The Latest Round of the Monument Circle Idea Competition

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Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times ran a love letter glowing travel article about Indianapolis that featured one blush-worthy compliment after another as it built toward the writer’s final gush: “Plenty to do, too much to eat, too much to see. Really, does any destination require more?”

This morning, the Columbia Club was full of people who think it does. The hotel hosted the judging of the Monument Circle Idea Competition. According to the city, the state, Indianapolis Downtown Inc., a host of urban-planning types here and beyond, and progressive movers and shakers such as IMA director Max Anderson and Central Indiana Community Foundation president/Cultural Trail visionary Brian Payne (both men are judges today), the Circle is squarely underachieving as a vital public gathering space. It requires more to do, to eat, to see—all in service of attracting more people to add life to the environment, or maximizing the Circle’s “monumentality and centrality,” as Anderson put it.

We’ll have to wait another month to see what kind of ideas are on the table, but a reception this morning forecasted some liklihoods. As far as we can tell, no one with clout thinks the Circle requires a casino or a laser light show or a roller coaster. The terms “retail,” “dining,” and “pedestrian-friendly” were trending, and it’s surely telling that one of the judges is a national consultant to cities on how to cultivate indigenous downtown retail. Payne mentioned that several entries propose ice-skating on the Circle, which is actually an old idea that worked for a while in the 1980s. Entries came from around the world, including Turkey, Spain, and Australia. The judges had already whittled the 64 entries to 20; today, they are selecting first-, second-, and third-place winners, as well as a handful of other favorites. The best concepts will be displayed in windows around the Circle in mid-June, when the power shifts to you, Indianapolis resident. The public will choose a people’s choice winner by text-voting. That prize is worth $1,000.

But don’t expect bulldozers to roll up any time soon. “This is an idea competition, not a design competition,” Anderson says. “It’s about animating a public conversation and bringing new ideas forward.” In November, a “scoping committee” will provide the city with recommendations for making the Circle a better place—informed, it is expected, by the contest-generated ideas that the judges and the public like the best. By hiring the committee, the city has indicated that it’s serious about enhancing the Circle. But a lot has to happen—including a mayoral election that could render all of this moot— before any changes will be made. What’s required now is your input on your Circle.

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