Land Use Part II – Building Places We Love and Place That Love Us Back

In the first installment of this series, we discussed neighborhood identity. However, it is paramount to clarify what this means. What is neighborhood identity and why does it come about? Neighborhood identity is more than just a name. It’s a sense of pride in a neighborhood and a sense of communal responsibility. Indianapolis once had that, but much of it was destroyed with shifts in federal housing and transportation policy, urban renewal, and race-based local land use practices.

Indianapolis – 1941

Indianapolis – 1962

Indianapolis – 1972

Prior to 1972, Indianapolis a numerous, dense communities which fostered strong neighborhood identities. Residents of the communities had immense pride in where they lived, whether they were renters or homeowners. However, which the shifts in policy and white flight, the populations of these neighborhoods were gutted and that sense of identity was lost.

No more is this more apparent than in the neighborhood of Brightwood. Station Street was the neighborhood village’s Main Street. There were shops on the ground floors, housing above, theatres, restaurants, and goods stores to meet the neighborhood’s needs. The primary street was a gathering space for the residents; a place where they could meet their other neighbors, network, support one another, and, at time, celebrate themselves. With the arrival of I-70 in the late 1960s-1970s, a large swath of the population was forcibly displaced and the northern side of the neighborhood was cut off from the southern side. The population shriveled and the neighborhood quickly spiraled into an unstoppable decline. Today, the neighborhood’s residents continue to grapple with the loss of a support network, a lack of a common gathering space, and totally lacking resources within walking distance like the neighborhood once provided. The neighborhood is bordered by overbuilt streets with minimal sidewalks, is chock full of vacant lots and homes, and land use has shifted to favor industrial developments and storage on what was the Main Street.

At Left: Martindale – Brightwood in 1940. At Right – The same location photographed in 2017. 

Another example of this loss is in West Indianapolis. The primary street here was Oliver Street, boarding the General Motors stamping plant. It would be common knowledge to think that the decline of the neighborhood began with the loss of General Motors, but GM did not vacate the space until 1996. The neighborhood’s decline began well before that, with the introduction of I-70 and shifts in aforementioned policy.

Once a separate municipality, West Indianapolis is a neighborhood that sits just across the White River. At its peak, it was home to multiple hotels, two theatres, twelve saloons, apartments, and moderately-dense single-family and duplex housing. In the mid-20th Century, the decline began. All of the former establishments are now gone and the 19th-Century buildings are beyond repair (but some are still standing).

Land use since the loss of these neighborhood centers has been focused on the suburbanization of Indianapolis. Since the 1960s, Indianapolis’s zoning laws have mandated that buildings replacing the older stock have large setbacks and minimum parking requirements; something that none of the older building stock had. Where there has been redevelopment, it has been automobile-oriented in nature; encouraging people to drive to their destinations and forcibly placing resources farther apart from one another, as well as constraining available commercial space for the sake of dedicating more land to parking.

So how can we re-establish our neighborhoods as places where walkable access to resources is paramount and foster places that residents can be proud of? IndyRezone was a good start, but now the City of Indianapolis is working through the process of “changing the land use map” through the Marion County Land Use Plan. The Marion County Land Use Plan is an element of Plan 2020, Indianapolis’s first comprehensive plan to be adopted for the city’s bicentennial. The plan takes the zoning codes implemented as part of IndyRezone to work. The change to the land use map means that the zoning districts that support transit-oriented development, parking reductions, and infill development can actually be applied.

The impacts of these changes certainly wouldn’t be felt overnight. Changing the urban form in a city such as Indianapolis will take years, perhaps decades. However, the results will be neighborhoods that can be loved and love us back. These will be neighborhoods that can be access by foot, public transit, bike, or, dare I say it, scooter. Creating a city of neighborhoods starts with policy; policy that orients the places we need and places we want to the scale of the human foot and publicly accessible transportation services.

Then, and only then, can we begin to regain what we lost. However, we must do so in a manner that is equitable; a manner that is accessible to everyone.

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Strong Indy Weekly Update – October 1, 2018

Good day, everyone!

Strong Indy is going to start something known as the weekly update. Here, you can find the latest news as it relates to urban issues in Indianapolis, Strong Indy, Strong Towns, CNU-Midwest, and others.

Updates for October 1 – October 7, 2018

  1. October’s Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission hearing docket is now available.
  2. The Congress for New Urbanism – Midwest is calling for presentations! Submit your proposal by October 15th for CNU27 in Louisville, KY. More information on submitting proposals can be found on CNU’s website.
  3.  Strong Indy is seeking to create committees in the following topics: Housing/Equity/Inclusivity, Transportation, and Land Use/Urban Design. If you’re interested in joining any of these committees, please reach out to the moderators via the Strong Indy Facebook page.
  4. IndyGo’s Red Line is moving forward! Keep track of progress on the transit agency’s website.
  5. CNU’s latest edition of Public Square is now available with lots of new reading material!
  6. IMPORTANT: IndyMoves and the Marion County Land Use Plan are now both available for public comment. Comments may be provided via the DMD Civic Comment portal.



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The Best Economic Development Policy? Investing in Us.

There has been quite a bit of chatter recently about “big ideas” to change Indianapolis and take us to the “next level.” Not all of these ideas are necessarily bad (making Monument Circle more amenable to pedestrians would be great), but these often come in the form of flashy projects, like an “iconic” architectural feature unique to Indianapolis (which we already have), more stadiums, or other Downtown-based entertainment experiences. But these projects aren’t for Indianapolitans. They’re not even really for out-of-town tourists. They’re for the occasional visitor from the suburbs who wants to visit the city for a night out.

The harsh reality is that we have treated the few walkable neighborhoods with living commercial centers we have left (the ones that weren’t devastated by urban renewal, highways-as-“slum”-clearance, and land use/housing policies that pushed the middle class to the suburbs) as entertainment districts, not functional neighborhoods (keep an eye out for a post on the “Disneyland Effect” in the near future).

If we want to creating a city worth visiting, then we need to create a city worth living in; not the other way around. Indianapolis doesn’t need big, expensive, bold ideas that create a one-time “wow” factor. We need investments in us and for us to create vibrant neighborhoods that have something new to explore around every corner. Modest, targeted investments in our struggling neighborhoods to inspire walkability, bikability, accessibility, housing, public arts (CreateIndy is a good step in that direction), and long-term affordability for small businesses in neighborhood commercial districts should be our strategy.

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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  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.

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Strong Indy Meetup Time!

It has been a while since we had an official Strong Indy meetup. The transition into CNU-Midwest has taken some time but now it’s time to get things going again. Join us as we talk about some upcoming events, ideas, and current issues in Indianapolis.

A BIG thank you is due to Health by Design for hosting us this month! We hope to see you all there!


Please join us on September 19th at 7:00 PM at Health by Design!

Address: 615 N Alabama St #426, Indianapolis, IN 46204

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Strong Indy is now Strong Indy – A Sub-Chapter of CNU: Midwest!

We have some exciting news! Strong Indy is now a sub-chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism – Midwest! This is a big step for Strong Indy as it sets a strong partnership with an established organization, allows us to hold fundraisers, and holds us accountable for future events and set goals. Things are still being touched up on the new website, such as a functionality that will allow Strong Indy members to receive newsletters, but that’s coming!

Keep an eye out for cross-posting from CNU-Midwest relating to events both here and in nearby cities. We’re excited about this new chapter in Strong Indy’s future and we hope you are as well. As part of our new partnership, we highly encourage Strong Indy members to join the Congress or New Urbanism – Midwest and identify their location as Indianapolis. This helps CNU and Strong Indy! If you would like to register with CNU-Midwest, you may visit their registration site. However, this is totally optional. Strong Indy still is, and will remain, an organization that is open to everyone of all walks of life and socioeconomic status.



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New Strong Indy site!

We’re working on moving the Strong Indy website to a new web hosting provider. So this page will stay in its place until we are able to get the site sufficiently moved over. In the meantime, please continue to check out our very active Facebook group as well as follow us on Twitter.

In the meantime, keep doing what you can to make Indy stronger!

Strong Indy logo

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Strong Indy Podcast Episode #2 – Biking in Indy Part I

We’re proud to announce the second episode of the Strong Indy podcast where we talk about the good, the bad and the downright ugly of biking in Indy. New host, Austin Gibble joins Justin Harter and Jim Hodapp.

Posted by Jim Hodapp in Announcements, 1 comment

Introducing the Strong Indy podcast

We’re proud to announce the very first episode of the Strong Indy podcast where we plan on talking about, interviewing on and covering many relevant topics about our city – Indy.

Posted by Jim Hodapp in Announcements, 1 comment