WILLIAMS: Rebuilding a sustainable Indianapolis

Brian Williams
October 9, 2010
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viewpoint-williams-brianWhile the transfer of the Indianapolis Water Co. to Citizens Energy Group significantly increases the debt burden for ratepayers, the debt issued to fund the transfer does provide the city of Indianapolis with an opportunity to address decades of infrastructure neglect.

Rather than simply building and repairing streets, sidewalks, bridges and parks, ratepayers and taxpayers should demand that these projects set standards for construction in Indianapolis by reusing or recycling materials, using environmentally friendly products, and designing public spaces to encourage physical activity.

Deconstruction is a method of taking what is commonly considered waste and reclaiming it into useful building material. Industry estimates are that 10 jobs are created for every ton of recycled material. Indianapolis-based Workforce Inc. is successfully recycling e-waste and cardboard, plastics, paper and glass for merchants in Broad Ripple, Fountain Square and Mass Ave. Engaging Workforce Inc. to lead deconstruction efforts for “Rebuild Indy” would minimize materials sent to landfills, provide opportunity for at-risk workers, and help develop commercial demand for these services.

Every street or sidewalk project should require the use of permeable or pervious paving. These paving solutions allow rainwater to seep into the ground, recharging ground water and reducing storm runoff. Indianapolis must protect its aquifers. With a greater volume of water in our aquifers, Indianapolis can begin to improve the quality of its water by diluting contaminates. As part of its settlement with the federal government, Indianapolis must reduce the number of storm runoff events and reduce the volume of water involved in those events. Permeable and pervious paving are established solutions that grant obvious benefits.

When and where possible, Indianapolis should use Indiana-based manufacturers that are making products that make a difference. For example, Green Tree Plastics in Evansville makes construction materials as well as park benches from recycled plastics. Terra Green Ceramics in Richmond recycles glass and ceramics for tiles. Shouldn’t we engage Hoosier companies that employ our neighbors to make products with a positive environmental impact while we rebuild our capital city?

Finally, given the scope of the Rebuild Indy effort, Indianapolis should require every project to follow the “Complete Streets” guidelines, which are gaining traction around the country. Complete Streets policies encourage municipal planners and engineers to design thoroughfares with all users in mind, including drivers, public-transportation vehicles and riders, pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as older people, children and people with disabilities. Streets designed with sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, traffic calming measures and treatments for the disabled improve pedestrian, bicycle and motor-vehicle safety and encourage physical activity.

When the majority of all trips are three miles or less, we should encourage more walking, biking or mass-transit solutions. If done successfully, Complete Streets designs help reduce oil consumption, thereby reducing pollution and improving individual health by encouraging walking or biking.

If well-thought-out and implemented, Rebuild Indy can not only improve our infrastructure, but also improve our economy, our environment and our health. That is a return on our tax dollars and rate dollars that is acceptable, given the amount of debt for which my children and I are now responsible.•


Williams is regional venture partner of Hopewell Ventures, a Midwest-focused private-equity firm. He can be reached at bwilliams@ibj.com.


  • Permeable Surfaces
    I too would like to commend Brian on his comments. I am in the process of launching a new revolutionary process and product to construct permeable driveways, streets parking lots and the like. It is time for all of us in this industry to apply all of our talents and improve what we do and how we do it. With the new requirements coming from the EPA and others we should embrace this mindset of thinking "outside the box" and implement new methods that improve the overall efficiency of all new construction and remodeling. This will only serve to better our industry and benefit our customers.
    Bryan White
    Arvis Solutions
  • Deconstruction Benefits
    In support of Brian William's article on Rebuilding a Sustainable Indianapolis, I would like to list a few specifics to his point concerning deconstruction.
    With 30 to 40 lbs of building materials per square foot of your typical house the average 2000 sq. ft house would have 30-40 Tons of waste that in the past has gone directly to the landfills
    Through the practice of deconstruction we as Certified Deconstruction
    Contractors can divert 75to80 percent of this material, through salvage, resale, and even donation of the materials to disaster relief, such as hurricane, earthquake or tornado victims. Inner city community centers and non-profits can distribute material for rehabbing of existing structures. The deconstruction industry can provide training to cities for entry level construction jobs for the unemployed and unemployed.
    In the private sector the economic benefits can be documented as well. There are IRS donation guidelines that can be followed to insure that the building material that is salvaged is credited to the owner in the form of a tax donation. Architects can use the Deconstruction method in infill projects to gain valuable LEED points and Developers can use the tax donation value of a home or building to offset initial land costs. All of this while preventing the landfills from filling up, and providing benefits for those less fortunate.

    Well said Brian......Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.


    Michael Altman, GMB,CGP
    Michael & Associates
  • Rebuilding Indy
    I would like to thank you for your comments regarding your viewpoint on rebuilding a sustainable Indianapolis. I have built permeable pavement streets in the Chicago market and have a street project being considered in the Indianapolis market as well as an involvement with your beautiful Cultural Trail project and find it most refreshing that your attitude towards a sustainable city is the right thing to do. I also find your endorsement of utilizing local or Indiana firms to supply these projects when possible a very viable method to better support your economy. I have copied a local representative of 4D/Schusters an Oldcastle Company that produce permeable pavers in your city in hopes they will get involved with your Rebuild Indy effort if they are not already involved.

    We have much to do to increase the quality of life issues by enhancing the ecological impact of urban and city modernization efforts and I do want to thank you for your well written words on this subject. Thanks

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  1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

  2. Merchants Square is back. The small strip center to the south of 116th is 100% leased, McAlister’s is doing well in the outlot building. The former O’Charleys is leased but is going through permitting with the State and the town of Carmel. Mac Grill is closing all of their Indy locations (not just Merchants) and this will allow for a new restaurant concept to backfill both of their locations. As for the north side of 116th a new dinner movie theater and brewery is under construction to fill most of the vacancy left by Hobby Lobby and Old Navy.

  3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

  4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

  5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.