Opinion and Editorials

Velocity plan for downtown signals mind-set shift

December 7, 2013

The just-released Velocity plan for downtown has already scored one victory: It has thousands of downtown stakeholders beginning to think about the city center as a collection of neighborhoods where people actually live.

For too long, we’ve built our downtown primarily as a place to visit—whether for work, a convention or a sporting event—then leave. That’s why there’s no shortage of restaurants, a collection of best-in-class sports stadiums, and plenty of office and meeting space. There’s a lot of housing, too—and much more in the pipeline—but many amenities typically found in 24-hour neighborhoods are in short supply.

Velocity, sponsored by Indianapolis Downtown Inc. and supported by the city and a host of businesses and civic organizations, suggests hundreds of improvements for downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods to be made over the next five years. We hope it’s the beginning of a shift in mind-set. Most of the suggestions in the plan, which was compiled over the last year with input from almost 4,000 people, are aimed at making downtown more livable.

Downtown already has a unique set of advantages. Home-grown bars and restaurants, and a concentration of arts, cultural and sports attractions are all within biking or walking distance for most downtown dwellers. Velocity recommends building on those advantages by addressing what’s missing. Among its many recommendations:

• Identify eight sites for such things as micro-parks, community gardens, dog parks and play spaces.

• Increase the downtown tree canopy. Most desirable neighborhoods are full of trees, after all.

• Investigate the feasibility of adding a K-8 public school in the downtown core.

• Consider converting selected one-way streets to two-way streets to calm traffic and make the thoroughfares more pedestrian-friendly.

• A host of recommendations for business development, from micro-grants for startups to recruitment efforts for high-growth industries, could result in enhanced services for residents and more downtown jobs.

Velocity’s tactics for enhancing downtown are categorized by the time it will take to implement them, either 18 months or five years. The timing seems off in a few cases.

Why, for example, should adding more bike racks be part of a five-year plan? The same goes for another recommendation, advocating for enforcement of downtown design guidelines that already exist. With key properties, such as The Indianapolis Star headquarters, about to be redeveloped, the time for design accountability is now.

But those are minor quibbles with a plan that overall holds great promise, not just because of what it recommends but because each recommendation is assigned to an organization responsible for its implementation. IDI will shepherd most of the execution, but will get help from the city, the Arts Council, Indiana Sports Corp., Indy Chamber, IndyHub, IUPUI, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, LISC and Visit Indy.

Velocity’s developers placed a high priority on coming up with a plan that would stir action, not sit on a shelf. We hope that strategy will result in important improvements for a downtown that is an economic engine for the state but that can’t afford to rest on its laurels. Now the real work begins.•

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