40 ideas: More ideas to improve Indy’s culture and community

Build more sidewalks

Real estate broker Redfin rates cities on their walkability—and Indianapolis does not do well. It has a walk score of 31. Compare that to New York, which has the highest score, at 88. Or Chicago at 77. Or even Columbus, Ohio, with a score of 40. Why does that matter? In part because walkable neighborhoods make big cities feel like cozier communities, Redfin says. In addition, walking promotes exercise, which promotes health. So what to do in Indy? Build more sidewalks, says Aissatou Barry, a student at Purdue Polytechnic High School. His primary goal is to improve public safety. “We should have more sidewalks so walking around won’t be as dangerous,” he writes.

Close Monument Circle to traffic

Richard Meyer is not the first to suggest closing Monument Circle to traffic to promote tourism and social gathering—and he won’t be the last. But the idea, while it has been talked about, has never quite gained steam. In this case, Meyer suggests turning the Circle into “a European-style plaza … with shops, cafes and restaurants.”

Create a regional ideation council

Justin Ferguson, the director of urban design and planning at Meticulous Design and Architecture, notes that central Indiana has a large number of organizations and groups focused on areas of the region and the development of its communities, but they do not collaborate well. Instead, they are competing for the same audience, territory, funding and more. “When we attempt to tackle wicked problems such as crime, education, housing, jobs, health, etc., we tend to do so with only a few members at the table—many times with experts from only one or two areas of knowledge,” Ferguson writes. But, he adds, “to truly ideate, develop and put in place holistic solutions requires experts from all perspectives such as educators, health care professionals, municipal leaders, scientists, faith leaders, economists, engineers, artists, those in criminal justice, designers and planners as well as laypeople that are impacted by such issues.” He proposes a framework that will allow people from all those areas to come together to “discuss and workshop comprehensive solutions.” And he proposes a regional council that will create the space, time and modest stipends to help experts work.

Create multicultural community centers

Stephen Dunn, a 14-year-old student at Purdue Polytechnic High School, wants to see more discussion and empathy among people of different races and ethnicities. One solution is creating a series of community centers, perhaps organized by ZIP codes, that helps bring together people from all walks of Indianapolis life. “We, as communities, should branch out to attempt to change, improve and learn how to be empathetic to one another,” Stephen writes. One goal would be to host meetings or public forums at the centers to tackle big community problems. And once the pandemic is over, Stephen says, the centers could host social events and community dinners.

Move more government-owned land to private developers

Local government agencies across central Indiana own or control hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of property that are unused or underused and might be better turned over to private developers. Tim Jensen, president and CEO of Veridus Group Inc., suggests cities and towns can accelerate economic development by creating a regional entity that helps communities rethink that property and provides more objectivity in whether it needs to stay in government hands. “In the wake of the 2008 recession, municipalities were left to deal with thousands of vacant, abandoned and otherwise blighted properties with no effective strategy to identify, inventory and redevelop those properties comprehensively,” Jensen writes. “A regional strategy for identifying, classifying and maintaining these publicly owned properties will help prioritize sites for redevelopment, identify infrastructure needs necessary to make them marketable, and harness expertise to manage complexities such as clouded title or environmental contamination.” Then, he said, a regional redevelopment authority could help repurpose properties “to attract talent, business and investment while improving the quality of life for existing residents by adding park space and trails while remediating contaminated properties.”

Reduce crime by renovating abandoned spaces

By tackling abandoned buildings, Indianapolis can make a dent in its violent crime rate, writes Huma Moghul, a student at Purdue Polytechnic High School. “Indianapolis is ranked 13th as one of the most dangerous cities in America,” Huma writes. “But we can fix this!” Requiring owners to clean up abandoned properties, add working doors and windows to unsecured buildings, and renovate decaying properties will eliminate places for criminals to hide, drug deals to take place and gangs to gather. Huma points to University of Pennsylvania research that found a significant decrease in serious and nuisance crimes in areas in Philadelphia after the city started enforcing a similar ordinance in that city. “Not only will fixing these buildings contribute to an overall lower [crime] rate, but it will make the city come back to life with vibrant colors,” Huma says. “Having our youth’s creativity on the walls of the city will not only make the city colorful but also keep it modern.”

Close streets to promote community gatherings

Indianapolis can promote more outdoor activity by closing a few specific neighborhood streets one day a week or one day a month and inviting residents to come outside to socialize. “Several cities in the world have done something similar (Sunday is a common day) and the result is increased use and popularity over time,” writes Jerry Williams, a director at First Internet Bancorp. “That will be
good for public health, more exercise, and the environment, less pollution from vehicles.”

Reduce light pollution

The proliferation of light in cities can disrupt residents’ biochemical rhythms by fooling the brain about when it’s daytime and when it’s night, researchers say. Excessive light also “harms animals whose life cycles depend on dark,” according to National Geographic. That’s why Chad Thompson, owner of Thompson Home Sales, advocates reducing light pollution in Indianapolis by turning all public lights into dark-sky-friendly certified lighting. “This is where the light is directed down where it is needed and doesn’t allow the light to go in all directions,” Thompson writes. The city should also encourage homeowners to update their exterior lights to certified dark-sky-friendly lighting. “This will create a better opportunity to look up at the sky at night and see the stars,” Thompson says. “It will also reduce glare while driving and minimize neighbors’ exterior lights from becoming a nuisance. He points as an example to Flagstaff, Arizona, one of the first U.S. cities to tackle light pollution in a serious way and the first worldwide to be designated a dark-sky city, in 2001.

Turn the GM stamping plant into a tourist destination

Robert Wildman, an attorney at Greg Allen Cos., wants to turn the site of the former GM stamping plant, south of Washington Street just west of downtown, into a tourist destination with construction of a signature element (think the London Eye or the Space Needle in Seattle). “A carousel, a skating rink, a zipline, an esports venue, a virtual reality experience,” he writes. “These are uses that will generate other uses.” And he proposes a trolley system to tie the attraction to the Indianapolis Zoo and downtown. The stamping plant site is now owned by Ambrose Property Group, which originally planned a $1.4 billion development called Waterside there. But Ambrose announced in 2019 it no longer planned to pursue the project. It’s now in a dispute with the city over the land.

Use tiny-house villages to serve many housing needs

Tiny houses are inexpensive and flexible—they can be moved as needed and set up in countless configurations—which makes them a good solution for tough housing problems. Stephanie Kramer, an outside sales representative for electronics and networking products distributor Graybar, says they’re also a smart way to reduce a community’s environmental footprint. They use fewer building materials, are easier to build with recycled materials and require less energy to operate. Plus, they discourage overconsumption, which she argues is good for the environment and our society. “We have learned that we are able to change our way of thinking,” she writes. “We are able to change our behaviors when it counts.”  She also pointed to San Antonio, Texas, where the city has used tiny-house villages as a way to provide housing to homeless veterans and other individuals.•

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