Mayor of Indianapolis, 1968-1976
Before he was a U.S. Senator or chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar was mayor of the newly consolidated city-county Indianapolis government – and host of the 1971 International Conference on Cities.
On a spring day in May 1971, Mayor Richard Lugar brought the world to Indianapolis. Just days before the Indy 500, hundreds of delegates from around the world arrived in Indiana for the first International Conference on Cities, sponsored by the NATO Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society.
This groundbreaking, three-day conference featured speeches and panel discussions with mayors and government officials from across the globe. A total of 90 speakers shared their research and ideas about how to govern, innovate and connect cities around the world. Then, they celebrated the end of the conference with a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indianapolis 500.
Indy’s selection as host for the conference was no small feat. At the time, it was Mayor Lugar’s biggest accomplishment in his budding political career.
President Nixon, impressed by Lugar’s efforts to unify the city and Marion County governments, asked him to represent the United States at a 1970 NATO conference. While he was there, Lugar proposed that mayors from both sides of the Atlantic should convene to “discuss their mutual problems and make recommendations… in the urban affairs field.” And with that, the International Conference on Cities was born.
During the conference, Mayor Lugar addressed an audience of nearly 500 delegates from 15 countries. He spoke passionately about the importance of local governments, emphasizing that “the ability of a nation to… cooperate effectively with allies… is dependent on the internal strength and viability of its cities.”
He understood that the success of a nation relies upon the actions of its people—even in lesser-known cities like Indianapolis. At the time, Indiana had a quiet reputation among the international community, remembered for auto racing and little more.
Mayor Lugar acknowledged that obscurity, saying: “We have invited you to come to the city of Indianapolis with full recognition that… we are not well-known to many of you as a center for the arts, education and commerce.”
But Mayor Lugar saw Indianapolis for what it could be: a catalyst of international development, a gathering place for diverse communities and a force for good on the global stage.
Lugar believed in this city, and his vision led to the creation of The International Center.
As a result of the conference, community leaders across Indianapolis called for the city to take a larger step onto the global stage. Mayor Lugar’s office spent the next two years working alongside the Indiana Council on World Affairs to establish the International Center of Indianapolis, which officially opened its doors on March 6, 1973.
Now, 50 years and a name change later, The International Center is still Indiana’s window to the world, offering hospitality to international visitors and providing Hoosiers with cultural and educational programming.
Simply put, The International Center would not exist without Richard Lugar’s tireless efforts for the city of Indianapolis.
Even during his career as a United States senator, Lugar continued to collaborate with The International Center. He served as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and he often involved The Center in his efforts to establish ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
In honor of his contributions, Richard Lugar received the International Citizen of the Year Award twice—once in 1986 and again in 2003. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, as well as several international awards and honors.
Back in 1971, Lugar said to the conference delegates: “I dreamed that someday I might return to the city of my birth and help create many new and exciting walks, buildings and parks, which my friends and their children from all over the world might enjoy for decades and hopefully centuries to come.”
More than 50 years later, The International Center remains a testament to Richard Lugar’s legacy, making an impact in the international community and creating a better future for all Hoosiers.