Series

Land Use Part I – Land Use and Neighborhood Identity

How many distinct neighborhoods of Indianapolis can you name off the top of your head? My guess is the following: Broad Ripple, Meridian-Kessler, Herron-Morton, Mile Square, Fountain Square, Garfield Park, and Irvington. If you live in a neighborhood with strong neighborhood associations, like Chatham-Arch or Bates-Hendricks, you may be to name a few more. However, there are 111 distinct neighborhoods and districts in the City of Indianapolis-Marion County, most of which are largely unknown to the general populous.

For decades, Indianapolis has simply had a few general areas outside of the seven neighborhoods I mentioned earlier; they were simply known as the North, South, East, and West Sides. While this is okay for describing a broad geographic area, this does nothing to support neighborhood identity or laying out a specific location.

Why is this? Why has Indianapolis, for so long, lacked a distinct identity for so many of its neighborhoods? Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile, another native of Indianapolis, speculated on this briefly about a year ago in an article attempting to describe the overall culture of the city. He is not necessarily wrong in that Unigov (the merger of the City and County) has much to do with it. This action dramatically expanded Indianapolis’s boundaries to 404 square miles, making it one of the largest municipalities by land area in North America and, as of 2018, the 15th largest city by population. However, the story is much larger and goes back to our decision to dramatically shift our land use policies, not long after the Unigov merger (1970).

Up until 2015, with the adoption of IndyRezone, Indianapolis had not changed its land development ordinances or zoning codes for nearly 50 years. Combined with urban renewal and white flight, the sprawl-intensive land development policies and attempting to emulate suburbia in an effort to retain residents in Center Township devastated neighborhoods. The commercial centers were abandoned or demolished, their uses restricted, and redevelopment completely removed from the ability to create street life. Such dramatic devastation is visible up and down what were once commercial and residential intensive streets, such as Washington Street and Meridian Street. Both of these streets were transit-oriented corridors with a wide range of uses. In 1950, you would have found vibrant spaces with shops, apartments, offices, and the like. Today, you will still find pockets of this, but much of these corridors have been replaced by parking, large-scale offices, gas stations, and predatory used-car lots designed to target the low-income residents of the area. NOTE: It’s critical to acknowledge that the policies of the 1950s were not friendly to non-whites and immigrants; meaning that not everyone could participate in these once-vibrant communities. This is not something to be glossed over and the equity component of vibrant communities will be discussed in a future post within this series.

The Marion County Land Use Plan is our opportunity to apply IndyRezone to our actual land use plan and leverage it to create a more vibrant, accessible, and sustainable Indianapolis. It’s our opportunity to, over the next several decades, recreate communities around the human, rather than around the motor vehicle. Transit-oriented corridors, neighborhood commercial shops, and places for both multi-family and single-family residential. The recreation of such assets can give neighborhoods a sense of place and identity, a way to distinguish that the community is something to cherish and behold.

This is not something that will happen overnight. This is something that will take decades and the successful implementation of a multitude of efforts. However, the two that are most important, transportation and land use, are underway. This will be a turning point for Indianapolis and is something everyone, regardless of where they live in the county, should take ownership of.

To learn more about the Marion County Land Use Plan and the Plan 2020 effort, please visit http://plan2020.com/plans/lu/.  The first round of public comment is closed, but please observe the current proposed map and educate yourselves for the next round of public engagement.

Posted by StrongIndy in General Article, Series, 0 comments

Incrementalism

 Incremental development in downtown Indy

Incremental development in downtown Indy

Incrementalism in an urban setting…what is it exactly? Dictionary.com defines it as a policy of making changes, especially social changes, by degrees; gradualism. But applied to a city like Indianapolis, what exactly does it mean and why is it important? Here is how Strong Towns begins to define one aspect of incrementalism – incremental growth.

So towns and cities used to be built in a very gradual manner, one that was built on building almost exactly what was needed and nothing more. It was not fueled by debt or by bureaucrats armed with zoning laws. No, it was defined by copying exactly what early settlers in the US and around the world knew and saw others do. It did not take a great leap of the imagination to envision adding another story or two to an existing building if demand clearly showed that it was time to do so. Development had to build upward and intensify because transportation was slow and cumbersome – it was very hard to get to anywhere far in any reasonable amount of time. In other words, cities were built around things that made it very convenient to walk to things.

So in an era of fast automobiles, cheap gasoline and plentiful fast roads, why exactly is compact, incremental development an important thing today? Why does it matter that Indianapolis should continue to intensify its existing development pattern upward instead of outward? This is something we’ll be exploring in greater depth at our next Strong Indy meetup on August 17th. We’ll be hearing from a handful of people on what incrementalism is to them and how it applies to Indy. We’ll have time for discussion afterwards and hope to do a follow-up to this post with thoughts from everyone.

Posted by Jim Hodapp in Series, 3 comments