Blog A Tale of Two Cities Breakdown: #INDvsDEN

Oct. 6, 2022


It’s gonna be a barn-burner this week, as some horses host some other horses! (Editor’s note: We will never apologize for our bad puns.) Week 5 is here, and the Broncos host the Colts.

These cities obviously have a lot of shared history, as Indiana’s most famous resident, your blog author himself, eventually moved to Denver. We’ll also note that Peyton Manning moved from Indy to Denver around the same time as your blog author. Let’s look at this matchup! #INDvsDEN

The Fundamentals

How do these cities stack up against each other? How’s their housing production? Do they play a successful defense against NIMBYs? Are they meeting the affordability needs of everyone?


We use the Federal Reserve Economic Database to easily compare cities. It’s a great source for one-stop data shopping, but it doesn’t have the same type of data for every area. Instead of looking at housing production, we’ll look at what’s for sale and how many residents there are.

Graph comparing housing inventory in the Metro Denver areas to inventory in the Metro Indianapolis area

Graph comparing the population of the Metro Denver area to the population of the Metro Indianapolis area

The Denver metro is 50% larger than the Indy metro. There certainly aren’t 50% more homes available at any one time. Denver’s a tight market, and that drives up prices.


Home prices? Indianapolis consistently is ranked as a great place to raise a family. The less people are spending on housing, the more they can afford the other costs of life.

Graph comparing the housing price index for the metro denver area to the housing price index of the metro indianapolis area

How We Got Here

It’s said that there are two housing crises in the US. Denver suffers from a crisis of abundance right now – we can’t build enough homes. Other cities suffer from a crisis of abandonment. Indianapolis has cycled through different booms and busts. That makes housing more affordable, but also presents challenges along the way.

We quote from the Chicago urbanist Pete Saunders at Corner Side Yard:

“But aggressive annexation and consolidation can mask more than it reveals, and Indianapolis is a good case in point. Today’s general narrative of Indianapolis is of an easygoing, midsize city that’s affordable, invested well in its downtown, and able to attract the kind of economic anchors in sectors like logistics and life sciences that similar cities miss out on. Indy is able to hold onto that narrative in part because of its consolidation more than 50 years ago. Within today’s Indianapolis remains the old Indianapolis, defined by the boundaries of the Indianapolis Public Schools. Old Indianapolis is a city that saw its population contract from a peak of 476,000 in 1960 to 313,000 in 2020, a drop by more than one-third (yes, greater than the 25% drop Chicago’s seen since 1950), and lies at the heart of a city that is one of several cities nationwide – Philadelphia, Columbus, OH, Washington, DC, Atlanta and Las Vegas, among others – that had higher murder rates in 2021 than Chicago.”

That’s not the whole story though. The Indy metro area has grown to be an economic driver for the state, fed by great universities (Boiler Up!) and a thriving, diverse set of industries.
(Editor’s note: The author is also the editor, so he gets to be as much of a homer for Purdue as he wants, and no one can tell him otherwise).

The Wildcards

Bus Rapid Transit. A functional city has to move people around. Sometimes that’s walking, sometimes that’s biking, sometimes that’s driving, sometimes that’s taking the bus or train. Followers of the Colfax BRT project have a timeline that is best represented by a gif:

Animated GIF from the movie Titanic, Rose saying "It's been 84 years"

Indianapolis built a great BRT project for a fraction of the cost of what Denver will eventually spend. It’s a testament to having possible be popular. Every city in the league should look to the coaching innovation going on in Indy. It has the potential to revolutionize the whole game.

Hear It From The Other Side: An Indy Blogger Responds

We asked Aaron Olson, a data analyst and blogger from Indianapolis, what he thought:

Keeping with the football analogy, allow me to indulge myself and compare Indy’s urban trajectory over the last 50+ years to the 2017 Super Bowl. You remember, the one where the Patriots came back from a 28-3 deficit to crush the dreams of Falcons fans? It might be heresy to some around here to compare Indianapolis to a Tom Brady-led team, but stick with me here.

In 2010, Indianapolis was down 28-3. The “Old City” boundaries (in use before the city consolidated with surrounding Marion County in 1970) had lost nearly 180,000 people since 1960. Things looked bad for Hoosier urbanists.

But then we scored a touchdown, and maybe even tacked on a field goal. Since 2010, the Old City has gained over 20,000 people bringing the total population to 321,000 in 2021. Large apartment buildings went up, new public transit and pedestrian infrastructure were installed, and the vibe has shifted. Estimated population density within these historic boundaries increased from 3,700/square mile in 2010 to nearly 4,000 in 2020.

We’re still down 28-12 at this point with a lot of work to do. Not all of the re-development downtown has been completed with current residents in mind and we’re still hindered by some leaders around the state who want to ban the expansion of things like public transit in our city. It’s hard to overstate the impacts of things like the city-county consolidation 50 years ago and state policies like the Indianapolis light-rail ban. Will the positive energy be sustained? Who knows. But at least for now, a comeback is in the works and we’re moving past the obstacles.

The Final Prediction

Chris Calls a City

Bronco > Colt. ‘nuff said. Chris Calls It for Denver, but leads us to our last point!

You can be an important part of making more housing happen! Sign up for our newsletter, become a paid member, and learn more about us here on our website. We use your membership to convince politicians we have power and to work towards hiring staff. We are a 100% volunteer organization with incredible people and results, but delivering the results Denver needs means we need someone who can work on housing every weekday.

In a democracy, you have to play for a team if you want to win. YIMBY Denver winning means we all have more affordable housing, higher quality of living, and a more functional city. Join us, won’t you?