Dear Mayor Ballard,
My third-floor office in the Emmis Communications building, where I’ve toiled away since 1998, has the best view in the city. Seriously. You might be able to survey downtown from the 25th floor of the City-County Building, but I look straight at the Monument itself. I’m so close that if my windows opened, which they don’t, I could hear the splashing of the fountains, the flapping of flags, the rustle of leaves. As it is, I can see the dead bronze soldiers hanging in all their gory splendor, the majestic limestone eagles, the war-weary carved horses, the soaring angels, why, even Victory herself, a proud if zaftig representative of our fine city.
Now that she’s removed for cleaning and repairs, I’m a little bereft, but I’ll get over it. Her absence portends change, improvement, a new day. I’ve grown accustomed to the din of jackhammers as the bricks are torn up around the Monument’s base; after one endures Rush Limbaugh vitriol blasting from the streetside radio studio, evangelists preaching bunk, and all manner of rallies, strikes, chants, and bands—an off-key chorus of “Amazing Grace” was being sung by a troop of angry men as I penned this—everything else is white noise.
And, honestly, the construction has been entertaining, especially when the sky-high crane hoists a platform full of workers to the tip-top of the Monument. My stomach churns as the thing sways like a ski lift on a windy day: I’d sooner bus tables!
The current project is for a good cause, right? Someday, the Circle will not only be in solid working order, but perhaps even sparkle and surprise. The idea competition launched earlier this summer was a start, although you could have saved a lot of people a lot of time if you’d just come to me first. Who knows what best to do with the landmark than someone who stares at it 40 hours a week? Before the idea-winner’s plan goes to the “scoping committee,” and the scoping committee delivers its report to you later this fall, hear me out.
First off, fixing those bricks was smart. Every noon hour I shuffle like Granny Clampett in search of lunch. My osteoporosis isn’t getting any better; if I trip, I could break a hip, and you wouldn’t want that to happen on your watch. Lawyers don’t come cheap.
Beyond the basics, the Circle has to be fun! I know, duh. But listen: The place needs to be a can’t-miss destination for residents and tourists alike, a point of pride, a spot that gets your heart racing.
That said, while purists don’t like the idea of the Circle as a pure pedestrian plaza, I do. Traffic wizards can figure out the complicated part—how to get cars from the Chase Tower to, say, Qdoba. Think how lovely it would be for the rest of us, strolling in the open space, dotted as it might be with pristine umbrella tables, where office workers and visitors could eat lunches carried from a variety of independent cafes and food trucks. Patrons could wander through delightful little shops selling cute handbags and I-heart-Indy paraphernalia.
The fountains could dance to lilting music—or colored lights in the evening—and some water areas could be set apart for a splash park. I’m not talking Holiday World, for Pete’s sake—just gentle sprays where kids could frolic. Who doesn’t find the joy in that? In winter, the frozen ponds could become ice rinks—again!—with no worries this time about leaking damage to the limestone. While we’re at it, let’s retire the old-fashioned Christmas nutcrackers that stand in silent sentry. A few of them are listing to one side—obviously weary, bored, or both. Replace them with twinkle lights set to seasonal music, or—call me crazy!—even an adorable Santa train that chugs along a circular track.
Why not invite Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the artists who glammed up Central Park several years back, to drape the lampposts with glorious ribbons, just for a few weeks? You can raise the funds! Think of the crowds! When I invited an old friend to meet for lunch, she replied, “Oh, I never come downtown.” Let me help you make our central city a destination. Heck, yarn-bombers might even be tempted to knit offbeat cozies, like they did for the Rocky statue in Philadelphia!
The Circle can’t just stand there; above all, it has to function. When you get to my age, Mayor, you’ll understand my obsession with use. For too many years, stuff has sat around my house with no purpose other than to be admired. Hooey! As a young married couple, my husband and I traveled to Italy, where, naively, we hopped a boat in Venice to a nearby glass factory. It turned out the boat wasn’t returning empty-handed passengers, so, under pressure, we broke the bank on a set of $800 Murano glass dessert bowls. The dang things have sat in our breakfront for more than 30 years, and I say, basta! I’m serving fruit or ice cream or pudding at the next occasion, whether the grandkids clang their spoons along the delicate edges or not. Life is for the living!
You’ve been a decent mayor, pothole repair notwithstanding. (It’s a miracle I haven’t detached a retina for all the clunking in my car.) Conclude your term with a bang! Times Square was once a seedy dump, and look at it now: hustle and bustle! Think the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Spanish Steps, the Statue of Liberty, Rodeo Drive! An idea-contest judge on your esteemed panel has said we haven’t maximized our “centrality” and “monumentality.” I don’t know what those words mean, but I agree!
Illustration by Andrea Eberbach.
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.