffic lane along these linear paths. Sometimes we were able to just tighten the lanes up, you know, and squeeze the trail lane out of it. Sometimes we were able to take some parking out and put the lane in. But I would say out of that eight miles, six-and-a-half miles or so was we took a lane away from cars and gave it to people.

Cohen: Wow. That’s fantastic. I’ve heard some other descriptions that you’ve made about that, that this was a multi-year process. Right? You had to kind of do some soft selling of it for a long time kind of informally, and then kind of formally kind of get some buy-in, and obviously get some leadership gifts to help make that a reality, and then get some federal help to even help build it. So this was a journey that took years. Right?

Payne: Yeah, the idea came to me—and, again it came out of connecting the dots with something that was going on in the community about how do we make Indianapolis more of a cultural-destination city. And that was a project that was in early 2000s that I was involved in. And then the cultural trail was kind of an answer to that, because I loved this idea of cultural districts. We had all these historic, like, 1920s neighborhoods that had really great bones but were all—this was in the year 2000. All the ones downtown were not doing well. There’s a lot empty storefronts. There was really not much residential going on there. We had one vibrant, cultural district called Broad Ripple five miles north of downtown, but the rest that had the same kind of bones were not doing as well. And so this idea of—I thought this idea of really elevating and really putting a lot of effort into these districts.

And no one liked the idea. No one thought that these districts could come back. And I was kind of dumbfounded by that, and I kind of dug into why they thought that. And they thought that it was they were too disconnected, too disconnected from downtown, too disconnected from each other. The fact that they were disconnected from downtown was very ridiculous, because one of the districts is like three blocks from the heart of downtown. The district that maybe has had the most progress is called Fountain Square. And it’s actually a mile and a half from downtown, but I asked people how far they thought Fountain Square was from downtown, and the answers I got were 10 and 12 miles.

Cohen: Wow.

Payne: Because it was an ugly journey and no one was taking it, so people just in their minds had put it like, “Oh, my gosh. That’s so far away, and I would never go there. It’s so far away,” because an ugly journey seems like a long journey. But it was only a mile and a half from the heart of downtown. So all those things came together to kind of pull them together, and it started in 2001 when the idea came to me, and we kind of celebrated the completion of it in 2013. It was mostly done by the time we hosted the Super Bowl in 2012, but we waited until—we had a few more things to do, and then we had to wait to—the weather got nice to have a major, community celebration with, like, 80 arts activities on one Saturday in 2013.

Cohen: What I love about that story too is that that actually is consistent with what you just said about everyone having a superpower. Right? You kind of identified that these cultural districts had these superpowers that were not being maximized there. So I really love that you—you know, that’s consistent. That’s beyond just people; that’s, like, you recognizing—I mean, maybe that’s a-diamond-in-the-rough kind of perspective, but I like that consistency there.
Payne: Josh, I never thought about that, but I really do love that. I think you’re absolutely right. I think, you know, not only do people have superpowers, but that places—we have to unearth the superpower of a place. And then of course it’s people and place working together, but, yeah, I love that idea.

Cohen: So let’s maybe dig into the tactics a little bit. So whether it’s the cultural trail, whether it’s the reframing the mission here, what were some of the key things that you did bringing about major change here?

Payne: Yeah, you know, they’re probably very similar. Let me start with the cultural trail a little bit about the tactics. So I got this idea, and I was brand new at the foundation as the CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Indianapolis Foundation. I had been the managing director of our major professional resident theatre company, not-for-profit theatre company called the Indiana Repertory Theatre. And I had just gotten this job, and I was still—
You know, I was meeting with not-for-profit leaders, like, five hours a day because they were coming in to teach me about their organization. I had some good knowledge on some of the sectors, but was not that knowledgeable about other sectors in the community. So I was taking like four or five meetings a day of not-for-profit leaders pitching me and educating me on what they do and then trying to line themselves up so they could get, you know, grant support from our foundation.

And so I was doing all these meetings, and I would take the last 10 minutes of an hour meeting and say, “Yeah, I’ve got this idea that I would love to get your opinion on.” And so I had this chance to, like, pitch the cultural trail idea to, like, a hundred people over a three-or-fourth-month period time. And every time I pitched it I found out where my weak spots of the pitch were, where the weak spots of my thinking were, what was working, what wasn’t working. People gave me some good input. I mean, I was not only kind of the founder with the idea; I became the archivist of other people’s good ideas.

And, you know, one time people—you know, someone, the librarian, the head of the library said, “What? You’re not connecting to our central library?” and educated me on how awesome this central library was. And so now it connects to the central library. If I was left up to my own devices, we would not probably have made that connection. So that was a—so it’s this idea. You have an idea.

Now, this is somewhat personal style. I develop ideas through conversation. I develop knowledge through conversation, so maybe some other person would lock themselves up in a log cabin for a month and think of everything and draw it out, but that—but anyway, whatever your personal style of creativity is, you know, if you have a big idea, you know, you’ve got to go deep into that. And so I went deep into conversation with a lot of people. And then that’s a good style because their knowledge became and their good ideas became part of the trail.

Also I love that one-on-one kind of thing because too often, I think, people get an idea and they go into a neighborhood meeting. You know? And I’ve always noticed in my entire career that group dynamics are a very dangerous thing. Right? So if I had gone too early into a neighborhood meeting there could be two loudmouth haters at that neighborhood meeting that could stop it. Right? They could blow it up. I had people who told me it wasn’t—they didn’t get it. They didn’t think it was a good idea; what the hell was I thinking? I had that response. That was one-on-one. It was like, “Okay, let’s put them on a list not to invite them to any meetings.” Right?

Cohen: Right. [LAUGHS] Right.

Payne: So I was able to control the kind of—you know, we ultimately did get into neighborhood meetings, but by that time we had a lot of momentum.

Cohen: Ah.

Payne: And we had [INDISCERNIBLE], and we had even had some money that we raised, so, like, $3 million. So I think those are some of the tactics, but also, like, the mayor was new in 2000. And, again, this idea came to me in 2001. And I knew the mayor really well, and we had a really good relationship. In fact, he had put me on this cultural commission that kind of was a catalyst for the cultural trail in a way. But I knew not to just go to the mayor. Right? You know, it’s like—because if the mayor—even if the mayor likes it, his staff could blow it up. Right?
Mayors’ staffs blow things up all the time that mayors want to do. So I went and built, like, building blocks of five key people, deputy mayors, the woman who was kind of in charge of the cultural affairs for the mayor. It wasn’t a formal department, but she was the liaison. I kind of step by step went to the mayor’s major advisors, and so they were on my team when we went to the mayor.

Cohen: Hmm.

Payne: I think you have to think about where decisions get made and how can you do your best to kind of manage that decision-making progress, that process that you do not have control of, but how do you manage the process to give you the best chance to be successful.

Cohen: That’s really interesting. You know, you strike me as someone who can get excited about an idea. Right? So you had to be patient to kind of slow your role a little bit here to kind of say, “All right. Even though I’m going to see the mayor at this event or that event, I’m not going to go all in yet. I’m going to just, like, really lay the foundation,” so that when the mayor probably hears about it, hears about it, hears about it, and then finally you’re ready to go, and you’ve got all of your support behind you.

Payne: Yeah. You know, that’s a good point. And I actually had to get some—I actually got some coaching, some, like, leadership coaching. And the question I had of this coach was, you know, “I have all this other work to do, so how do I manage this?” When the cultural trail actually got green lighted by the mayor, then it was like, “How do I manage this in with already a busy work life?” because this was just kind of a side project as being the CEO of the foundation.
But I also asked the question, or he was smart enough to say, “Look. You’re someone who, like, gets excited about an idea, and then you want to move on to the next idea.” And he spotted that about me. And he said, “This could be a marathon. You know, creatively you’re more of a sprinter, and this is a marathon.” He helped me figure out how to manage running this marathon in my leadership, because, if someone at the beginning, Josh, had said, “Okay. You know what? You can make this happen. You know, I think actually the chances of you making this happen are pretty good. It’s going to take 11 years, 12 years,” I would have said, “No, I’m not doing this for 12 years. This is five years.”

I thought it was a five-year project. It became a 12-year project. We actually learned to—we built out the trail in six corridors. And we had a groundbreaking and a ribbon cutting for all six corridors, and then we had a magnificent final celebration. I have some colleagues who said, “I’ve never seen one project get celebrated so many times.” You know?

Cohen: That’s good.

Payne: We had a lot of parties, and we celebrated every positive step along the way, and I think that was taking the marathon and putting it into interesting sprints.

Cohen: Yeah. I really like that idea of celebrations too, because I do think especially in the public sector in some—you know, obviously are always sensitive to perceptions of wasting money and so forth. And I know you’re not a public sector, but you’re serving the public, so you’re conscious of that. But the flipside is celebrations are important.

Payne: Yeah.

Cohen: Celebrations serve a very key, like, psychological role in our communities, and people do them all the time, so it seems somewhat silly that we would kind of handcuff organizations that are serving the public and not encourage them also to do the celebrations in that way. Because I think you’re right that that probably served a really neat role in the community to be able to do those celebrations, especially in each of those communities where those cultural districts are.

Payne: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. And that actually helps me think of, like, we’re in a moment at our foundation where we’re changing some of our grantmaking. And, you know, there’s always a question in not-for-profits about whether you should do a big event. Right? Because a big event takes a lot of time; it takes a lot of money; and, well, by the time you get done, how much money have you really made on your big gala? Right?

Cohen: Mm-hmm.

Payne: But I think from what you’re saying, Josh, is that that gala though is the time where everyone gets together and celebrates the organization. You know, we always talk about it as a fundraising gala, and that’s an important piece, but it’s also a momentum-sustaining gala.

Cohen: Yeah.

Payne: You know, and it honors the relationships in a really good way, and I think—you know, I’ve always been someone who has seen the value of those. I’m not the one who always likes to produce them; they’re kind of a pain in the rear end sometimes, but I do think they’re very valuable. But I think your point is well made on that.

The only other thing I would say about all of that is that, you know, I’ve studied creativity and innovation. Kind of the cultural-trail people kept asking me about it, so I kind of went deep into study so I could give them a good answer. And one of the things I discovered is that, you know, innovation usually is an adaptation of something previously. If you get too far out of something, then you’re ahead of your time; people can’t grasp it.

Cohen: Sure.

Payne: You know, in the movie business they always say, you know, “Well, I have this idea to do this version of that hit movie.” You know? And it was we had a very successful, you know, at the time, 10-mile rail trail called the Monon Trail, and I could say, “This is an urban version of the Monon Trail.” And the Monon Trail allowed people—and the Monon Trail had to fight all those fights of, “I don’t want people on the trail in my backyard, breaking into my house.” The Monon Trail had to fight those fights. I didn’t have to fight those fights with the cultural trail.

The other thing is that a lot of innovation comes from people who are ignorant enough to think something is possible. I had learned that along the way if I had known a lot or anything, much of anything about civil engineering and about draining and about construction challenges, I would have never thought that this was possible, but I knew nothing about that. So, and as you said, I’m someone who gets excited, and my excitement sometimes is contagious, so I get other people excited about an idea. And we got enough people excited about the idea before it went to the engineers, and then the engineers looked at it and said, “What the heck are you guys thinking? This is crazy, and this is going to be the most challenging, and it’s going to affect traffic flow.”

And then we had one engineer one time after we built the first half mile—we had a heavy rain, and a couple of commercial buildings, their basements got flooded, which didn’t happen before the cultural trail. And so I remember the one day that a major engineer that worked for the city, a great guy but he was like, “We can’t build this trail. It’s going to flood the whole downtown.” And I thought, “Oh, my God.” So if I had known anything about that, the trail, you know, I would have dismissed the idea as being unrealistic. So sometimes it takes an outsider who doesn’t know all of the barriers to think that something could be, you know, possible.

Cohen: For sure. For sure. So a theme that has been consistent throughout your work, which, you know, your larger work with the Central Indiana Community Foundation is not necessarily related to quote-unquote “mobility.” But you’ve had a number of projects that you’ve been involved in that certainly have some relationship to mobility, whether it’s the cultural trail. I know you’ve advocated for this integrated mobility app. I know that the Central Indiana Community Foundation was a key partner in the recent Ford* City:One challenge, which invited the community to crowdsource ideas to improve mobility in Indianapolis. So maybe help me understand from your standpoint why mobility has been this theme that has kept coming up over and over again as it relates to some of the work that you’re doing and that you’re interested in as well as the foundation.

Payne: Yeah. So I’m not an urban planner or a, you know, a—I have no formal transportation planning experience or education. I think the cultural trail for me was more about connectivity. So I thought about it as connectivity. And I think a person mobility network, you know, certainly has been informed by my experience on the cultural trail and that sense of, you know, of connecting people to things. So, you know, I understand the mobility is the business; to me, connectivity is kind of the inspiration, I guess.

And this started—there was a—our Indianapolis monthly, kind of our slick, monthly magazine, you know, that every big city kind of has one of those. I asked a bunch of people, “What’s the next big thing for Indianapolis? What could be the next big idea for Indianapolis?” And so that was one of the catalysts for me to think about this. And Uber and Lyft were pretty new then, and, you know, I had used it just maybe once or twice at that point. And I was really interested in that. And then so I was trying, you know, just trying to think about how to do things diff—what would be a new innovation.

And also the thing that I always think about Indianapolis, we have this thing in our DNA that we work incredibly well together as people and across sectors. And I was just in a history lesson about Indianapolis that I was listening to this, and someone articulated it better than I ever have before. But, you know, Indianapolis is where it is because it’s in the direct geographical heart of the State of Indiana. And the capital moved here in 1820. It’s our 200th anniversary as—it’s our bicentennial as a city. But it was chosen really just because it was a geographical center of the state. It wasn’t chosen because we had the most awesome—we are on a river, and we’re trying to reclaim that river, but the river has never been a big asset. We hope it will be in the future. So and we’re, you know, we’re known—you know, we’re not known. We don’t have awesome—I mean, it’s a beautiful place, but it’s flat; there aren’t mountains; there’s no great body of water.

And so what makes Indianapolis great—and this is what the history person said—is that to be something special, the only way we could be something special is if human beings worked incredibly hard and well together to make things happen through collaboration and cooperation. That’s our DNA. That’s the thing that I love most about Indianapolis. And that’s why it’s such a thrill to run a community foundation that cares so much about community and works together to build great things in community.

So when I thought about Uber and Lyft, I wanted to take the assets that we had, the cultural trail, other great bicycle infrastructure—we have a very successful, one of the most successful bikeshares because it’s been kind of matched with great bicycle infrastructure. I mean, if you come from out of town and you say, “Oh, there’s a bike. Oh, there’s a trail. Oh, I’ve heard about this cultural trail. I can get on that bike.” Some cities I go to ride bikeshare, I get the bike, and it’s like, “Oh, my God. I’m going to die.” You know? “I’m going to get killed without the infrastructure.”

We have this thing called BlueIndy. It’s the first electric carshare in the country. It’s kind of a long story, but we had that; that was a catalyst. So how do we, like, keep innovating around transportation and then but use the magic of our collaboration, which in this case would be integration? And also where everyone was focused on mass transit, getting people to go places in mass, you know, this is actually—I forgot. This was the bigger catalyst even, is that everyone, you know—like, my kid at the time was—you know, he’s 21 now, so he’s 15 or 16, but I’ve always watched him grow up with on-demand. Everything is on-demand. Like, when I was growing up—right—I had to wait. If I wanted to see a show, I had to wait until Tuesday at eight o’clock or Thursday at eight o’clock, Seinfeld Thursday at nine o’clock, whatever.

Cohen: Yeah.

Payne: And these kids growing up, everything is on-demand. Everything is on-demand. So this idea of the individual power of things, so instead of mass transit, personal mobility; how does one person want to travel?

Cohen: Mm-hmm.

Payne: Let’s make it about how one person gets to the place they want to go in the way they want to go, whether it’s biking or a combination of biking. We have a new bus rapid transit system that we’re very excited about. That’s another addition. To me though, that’s a key kind of spine. It’s not the answer by itself. It’s part of this, you know, what I might want to do personally as an integrated system focused on you as an individual.

Cohen: Yeah. No, I think you’re right. And I think you need both parts of that. You need the spine and you need the—I guess people say, “That’s the spine and the ribs,” maybe, I guess, is the analogy that some people use.

Payne: Yeah. Yeah.

Cohen: But, no. And I think that’s key for that connectivity. Right? And I also think that’s key. The mobility is going to be key as it relates to kind of this larger mission that you have around equitable opportunity. Because if people can’t get access to those jobs, they can’t get access to that community, they can’t get access to that education, it’s going to be a lot harder for folks to reach their full potential, for you to help achieve that mission, that ambitious and great mission that you do have. So I think mobility and that connectivity that you talk about is going to be a key connection point there too to achieving that mission.

Payne: Josh, let me add that, you know, so the cultural trail was really about making Indianapolis a place that could attract and retain highly educated, young professional that we needed to build our economy in the 21st century. I was still—when the personal mobility network idea came to me I was still kind of on the final end of that thinking. And I first thought this was another awesome thing for young professionals who demand, you know, a lot of them as we hear, you know, the millennials, that they don’t want a car or they don’t want to drive. And so I thought this was another thing in that.

But then we started—the other catalyst of our equity work and our anti-racism work was starting to build. And then I had in one week—and this is how the universe works, I think. In one week I had two lunches, one with the executive director of what’s called the Immigrant Welcome Center. How do we make Indianapolis work better and help immigrants thrive? This is like a 15-year-old organization, something I’m very proud of that we have in Indianapolis. And the other one was the mayor’s director of veterans’ services. And I was just having kind of catch-up lunches with both of these people. And they asked, “Well, what are you working on these days?” And I said, “Well, I’ve got this idea.” And I really spun it to them as another kind of young professional project to attract and retain highly educated, professional talent. And they both said, “Oh, my gosh. If you could do that, this would really help the people I’m serving,” both veterans—a lot of them, you know, the veterans that are being served by the department are ones who have challenges coming out of their service to our country, whether some of them are homeless or some of them have mental health challenges now because of the trauma.

And anyway, but they were like—in one week they both said, “This would be a solution for my stakeholders.” And then that quickly made me think, “You know what? This is not about—I mean, if we do it right for people who can’t afford a car, people who can will also use it.” But it needed to be an equity play not another young-professional talent attraction play. So that was a catalyst along with our other journey that completely reshaped this. And all my partners on this now, the corporate community, the mayor, we have all agreed that this is first and foremost about serving people who cannot afford to buy a car.

Cohen: Wow. That’s fantastic. And I think that’s both a sign of the times in our world that we’re in now, and it’s also a sign of the leadership that you and your team have really put out into the community there. Well, Brian, this has been a great introduction to some of the work that you have done and continue to do with some of these ambitious projects. Where can folks learn more about the foundation, about the cultural trail, about some of these other projects that you’re involved in?

Payne: People can reach out to our foundation at, so Central Indiana Community Foundation, Personal mobility is still in that early stage. You know, and we’ve been working this for five years. We’ve got this awesome project manager named Ron Gifford who keeps things moving. We’ve got a great corporate advisory committee that the mayor serves on along with some of his deputy mayors. So we’ve got this great partnership.

I don’t know if there’s any place you can go to kind of get the whole—if someone was really interested in that, they could email me through, and we could connect with people about that. The cultural trail, one of the smart things we did is we built a not-for-profit called Indianapolis Cultural Trail to manage and maintain and market and continue to enhance the trail. And, in fact, there’s some plans to extend the trail another couple miles—

Cohen: Oh, wow.

Payne: —which we’re excited about. So Kären Haley does a good job, a really good job of running that organization. I never go on the website because, I mean, it’s automatic on my computer, but if you googled Indianapolis Cultural Trail, you’d find Kären Haley and that organization. And that website has tons of information about the trail, pictures, the maps. Also they manage the bikeshare. So that’s how you can kind of connect.

But if people are interested in our equity work, we’re one of the few foundations in this country that has called out systemic racism in such a big, bold way as a barrier to opportunity, as a barrier to people reaching their full potential. So we’re very excited to have those conversations if people are interested in reaching out about that. So either Indianapolis Cultural Trail or, and if you want to talk more about personal mobility,

Cohen: Awesome. Brian, thank you so much for coming on The Movement today and sharing some of these lessons. I really appreciate it.

Payne: It’s a great pleasure. I’ve learned a lot from listening to your podcasts, and I’m getting more and more educated about urban planning and about transportation planning, so thanks for your great service.

Cohen: All right. Thank you.

F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.


*On March 1, 2022, global technology company Modaxo acquired TransLoc from Ford Motor Company. TransLoc is no longer affiliated with Ford or any Ford properties.