This fact often surprises people: a record-setting 26 million people from around the globe visited Indianapolis in 2014, 9 percent of whom were international visitors. Our visitors come to see a city teeming with sports tourism, cultural magnets like the world’s largest kid’s museum, the original LOVE sculpture (it’s not in Philly), concerts at White River State Park, and to convene inside the expanded Indiana Convention Center.

“Naptown?” “Indiananoplace?” Each city carries a unique brand.  And, each city fights stereotypes.  Ultimately, perception is reality, and Indy has worked tirelessly to shed the perception of being a sleepy town.  We have matured into the rightful perception of being a sports city.  And also into a progressive city filled with innovation and sustainability.

The “#1 Airport in North America,” says the Airports Council International, serves as our welcome mat. Upon landing in the first LEED-certified airport in the nation, visitors see the world’s largest solar farm, setting an immediate tone that Indy is a progressive city. Visitors also experience the fastest Wi-Fi (also free) of any airport in the U.S.  Also outside, a new bee apiary helps protect an endangered population that is vital to producing core crops.

BlueIndy, a revolutionary electric car service, waits to move visitors and residents alike around our international city. The Bolloré Group of France, a leader in European innovation, selected Indy when searching for the best U.S. city to debut this service in North America. Travelers may be surprised to find this innovative service in Indy before it hits larger markets like Chicago or San Francisco. BlueIndy is bringing 500 electric vehicles to the city, making navigation convenient and eco-friendly.  In addition to the Indianapolis International Airport station, BlueIndy cars will be able to re-charge at any of the other 200 operating charging stations throughout Indy once fully deployed late next year.

Coupled with the electric cars is the largest electric bus fleet in the nation. By the end of this year, IndyGo will tout 21 all-electric buses on the streets of Indy. Whereas diesel fueled buses cost 65 cents per mile, these buses run at 15 cents per mile–saving money while sustaining the Earth.

When the Project for Public Spaces canvassed the globe to pinpoint five projects other cities should emulate, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail was selected.  Most trails take you to the oceanside or into the mountains.  Indy rolled the dice, removing a lane of vehicular traffic and replacing it with eight miles of pedestrian and biking usability.  City planners from Portland and Paris have even landed here to admire what Indy has done.  One step, or pedal, further ushered in the Pacers Bikeshare initiative—250 bikes allowing for travel to and from 26 destinations along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

Schools, non-profits, and other organizations care for 173 community gardens through affiliation with Growing Places Indy, a local non-profit with a mission to cultivate urban agriculture. Eskenazi Health, the city’s newest public hospital, prides itself in a 5,000-square-foot rooftop garden that provides fresh produce as well as nutrition and health educational sessions. Not many destinations can tout a hospital as a must-visit stop on the traveler’s itinerary. The Indianapolis Parks Foundation exhibits similar efforts through the recently established Indy Urban Acres, an 8-acre organic farm that donates its harvest to local food pantries in partnership with Gleaners Food Banks.  Our city is surrounded by agriculturally-rich soil, so it’s no surprise farm-to-table is alive and well; we’ve done this style of food for decades. To this end, a group of Indy chefs recently cooked at the James Beard House in New York.

“Naptown?” I don’t think so.  This city is wide awake.

A few weeks back, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC) celebrated its 50th anniversary by bringing together five Indy mayors.  Lugar, Hudnut, Goldsmith, Peterson, and current Mayor Ballard took to the stage to talk all things Indy. Black and white photos flashed on the screen before the panel discussion, putting into light just how far this city has come in the last 40 years.  One thread remained the same as all five community-minded leaders spoke—progressive ideas can take flight in Indy.

Daily, Indy competes for workforce development, talent attraction, new residents, and visitors.  We viciously compete with other major cities. We fight stereotypes.

Indy is racing ahead of our competition.  Yet, we can’t afford to sit idle, we need to continue to set the pace.

Progressive.  Bold.  Sustainable. Perception is reality.

Chris Gahl is a vice president at Visit Indy, the city’s official sales and marketing organization charged with enhancing the perception of Indy and driving tourism.  He’s been at Visit Indy for 10 years, previously serving as part-owner of a marketing firm in Honolulu, helping various tourism clients in the islands. He’s a Butler University graduate. @ChrisGahl

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