Monday, January 11, 2010

Indianapolis Downtown,Midwest Urban Planning that actually works

Over the weekend we attended a home improvement show in Indianapolis at the Convention Center. Our trip downtown allowed me to really "look' at why Indianapolis is the downtown success story that it is and why it thrives while other cities are losing both population and business.
We decided to get to the show early ( about 10:30) because we knew if we got there much later it would be crowded. Even on a day when the temperature was 10 degrees, there is always something going on downtown. We parked just a couple of blocks from the convention center , which is undergoing another MAJOR expansion to handle the city's ever growing convention business. urban planning is a big issue in cold climate cities that compete with "warm weather venues as you have to get people from point A to B in a quick manner.
Indianapolis 'listened' to its business community which is why you find free parking on city streets on Saturday and Sunday. Something Cincinnati needs to do especially on Vine and Findlay Market in OTR and the downtown. Free parking is big incentive to small business's in the downtown area.
Another Planning "plus" is the parking garage system. Many multi level parking garages are underground. Indianapolis began this over 20 years ago. Multi level parking garages are often underground and have either buildings above , like Circle Center mall, or outdoor Plaza/green spaces like the area over by the Weston Hotel. Even existing above ground parking garages are 'connected'.
Connectivity is a huge plus in Indy. From an urban planning standpoint I am NOT a big fan of skybridges as I feel they tend to impede street level business. However that's not a problem in Indy as careful planing has resulted in business's located in the Circle Center Mall a 4 level Indoor Mall that, at a time when other downtown malls are dead, continues to stay full, or businesses are located in the Hotel complexes which are connected to adjacent office buildings via tunnels which means that local office workers can quickly get to lunch during the week. Even street level "non connected ' businesses like some restaurants or retail are less than a block from a tunnel, or skywalk and many have interior entrances to those interior pedestrian passage ways. In fact you can travel from the state office government center to the mall (over a mile) without braving the elements. The vast majority of the Hotels are part of that connectivity network and the city can move tens of thousands of people after major events via this system of skybridges, tunnels and wide city streets.
A great example of the connectivity is the Arts garden a glass and steel structure built literally above an intersection that connects Circle Center Mall, The Claypool Hotel complex, and the 5 star Conrad Hotel and luxury condominiums. This venue has full schedule of arts and music events and you will find downtown office workers on their breaks enjoying a variety of entertainment.
Adaptability has been a key component. Urban Planners have looked at preserving historic streetfronts while adaptively reusing the space in new buildings behind them. Circle Center Mall for example preserved many historic building fronts and complete historic buildings as part of its mall project while reusing them in new combination of Office/retail use. Many former office buildings downtown are now luxury condos and some have had completely new building built behind them that house say parking garages with 1st floor retail. The restaurant accross the street in this photo occupies level 1 while housing a multi level parking garage above it . All behind a 1920 historic building facade that was saved as part of the new construction that took place behind it.

That adaptability allows the city to host multiple events where up to 150,000 people may be able to attend a variety of events. Given the city's compact downtown it is the only city I know capable of handling a football game, a basketball game and concerts and conventions at the same time.

While other cities struggle with deciding what they "want to be", Indianapolis leads the midwest with competent urban planing that listened and combines retail, convention, office and residential housing in a thought full manner. Other cities need to look at that sucess rather than trying to 'reinvent' the wheel.

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