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10 Big Ideas to Make Indy a Model City
Brainstorming the wildest, boldest, just-might-work concepts.
Indianapolis. A good city with dreams of being better. Sure, we revitalized downtown and hosted the Super Bowl. We also have troubled public education and transportation and—let’s be honest—a forgettable skyline. The city seems to be just a few gutsy ideas away from leveling up. Here at the magazine, we picked 10 of our favorites. Which of these big ideas will come to fruition and make us a model city? Hard to say. As we learned from building the Hoosier Dome with no team to play in it, sometimes the most audacious scheme is the one that succeeds.
» Including a probability meter from red (long shot) to green (likely) to measure just how outrageous some of these concepts are.
Everyone loves the Monon Trail. No question about that. But we’d like you to take a moment to imagine it even better, with water features to splash around in, cucumber-agave margaritas in lounge areas, and food stands selling pork-tenderloin sliders. Most of all, picture it higher—because below it all, a light-rail train could be running along what’s currently the trail, whisking commuters from Carmel to downtown and back.
The idea of creating an elevated urban park by bumping up the Monon several yards borrows much from New York City’s High Line. The High Line, a three-story-high boardwalk outfitted with native grasses, benches, and wheeled lounge chairs, opened five years ago on what had been abandoned, decrepit train tracks. Today, nearly 5 million visitors each year flock to the aerial park to stroll, enjoy views of the Meatpacking District and Chelsea neighborhood below, and take part in special events like wildlife walks, Latin-dance nights, and weekly stargazing with local amateur astronomers.
Like the High Line, a Monon light-rail corridor would make use of an abandoned railway: the tracks that have been paved over to create the greenway we enjoy today. Why not, some dreamers have wondered, turn them back into tracks and lift the greenway higher into the air? A straight shot from Carmel to 10th Street is, after all, sitting right there—no need to plow a new one through the city, buying up countless properties.
The 10.4-mile Monon Trail joins the 5.2-mile Monon Greenway in Carmel. Given that most light-rail systems top out at around 60 mph, commuters could make the 15.6-mile trip from Carmel to downtown in about 16 minutes—saving precious time (and commuter gas emissions). Plus, an elevated greenway would be even better than the trail Monon-lovers enjoy today. “What draws people the first time is that it’s a really innovative idea,” says Megan Freed, a spokeswoman for Friends of the High Line. “What brings people back is the programming.”
Then, of course, there are the views. “It’s a unique vantage point,” says Freed. “In New York City and other urban areas, where else can you be three stories up, looking at neighborhoods you don’t normally see?”
The challenge? Money, of course. “Transit on or next to the Monon has been looked at,” says Anna Gremling, executive director of the city’s Metropolitan Planning Organization. “But all of the options are prohibitively expensive. It would cost more to implement than the entire annual operating budget of IndyGo.” ($66 million.)
Sure, we would need detailed engineering and environmental-impact studies. Some portions of property would have to be acquired along both sides of the Monon to widen it. And Freed admits there have been unique challenges to maintaining a public park 30 feet off the ground. (Until the High Line finally got a freight elevator this year, it was hard to bring plants and soil up to the pathway and remove debris. They also weren’t fighting an uphill battle to install light rail below it.)
But the Monon Trail planners faced plenty of naysayers when that plan was hatched in the late ’90s, and now more than 1 million people use it each year. Freed says they encountered plenty of opposition in building the High Line, too, and points to the results: “We think it’s all worth it.”
Vacant houses and blighted neighborhoods plague the inner city. About 4,000 pieces of property—empty lots and homes in disrepair, seized for tax delinquency—currently sit in Marion County’s surplus inventory (not counting those in the Indy Land Bank). Local authorities are almost begging to give away properties to groups with viable plans for making them habitable.
How about this: inner-city artist colonies, with clusters of cottages, yards, mature trees, and open community greenspaces (for, say, performance art or sculpture). Applicants would need to demonstrate serious engagement in a creative field, and they could move in for free, paying only the annual property tax to remain. Stay for five years, make improvements, and contribute at least one public-art piece to the neighborhood, and the place is theirs, lien-free. The City-County Council recently floated a similar plan for cops, but officers don’t seem to transform a neighborhood the way creative types do.
Since the 1970s, artists with pioneer spirits (and light pocketbooks) have cast a romantic glow over the gritty remains of New York’s industrial past by reclaiming old factories as studios and lofts, lifting up neighborhoods in the process. The blueprint has worked in Indianapolis as well, though on a much smaller scale, at places like the Murphy Arts Center in Fountain Square. But the architectural feature that defines Indy more than any other is the single-family home. Imagine what a block or two of rescued houses could look like with a few coats of paint, perhaps in one of the neighborhoods we’ve targeted here.
Just over the river from downtown, the near-westside neighborhood has seen better days—and worse ones. After years of decline and teardowns, what’s left is surprisingly green and tranquil. Proposed colony: Four city blocks along Concord Street and Arnolda Avenue, between 10th and Walnut streets. Available houses/lots: 10/2 Miles to Herron School of Art and Design: 2 Pick of the properties: 915 N. Concord St.: 1,064 sq. ft.; 2 BR, 1 BA; built 1905.
2. NEAR-SOUTH SIDE
Sure, Fountain Square is great. But just west of there, another corner of the near-south side has a lot to recommend it, including the Pleasant Run Greenway and lovely Garfield Park. (And the now-closed historic Vollrath Tavern would make an ideal artists’ haunt.) Proposed colony: Three city blocks west of Madison Avenue, between Arizona and Minnesota streets. Available houses/lots: 4/6 Miles to Garfield Park Arts Center: 1.8 Pick of the properties: 1334 Union St.: 1,424 sq. ft.; 3 BR, 0 BA; built 1920.
3. NEAR-EAST SIDE
In case you hadn’t noticed, artistic types are already staking out the near-east side and populating hangouts like the Dorman Street Saloon and Tin Comet Coffee along the 10th Street corridor. But they could use a little encouragement to settle some of the area’s more-distressed neighborhoods. Proposed colony: Four city blocks along Temple Avenue, between North and New York streets. Available houses/lots: 9/6 Miles to Midland Arts & Antiques: 1 Pick of the properties: 401 N. Temple Ave.: 956 sq. ft.; 3 BR, 1 BA; built 1921.
4. CROWN HILL
On the southern edge of Butler-Tarkington and cattycorner to historic Crown Hill Cemetery, this neighborhood is a stone’s throw from The Melody Inn—always full of artistic types. Proposed colony: Six city blocks along Capitol and Graceland avenues and Boulevard Place, bisected by 38th Street. Available houses/lots: 7/5 Miles to IMA: 1 Pick of the properties: 3915 Boulevard Pl.: 1,410 sq. ft.; 3 BR, 1 BA; built 1909.
5. FALL CREEK
The wave of new houses and rehabs in the near-northside Fall Creek Place development broke just before reaching this pocket, situated between grand historic homes on Sutherland Avenue, the scenic Fall Creek Greenway, and the Monon Trail. Proposed colony: Two city blocks along Carrollton and Guilford avenues, between 25th and 27th streets. Available houses/lots: 3/4 Miles to Talbot Street Art Fair: 1 Pick of the properties: 2501 Carrollton Ave.: 2,295 sq. ft.; 3 BR, 1.5 BA; built 1900.
The latest scheduled stop in the IndyGo system is 12:35 a.m., at 3500 Mitthoeffer Road. Have you ever gone to 38th and Mitthoeffer after midnight? Neither have we. Of the 31 bus routes in Indianapolis, just three others make stops after 12 a.m. Only one, at Ohio and Meridian streets, is relatively close to a cluster of happening nightspots, of which the city now has a few. In Broad Ripple, which by our own (admittedly fuzzy) math has Indy’s densest nightlife concentration, the latest stop is 10:05 p.m. If you plan on catching a bus out of The Rip, last call for you is around 9 o’clock. Your mother would be pleased.
Want to make Indy more attractive to young work-hard-play-hard professionals? Run an after-hours “IndyNights” bus line that circles all of our major nightlife districts—Fountain Square, the Wholesale District, Mass Ave, Broad Ripple, and 86th Street—from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. on weekends. Too frivolous for a city service? Not for Austin, which runs buses until 3 a.m. Last year, 3,000 riders per night used those services, demonstrating the Texas city’s commitment not just to being a clean, economically viable place to live, but also a fun one. Added bonus: Late buses give drinkers a transportation option other than driving.
Last time we checked, Indy wants to be a destination city, too. This bus schedule is one way to get there (with proposed bus stop locations and nearby bars with their closing times).
Virginia and College avenues
Bluebeard, 1 a.m.
Dugout, 2 a.m.
Wholesale District South
South and Delaware streets
Slippery Noodle, 3 a.m.
Ike & Jonesy’s, 3 a.m.
Wholesale District North
Washington and Delaware streets
The Libertine, 1 a.m.
Bu Da Lounge, 2 a.m.
Nicky Blaine’s, 3 a.m.
Mass Ave West
Delaware and New York streets
MacNiven’s, 1 a.m.
The Ball & Biscuit, 3 a.m.
Mass Ave Central
Mass Ave and New Jersey Street
Rathskeller, 12 a.m. (or later)
Chatterbox, 3 a.m.
Mass Ave East
College Avenue and Arch Street
Ralston’s DraftHouse, 3 a.m.
Metro, 3 a.m.
College Avenue and 49th Street
Upland Tasting Room, 12 a.m.
The Sinking Ship, 3 a.m.
College Avenue and 54th Street
Twenty Tap, 12 a.m.
The Jazz Kitchen, 12 a.m.
Moe & Johnny’s, 3 a.m.
Broad Ripple Village West
College and Broad Ripple avenues
Vogue, 3 a.m.
Broad Ripple Tavern, 3 a.m.
Alley Cat, 3 a.m.
Broad Ripple Village East
Broad Ripple and Winthrop avenues
The Wellington, 1:30 a.m.
Triton Tap, 1:30 a.m.
Monkey’s Tale, 3 a.m.
Keystone at the Crossing
86th Street and Keystone Crossing
Keystone Art Cinema, 11 p.m. (ish)
Champps, 2 a.m.
82nd Street and Clearwater Pointe
Latitude 39, 2 a.m.
Fox & Hound, 3 a.m.
In its first four home games, Indy Eleven’s wins didn’t happen on the field, but just steps off it. Despite its 0-2-4 start, the Eleven scored consecutive sellout crowds of nearly 11,000 fans, who jostled their way into makeshift bleachers and portable seats at IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium to catch a glimpse of the North American Soccer League’s newest team. “The Mike,” as Eleven supporters call it, was so jammed with supporters that team officials were forced to stop ticket sales hours before kickoffs. They also had to add portable bathrooms, vendors, and food trucks to serve fans who missed large stretches of matches waiting in line. It’s a luxurious problem, but there’s nothing luxe about The Mike’s locker rooms. They lack heat, air-conditioning, and running water. Even casual spectators realized quickly that the hand-me-down venue needs to be sidelined.
It’s time for state lawmakers to sign off on the 18,500-seat, $87 million multipurpose facility the team lobbied for during the 2014 session of the General Assembly. The plan contains no tax increases and calls on team owner Ersal Ozdemir to forfeit 10 percent of ticket revenues to pay for construction costs. In other words, if you don’t pay to attend the games, you won’t pay to fund the venue.
After being rubber-stamped by the state House Ways and Means committee earlier this year, a bill that sought $5 million in ticket taxes and would have granted ownership of the new stadium to the Capital Improvement Board got eighty-sixed by lawmakers. That’s in part because a report by the Legislative Services Agency questioned Ozdemir’s projections that a soccer stadium would generate $51 million in revenue annually—and suggested that the true number would be less than $4 million.
The problem with that reasoning? The report only considered cash from Eleven-related events, says Paul Okeson, vice president of Ozdemir’s Keystone Construction. Of the 60 events the venue might host each year, only 25 would be soccer-related.
Team officials say they plan to renew their quest for a stadium in the 2015 legislative session. Okeson is vetting three potential sites downtown, but declines to mention locations. The one they should be looking at? The parking lot at West and McCarty Streets, one block east of Lucas Oil Stadium. All four of the city’s major stadiums would be within a short walk of each other.
ROOTING FOR THE STADIUM:
State Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville
“I think they’ve shown that there’s an interest in soccer and a multi-purpose facility. The NCAA also has a lot of interest for some of the championships.” —WISH-TV interview
Mayor Greg Ballard
“There probably is room for a 10,000- to 20,000-seat stadium somewhere that would make a lot of sense for the city. But we want to make sure it’s for multiple sports and maybe concerts; so it would be a multi-use stadium, not just for soccer.” —WIBC interview
Ersal Ozdemir, Indy Eleven owner
“The stadium proposal is based on a solid economic analysis, and we will use the time before the next session to share our projected figures, provide transparency in the projections, and attempt to eliminate any confusion.” —Indy Eleven website
ROOTING AGAINST IT, FOR NOW:
Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R–Fort Wayne
“It doesn’t seem like it’s completely worked through yet. I think it would be wise for everyone to take a deep breath, step back, and look at it.” —The Indianapolis Star interview
State Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis
“I have the sense that people in both parties share my fears we’re taking on a high-risk proposition. This came on late with a very thin fiscal analysis. I hope it gets rethought.” —IBJ interview
State Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis
“As a season-ticketholder for the Indy Eleven, I support this team. But I do not support the section of Senate Bill 308 asking taxpayers to help pay for another professional stadium before the first goal has been scored.”
—The Indianapolis Star interview
Considering that urban agriculture didn’t exist here just a few years ago, groups like Growing Places Indy and Big City Farms have done an admirable job planting healthy produce for our restaurants and farmers markets with very limited space. In the entire city, only 23 acres currently are devoted to this type of farm. Sure, progress is being made. The mayor’s push to expand Indy gardens has ballooned the number of plots to 117. But the potential for growth is huge—roughly 3,700 acres of vacant land currently grow weeds rather than tomatoes and lettuce. So how can the city scale up the urban-farming efforts already putting down roots? These four kinds of locations would be a good place to start.
Along the Monon
A 15-acre parcel of flat, city-owned land lies between 25th and 28th streets near the Monon Trail. Ginny Roberts, urban garden program assistant at Purdue Extension–Marion County, sees the potential for more there than just a garden. “You could have farming, classes, and a farmers market,” she says. In other words, a central hub for all things urban farming in Indy.
By the Interstate
Noisy, cheap land alongside the city’s interstates is ripe for redevelopment. Indy Urban Acres, an organic farm on 8 acres of Indy Parks property where I-70 meets I-465, has already produced about 30,000 pounds of tomatoes, peppers, and squash a year. It also hosts a 70-tree fruit orchard, chickens, and bees—an impressive operation feeding thousands, just hidden from view. Imagine the possibilities at lots like the 10-acre parcel owned by the city at I-70 and Keystone Avenue.
While urban farming often conjures images of a city’s core, Matthew Jose of Big City Farms believes the priority should be saving land from suburban sprawl. He points to the south side, where 20-acre parcels of farmland still exist. Many, he worries, will be paved over once families decide to sell. While growing produce in the inner city serves a purpose, larger tracts of land offer more diverse opportunities, including grain production and livestock.
Chicago boasts more than 300 green rooftops. Recently, Indy joined the garden party with the 5,000-square-foot sky farm atop the new Eskenazi Hospital, which can generate more than 100 pounds of asparagus, zucchini, and salad greens a week. And sky farms needn’t be limited to towers or public buildings. The proposed five-story, mixed-use apartment building at the intersection of College and Mass Ave could incorporate one as well.
The last person to float a plan for a casino in downtown Indy was state rep Bill Crawford, who in 2009 proposed legislation that would have allowed such a facility to help fund the Capital Improvement Board. Former mayor Bart Peterson considered a casino a few years earlier to raise money for Lucas Oil Stadium. Union Station wasn’t mentioned in either plan, but discussion invariably turns to the landmark as a potential site. The biggest obstacle is securing Assembly approval. As state senator Luke Kenley told the Star in 2009, “I’m not sure you can get the votes for it, because anyone who’s within a rifle’s range of a riverboat county is going to vote no.” Here’s why Indy shouldn’t fold its hand.
Casinos pay out.
The house always wins. So do taxpayers who live near casinos. Crawford’s plan projected $20.5 million in annual tax revenue for Marion County. St. Louis, which has four casinos within 20 miles of the Arch, has racked up close to $125 million in gaming-tax revenue to date.
We need a jackpot.
In May, the City-County Council barely scraped up $15 million in “emergency” funds—well short of the $24 million requested by the DPW—for pothole repairs and wintertime cost overruns. Unless the Council finds new revenue or makes tough cuts, the city’s 2015 budget will likely come up short. The police department is understaffed. Shall we continue?
Money from visitors is sweeter.
More than 26 million people visited Indy last year, according to Visit Indy. Conventions alone drew more than 1 million—most of them downtown. A casino across the street from the Indiana Convention Center would assure that plenty of the revenue came straight from out of state.
Union Station is a money pit.
Sure, it’s a historically important one, but a money pit nonetheless. In 2012, according to an IBJ report, the city coughed up nearly $300,000 to fix a collapsed wall—part of almost $2 million total spent on the century-old building. Last year, repairing a fallen ceiling cost another $60,000. The city is set to spend an additional $600,000 to update the lobby and replace an escalator.
Gambling opponents are right, but ...
Usually, building casinos for economic development is bad policy: Most people who come for casinos stay at casinos, and luring them to nearby businesses is tough. But folks already flock to Indy to do other things. So what if they drop a few bucks at the roulette table before heading home? Yes, revenues at the riverboat casinos in southeast Indiana are in decline, but that’s because Ohio wised up and let Cincinnati build one of its own. Gambling addiction takes a disproportionate toll on the poor; that’s a legitimate concern. But we would demand that any casino bids be for high-end concepts, appropriate to the historic character of Union Station. High-minimum stakes would help keep out the gamblers least able to afford throwing away their money.
Indy already gambles.
Five blocks from Union Station, you can play the ponies at the Winner’s Circle off-track-betting parlor. From there, you can board a $10 shuttle to Anderson’s Hoosier Park casino. You can drive to the casino at Indiana Downs in Shelbyville faster than you can get to Carmel. Shelby County has taken in more than $37.5 million in revenue from its “racino” since it opened in 2008. Basically, though, unless you’re located on a river, you must have horse racing to get a casino in Indiana. Fine. First carriage around Monument Circle wins.
The city skyline is about to change. Cummins, whose foundation paid for more than 50 works by internationally celebrated architects in Columbus, Indiana, recently announced plans to build a new headquarters where Market Square Arena once stood. That set off speculation that an architect of significance finally could be coming to Indy.
If you have any doubt that our track record for hiring such luminaries is abysmal, look around. Indy boasts not a single building by Frank Lloyd Wright or Eero Saarinen, both of whom were working just a few hours away for much of their careers. Of course, architects famous for such bold blueprints todayjust don’t come cheap. When Santiago Calatrava designed the City of Arts and Sciences project in Valencia, Spain, his firm earned an 11 percent commission. Compare that with the 5 to 8 percent that’s typical, and there’s no denying a renowned name adds to the cost.
After we went to press, Cummins released the names of three small New York firms that will be the finalists for its new headquarters, so it appears that our starchitect drought will continue. But there's no harm in dreaming. We asked a few members of the local architecture community, “Who tops your wish list?”
Campus architect at the IMA
“I love Visiondivision, the young Swedish duo who designed the Chop Stick concessions stand at 100 Acres. The founding partners Anders Berensson and Ulf Mejergren spent a lot of time here trying to understand the Hoosier state of mind, all the way down to watching—and blogging about—our Historic Preservation Commission public hearings. They already have experience with what makes Indy unique, and have shown in other projects around the world how they weave local contextual knowledge into their designs.”
Owner of C. Resources, a history and preservation firm
“I want someone like Renzo Piano or Santiago Calatrava, or maybe an architect whose work is new to me but really amazing: Julie Snow. Not all of Piano’s works look alike, but Google the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center in New Caledonia and imagine how a development like that would improve this place. Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum (pictured) is a living creature perched on the lake. Breathtaking. Snow does a lot in black—very modern and streamlined, but cool. Whoever Cummins hires, I hope the design is something that people will either love or hate. No more bland, corporate architecture. It needs to be something we will all have an opinion about. ‘Have you seen the Cummins building? Yeah, I hate it! Really? I love it!’ That would make me happy.”
Founder of the Urban Indy blog
“I’d be happy to see more modern architecture in the city. But most importantly, I hope that the public spaces within them are well-designed. It’s critical that our buildings have permeable street frontage and are mixed-use structures. If the city gives away that prime real estate to squeeze in a few more offices and a parking garage, I would not view it as a success regardless of the architect. The Telus Sky Tower in Calgary (pictured), designed by Thomas Christoffersen, looks to be just the sort of thing we should push for.”
During the day, Monument Circle buzzes with tourists snapping photos and the workday crowd lunching on its sun-dappled steps. But come nightfall? Not much more than a slow-moving roundabout. What a waste, we think—especially when the spectacular center of the city has potential for so much more. Like concerts from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Right now, says ISO spokeswoman Jessica DiSanto, performing on the Circle requires getting a permit, rerouting traffic, and other headaches. “If performing outside were a possibility,” she says, “we’d love to dream along with the city.” Apparently, the ISO will have company. Shortly after we went to press, the mayor's office announced that the city will use $400,000 in grants to enliven Monument Circle in 2015. And while few details have been released, here are several things we hope to see:
» More bars and restaurants. “Wouldn’t it be great if the huge companies—IPL and WellPoint—turned their street-level frontage into that?” says Bob Schultz, vice president at Indianapolis Downtown Inc. Bob, you can add Emmis Communications (owner of IM and a Monument Circle resident) to that list.
» Nighttime cafe service from the restaurants already there, so you could sit outside in the evening and enjoy a bottle of wine. Hey, Nicky Blaine’s is already doing it come nightfall, turning Au Bon Pain’s terrace into “Nicky’s Veranda.”
» Tailgating with big-screen TVs set up and carryout available from nearby restaurants.
» Shakespeare Tuesdays!
» Croquet, chess, and bocce tournaments in the greenspace around the Monument.
» Free public dance classes, like Chicago SummerDance, when Grant Park transforms into an urban ballroom offering instruction in swing, salsa, and step.
» A public bathroom might be nice.
In case you haven’t noticed, the local tech sector has been growing faster than just about every industry other than craft beer. The startup club Verge alone has more than 2,500 young entrepreneurs as members. What if the city hired the best of them to address problems like crime, technology infrastructure, and branding? It might look something like this.
Hire: Greg Enas and Jim Solenberg, developers of Alert Neighbors
Their pitch: Some people are lucky enough to live in communities where everyone knows each other and may be quick to assist in case of burglary or fire. Other neighborhoods are not as closely knit—individuals live in relative isolation from each other and help from next door may not be certain. We came up with a solution called Alert Neighbors. It’s an app (already available in the iPhone app store) that allows you to instantly send a text message to a preselected list of people who live near you who might be able to help in moments of emergency. And while that has been going well, for a small investment (about $3,000), we could upgrade the functionality to improve communication from local police and other public-safety workers to specific neighborhoods. An officer could send routine text messages to the individuals living on his beat who have signed up for the service, letting them know a burglary has been reported in the area or that an arrest has been made.
Safe neighborhoods require people communicating with each other in times of need, and that goes far beyond dialing 911. An expanded version of Alert Neighbors would go a long way toward building critical bridges—both between neighbors and with those who serve the public.
Their pitch: Studies show that more than 60 percent of Internet access is now mobile. With phone carriers eliminating unlimited data plans, most people rely on Wi-Fi hotspots to connect to the web. And major cities will soon be in an arms race to provide free wireless service as an economic-development tool. To be fair, a few areas have tried to build a citywide Wi-Fi infrastructure and failed. San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston all shelved their plans as it became apparent that accomplishing it would cost millions of dollars. Those places understood the benefits—attracting young entrepreneurs, building tourism, bridging the digital divide between the rich and poor—but their model was flawed. We believe Indy can provide it in a more tactical manner. An inexpensive and quick way to establish public Wi-Fi would be to create a grid of hotspots. As opposed to a citywide plan, this would involve creating areas of access where you want people to congregate—the cultural districts, Monument Circle, the new Eastside Legacy Center. Three or four routers placed on rooftops could cover most of White River State Park, for example. And even with thousands of people accessing the system at once, it could be done at a fraction of the cost of citywide Wi-Fi.
Their pitch: Imagine a world where the companies you do business with understand your preferences, interests, and offer products and services uniquely tailored to you. Wait, that already exists. Corporations like Amazon have been using technology for years to do just this. So why don’t cities take a similar approach? KA+A and its partners are exploring a new civic-engagement platform called ClearCitizen that will enable city leadership to connect with residents in a way the public sector has been slow to adopt. ClearCitizen is software that uses publicly available data (age, property taxes, address, etc.) and data we would acquire to develop services and market more effectively. How do we collect that data? For example, we know that dog owners are disproportionately affluent, single, and mobile. Why not send a team to dog parks and ask targeted questions (along with collecting some e-mail addresses)? With this information, we could engage citizens as individuals—maybe even make compelling offers (such as connecting a local biochemist with Lilly when there’s a job opening) to retain residents. The most successful cities of the 21st century will need to engage their citizenry by being more knowledgeable about them. As the marketing-technology capital of world, there is no other city better positioned to pioneer this than Indy.
In 1908, Indianapolis recruited world-renowned landscape architect George Kessler to create a plan for city growth beyond the Mile Square. After studying the land, he delivered the bold Indianapolis Parks and Boulevards System, which included 12 parks, 50 miles of parkways and boulevards, and almost every attractive bridge we have today. No one has done as much to beautify the city before or since. But a century later, some of those amenities have begun to deteriorate. Bolstered by the success of the Cultural Trail, we think it’s time to build on what Kessler accomplished by hiring the next great landscape architect to revamp our public spaces. A few to consider:
Famous for the green spaces of the High Line (pictured), Corner stands at the top of the (sumptuously curved) hill of landscape architects. The designer heads a team of 47, and their work always surprises with elements like treetops peeking through slits in elevated walkways or earth bridges above boulevards. Who better to landscape the new Monon (see No. 1)?
For all the bickering surrounding the World Trade Center site in New York, most agreed that Walker’s design for the 9/11 Memorial (two voids where the towers stood and a forest of oak trees) was inspired. His happier work includes the Transbay Transit Center (pictured), under construction in San Francisco. If he could do something about the trash-filled Fall Creek corridor, we’d really appreciate it.
Although she’s best known for the Lurie Garden of Millennium Park in Chicago and the upcoming revamp of Union Square National Mall in Washington, D.C., Gustafson’s Diana Princess of Wales Memorial in London (pictured) is one of the most solemn spaces in the world. Think of what she could do with our underused American Legion Mall downtown.
You’d expect the guy who designed Olympic Park (a portion of which is pictured) for the 2012 London games to be a heavy hitter. And Hargreaves does not disappoint, with insights like studying the paths students walked through a public green at the University of Cincinnati and then paving a braided path along those routes. The desolate Wapahani Trail along the west side of downtown Indianapolis could use that treatment.
This article appeared in the August 2014 issue.