Center Township revival in the offing?

March 3, 2010
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Center Township’s problems aren’t perceived to be as bad as the problems in the oldest parts of cities like Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis. By pushing the city boundaries to include all of Marion County in the Unigov consolidation of 40 years ago, the city dodged many of the ailments of those landlocked, deteriorating Midwestern cities.

But Aaron Renn, who writes The Urbanophile blog, reminds that the old city is little better off. Center Township, a rough approximation of the city’s pre-1970 boundaries, has lost half its population—not so dissimilar to Cleveland, et al.

That’s the bad news. But Renn joins other observers in noticing the beginnings of a revival of inner cities, Indianapolis included.

Renn notes Census Bureau population estimates show Center Township actually gaining population in the past couple of years. Not much, but noticeable.

“Central Indianapolis has hit an inflection point and has started growing,” he says.

Renn’s point is echoed in a new book by University of Virginia professor William Lucy, “Foreclosing the Dream; How America’s Housing Crisis is Reshaping Our Cities and Suburbs.” Lucy sees high foreclosure rates in exurban areas and rising incomes and housing prices in city cores, and concludes the trend toward suburban living has peaked. People have grown weary of long commutes, Lucy argues, and they crave convenience of cultural activities that tend to be concentrated in central cities.

Renn foresees two scenarios for Center Township.

One is the revival sputtering and proving to be a mirage.

The other is a turnaround with areas like Fountain Square redeveloping with apartments and neighborhood nodes of activity. Attractions like the Cultural Trail would continue attracting people to restore homes and open retail stores.

“The outcome is going to be really good or really bad,” Renn predicts. “It’s much more likely in a strong region like Indianapolis that the outcome is going to be good. So, I’m optimistic.”

Indianapolis won’t see a flurry of residential towers built. The city never has been New York or Chicago, and it shouldn’t be, Renn contends.

Rather, Renn envisions a city ordered more like Paris, which is densely populated but low-rise. To increase density, Indianapolis zoning officials need to consider allowing, for example, two single-family dwellings and a carriage house with an apartment in the back—all on a single lot. That brings three households into the space traditionally occupied by one household. And with smart design, the extra density would barely be noticeable.

The city should also be more willing to allow mixed uses in older neighborhoods, similar to the live-work spaces in Fall Creek Place.

Higher density is particularly important now that households are smaller than they were a century ago. Otherwise, retail won’t follow, and the model falls apart. “We have to be willing to embrace land-use changes,” Renn says.

By the way, Renn foresees continued suburban development here, just not as much as in the past.

What are your thoughts? Is Center Township on the verge of revival? What are your feelings on higher densities?
 

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  • Good points
    Higher density is the way to go. It softens the tax burden for everyone. People want services improved while keeping taxes low? Support high-density development.
  • Like Paris
    I also think the future of center township is bright. What you see over and over again in Paris is 6 story buildings. I think that is the sweet spot. That will give Indy a great feel without the super intensity of 15-20 story properties. Plus its enough density to make public transportation a reality.
  • Center Township is the place to be!
    We moved into Sacred heart area 5 years ago and it is the place to live. Close to everything, walk or bicycle all over town, great house for no money, more entertainment than we could ever enjoy. Join us!
  • School Enrollment
    The other interesting point is school enrollment. I believe IPS had an upside surprise where they were expected to lose thousands of kids but didn't.
  • On the right track
    I would argue that Center township has already seen the makings of a revival. Compare downtown to 15 or 20 years ago. You couldn't give a house away on the near northside and now those great old homes are $400,000+. The recent downturn has slowed things down (The Lockerbie Park Condos and the 707 North project come to mind, as well as the Maxwell's switching to apartments) but I think the future is still strong. That being said, we still need more people downtown! I'd love to see downtown sidewalks thriving all the time like they are when big conventions are in town.
  • Irvington
    The Irvington area is beginning to experience the return of families with younger children, which is always a good sign. Businesses have opened on Washington Street in the past few years, and many have survived the recession. The nearby charter school does not hurt either.
  • DC not Paris
    I think the model should not be Paris but instead DC. To be fair -- I have not read Aaron's article but I think that DC is a better example of how the city can be structured. Both were created in the same way and Alexander Ralston worked for the L'Enfant (minus all the State avenues, check out the Greatergreaterwashington blog for description of streets) whereas Paris is much more organic. One of my favorite things about DC is the height restrictions that could be adopted in many neighborhoods within Indianapolis focused not on the height of the Capitol building but instead that they must only be as tall as the street is wide. This is why there are taller buildings on broader streets and shorter buildings within tiny alley streets. The city could also be a great model in regards to up-zoning when transit stations are built in relation to the recent Indy Connect project.

    Perhaps Paris' planning under Napoleon III could be utilized in better structuring streets within the suburban areas of Marion County and the outer lying counties.

  • Midtown Corridors Reconnect to Downtown
    Support real Sustainable Solutions: The largest obstacle for downtown is the fact that our Midtown City Ring populations and house hold incomes are not left strong enough to attract the critical walk able mass to re live downtown, as we continue to have more obstacle within the midtown ring.

    In order to get more people to continue to come all of our States downtown city's there are simple nationally proven successful plans. One of the most successful proven solutions is to start cleaning the historic commercial nodes along our corridors, cleaning up the vacant Brown and Grey fields currently killing our neighborhoods and communities, and ultimately our City, and State fiscal budget. This solution can be done with tax credits over a 10 year period of time, very little up front real Gov't investment, but enough to re spark more private reinvestment and long term sustainable jobs and solutions.
    By re setting these foundations for Long Term sustainable solutions, creating places people want to be again, each node re blooms. As the cleaning of the rivers arteries (Corridors) of our communities flood plains (Dead Nodes) that are rotting our core center communities, we can begin to re bloom. By shoring up these flood zones, historic region by region until we reconnect to down town we will regain the critical walk able mass that will pop downtown into a renaissance. Although until we regain the foundation of the corridors, down town will continue to be a destination, not connected with the midtowns, close enough and vital to feed downtown.
    All of the City studies and all of the National and Local experts say the same thing on this subject. It is time to see the States Leadership to do what it takes to reinvesting into the foundation of the infrastructure, assisting to create this opportunity for appropriate design, Mixed Use building so that the whole is stronger. The National Studies prove, the needed Public Private Partnership, investments have large Public Govâ??t ROI - Return On Investment and many opportunities for people with in the community â??Jobsâ?? where people are currently living. Bottom Line this saves money, less over all Govâ??t spending while making the Govâ??t more money, allowing the ability to then shrink Govâ??t. as needed â??Smart Growthâ??
    The Studies Prove this is Fiscally Responsible Investment for the States, to create Long term Sustainable Jobs with housing, Mixed Use investments at these specific locations, while creating other long term sustainable jobs, not just more road systems that create short term expense, short term jobs, that create more long term expense.
    Currently, these vacant dead zones are continuing to rot out neighborhoods that are close enough proximity to feed downtown and ironically have financially been feeding the whole of the city via large increased property taxes and State funded out growth for years. Via the needed States Leadership to create these needed State cost saving and making opportunities, with appropriate Mixed Use projects, By Design we will attract the people back to the places where people want to be, like a crumb trail back to down town. These fiscally responsible public private partnerships can only happen with the State Leadership.
    Until then we are at risk of more foreclosures and more Big Government to solve the problem that they are creating, with more delays of real action and sustainable solutions.
    Finally, with this Leadership Actions via proper Land Use and Gov't Reinvestment what is the proven effect is that the corridors and their surrounding community's become cooler but if you want to be more cool "Go Downtown".
  • Not Paris
    I think Paul Angelone is right when he says that there are better models than Paris. While Aaron is on the right track - higher densities without high-rises, just a glance at Paris' population density demonstrates that it is far too dense to be applicable - even without residential high rises. The density of the entire city of Paris is 65,000 per sq. mile. Not one single city in the US even approaches this number. This is 3.5 times the population density of San Francisco, and 5 times the density of Chicago. Only Manhattan, when taken separately from NYC, can compare. I think we can all agree that that might be shooting a little too far.

    I think some good benchmarks - at least for the downtown area / regional center - are DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia, which have neighborhoods that range between 6,000 and 10,000 per sq. mi. These cities have an excellent and varied housing stock between 2-4 stories that can provide both single family units and apartments.

    A good city-wide benchmark might be Denver, with just under 4,000 people per sq. mi. Denver does a really good job balancing higher density opportunities in the city center with single family units that cater more to families. Center Township is already at this density, and if parts of the downtown can densify further, with existing neighborhoods starting to turn around and be revitalized, I think we will start to see the 5-7k density numbers that will support the transit systems and urban businesses that many wish for the city.
  • Paris
    I'd like to be clear that I do not advocate trying to rebuilt Indianapolis along the lines of Paris. I'm merely saying that density and height are not necessarily the same thing. Paris (and other European cities) have extremely high densities that exceed every American city except New York without building tall buildings.

    Indianapolis does not need to be as dense as Paris by a mile - but it does need to be more dense. I advocate modest densification, which is critical to building a sustainable tax base for Center Township

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  1. The east side does have potential...and I have always thought Washington Scare should become an outlet mall. Anyone remember how popular Eastgate was? Well, Indy has no outlet malls, we have to go to Edinburgh for the deep discounts and I don't understand why. Jim is right. We need a few good eastsiders interested in actually making some noise and trying to change the commerce, culture and stereotypes of the East side. Irvington is very progressive and making great strides, why can't the far east side ride on their coat tails to make some changes?

  2. Boston.com has an article from 2010 where they talk about how Interactions moved to Massachusetts in the year prior. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2010/07/interactions_banks_63_million.html The article includes a link back to that Inside Indiana Business press release I linked to earlier, snarkily noting, "Guess this 2006 plan to create 200-plus new jobs in Indiana didn't exactly work out."

  3. I live on the east side and I have read all your comments. a local paper just did an article on Washington square mall with just as many comments and concerns. I am not sure if they are still around, but there was an east side coalition with good intentions to do good things on the east side. And there is a facebook post that called my eastside indy with many old members of the eastside who voice concerns about the east side of the city. We need to come together and not just complain and moan, but come up with actual concrete solutions, because what Dal said is very very true- the eastside could be a goldmine in the right hands. But if anyone is going damn, and change things, it is us eastside residents

  4. Please go back re-read your economics text book and the fine print on the February 2014 CBO report. A minimum wage increase has never resulted in a net job loss...

  5. The GOP at the Statehouse is more interested in PR to keep their majority, than using it to get anything good actually done. The State continues its downward spiral.

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