Iconic Structures of Indiana: Hinkle Fieldhouse

2010.03.05

Butler University is located to the north of downtown Indianapolis.  Butler University is a great institution and is well known for its basketball team (currently ranked 11th in the nation).  The strength of the current team stems from the strong basketball traditions of Indiana and the investment that the citizens have made in this sport.  Hinkle Fieldhouse is evidence of this support, which was built with money donated by local businessmen. 

The Fieldhouse is a massive building built specifically to showcase basketball

 
More information can be found at the website hosted by Butler University, or at the Hinkle Fieldhouse Wikipedia entry.   The structure is named after Tony Hinkle, a former coach who created the orange basketball and developed the dribbling action of the game.

  
The building was renamed after former coach Hinkle in 1966
The structure was built in 1928, and is notable as one of the first “fieldhouse” college gymnasiums.  Almost factory-like in its simplicity, it has guided basketball arena designs such as Conseco Fieldhouse and it was the basis for the fieldhouse styling of Lucas Oil Stadium
Structurally, it is composed of a brick masonry facade with steel framing supporting most of the walls and the internal structures.  The roof is a barrel vault of trussed steel 3-pin arches
 
The exterior has windows in key locations to catch natural light
The end walls are quite tall and require steel girts to brace them against wind
The massive building is oriented roughly east-west, and originally the court was as well.  However, a few years after its construction the court was reoriented north-south.  This gave more spectactors a “half-court” seat and is generally a better arrangement.  This goes to show how early this building was built, as the sport was still developing and gaining in popularity around the nation, whereas Indiana already had built the “basketball cathedral” that was the largest collegiate fieldhouse for many years.
 
Many features were upgraded in a 1989 renovation
The roof trusses are exposed and are well integrated into the interior design.  The spectator seating allows access to many of the trusses, so that people can see the rivets and handiwork involved with the steelwork of that age.  Each truss has three pin hinges, so that it can accommodate movement and settlement without inducing large forces in the steel members near the center. 
The base of each truss is easily accessible from the spectator seating area

A modern scoreboard is suspended from the trusses that span over the court 
 The central pin is visible at the midpoint of each truss, providing an ideal hinge
Hinkle fieldhouse is a great piece of history.  It has many quirky features that show how the designers were willing to experiment with basketball and how to accommodate the spectators.  The structure has changed alongside the game that is now popular around the world.  
The spirit of place and legacy comes alive in a structure like this.  For Hinkle fieldhouse to remain so popular and useful after so many years is testament to the original investment over 80 years ago.  Few structures represent a state as well as Hinkle Fieldhouse represents Indiana.

Action on the court is some of the best in the world

Indy Connect Meeting

2010.02.25

I attended an Indy Connect meeting this Tuesday, February 23rd at Pike High School (Northwest Indy).  The Indy Connect is a joint venture between the Indy MPO, CIRTA, and IndyGo.  The meetings are the first step towards the creation of a new Long-Range Transportation Plan.

These meetings are a great opportunity to meet and discuss issues with a group of people that determine the future of Indianapolis transportation.  I strongly encourage anyone interested in the state of transportation in our city, including pedestrian, biking, rail transit, bus transit, and automobility to attend one of these meetings.  The planners need feedback to ensure they are delivering the best plan possible.

The planners are real people and not politicians.  There is no need to argue with them or blame them for the traffic jam that happened on the way to work.  Their job is to interpret the values of the community and form a comprehensive strategy to meet the region’s needs.  It is clear that the values of our region are changing.  While many continue to argue for more and wider roads, the MPO realizes that there is no strategy that can meet the region’s needs that does not involve multiple modes of transportation. 

I have some suggestions to help anyone interested in attending on of these meetings to get the most from their experience.  First of all, come prepared to discuss.  The room is filled with stations representing important issues, such as biking or pedestrian plans, with planners hosting each one.  This is everyone’s chance to discuss these issues in-depth with the planners.  I suggest bringing a list of questions about topics that matter.

Next, come prepared to fill out questionnaires and surveys.  Each station has a special survey for people to complete.  The typical survey asks people to prioritize their concerns about different issues.  At the bottom of each survey is a free response area where people can write down anything they want.

Finally, feel free to disregard the static.  Some people love to say “NO!” and these events are no exception.  It is unlikely that anyone with this attitude will change their mind, so concentrate instead on how to learn from the planners and how to communicate priorities of the public to them in a civil manner.

Indy Parking Policies Fail its Citizens

2010.02.24

Many people are now familiar with the MDC hearing examiner’s recent denial of a variance.  Current coverage on IBJ’s Property Lines, Huston St Racing (w/photos), and Urban Indy.  This variance would have allowed a renovation of an old urban property consistent with its original and proposed use.  Basically, the developers wanted to eliminate the requirement for off-street parking.

The neighboring property owners were worried this would force the tenants to park illegally in nearby surface lots.  After review of the case and a private meeting with the interested parties, the Hearing Examiner concluded that no compromise was forthcoming and denied the petition for a variance.

I think the Indianapolis planning staff summarized the issue quite well in their analysis, which recommended *approval* of the petition.  Here is the planning staff’s opinion:

Urban sites should be developed to the highest intensity possible. To require this site to meet the required off-street parking standards, would require the demolition of a portion of the building or acquisition of adjacent sites. A practical difficulty is met by this request since the site is fully developed. Additionally, there are several IndyGo bus routes that travel along Meridian Street and nearby streets that substantially reduce the need for parking. Finally, it is a common and preferred planning method that little or no off-street parking be added to a reuse of an inner city site. If residents require off-street parking, there are three off-street parking sites directly adjacent to the site to the north, northeast and east that could meet that need.

MDC documents are here (p. 85), results from the hearing are here (p. 3).

I think it is time that Indianapolis accepts that off-street parking requirements are the bane of true urban renewal.  The minimum parking requirements are a senseless way to devalue our CBD.  They are an existential threat to urban life, and therefore the core identity of Indianapolis.

Someone raised an interesting question on the IBJ website:  What are the requirements for becoming a hearing examiner in Indianapolis?  I suggest we remake the qualifications process, and that it only have 1 component:  survive in Indy for one month without a car, and then we’ll take you.  A human’s eye view of the city might do some of these people some good.

One of the commenters on Huston Street Racing offered an apology of the Examiners actions, stating:

He is a thoughtful and even-handed person, and a thorough lawyer. He is not a dolt or hack, as portrayed on the IBJ comments thread. …  It appears to be his belief that someone will part with some parking spaces if offered enough money to do so. 

All of this may be true, I won’t dispute it.  But off-street parking should *never* have become an issue with this property.  I am not sure the examiner even read the planner’s report, because it pretty clearly laid down the rationale against parking requirements and why they wouldn’t apply in this case anyways.  Just in case anyone didn’t want to read the full report, or even my summary, just read the part in bold above.  One sentence is all you need to know.

This situation is yet another lost opportunity for a representative of the City of Indianapolis to address the real infrastructural problems that have ruined the city.  Indianapolis I love you, but you’re bringing me down.

Infrastructure is Key to Successful City Market

2010.02.20
The City Market Building

The Indianapolis City Market building is a treasure of downtown.  The original structure was built in 1886.  Unfortunately, the latest incarnation of the City Market has been a financial failure.  It did not manage to turn a profit and the city was spending a significant amount on subsidizing higher-than-expected utility costs.  (It’s confusing to me why the city did not market this property and the business model more effectively – the building is on National Register but doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page)  The silver lining of this failure is that we now have an opportunity to study the building and see what can be done with it.  It is my understanding that the city wants to:

  1. Set up the market as a self-sufficient enterprise; currently the city subsidizes utility costs
  2. Use the structure and property to draw people downtown
  3. Integrate with cultural trail and proposed Market Square Arena replacement

In order to facilitate these changes, the city issued an RFP last year and six proposals were announced in January.  See the IBJ article for a full run-down of these options. I thought many of these presented some exciting new ideas for the downtown space.  It will be interesting to see if the city chooses one of these as a winner, or just continues to operate the market as-is, or tries to combine ideas into a chimera-like blend of proposals.  

A Sign of the Times for City Market

If the city chooses to operate this space as a market or a space for restaurants, they would be wise to read the critiques of the previous business model.  American Dirt’s thorough diagnosis of the situation (part I and part II) laid bare many of the problems and proposed many of the solutions.  I accept his work completely, but I also want to add some of my own thoughts. 

My own opinion about the city market proposals is that the city can choose to do any of these proposals, or none, and it will result in failure.  There are underlying infrastructural issues that the city has refused to address in the past few decades, and these will act as a significant detractor for people using the property.

The Indianapolis City Market must be supported by a change in the priorities of the city, its policies, and its infrastructure.  In particular, the following issues must be addressed:

  1. Make pedestrians the priority of downtown planning
  2. End traffic management policies that have high cost and little benefit
  3. Make design and excellence an integral part of city products
  4. Don’t force tall buildings until market rates support them
  5. Update building codes to make downtown areas a haven for pedestrian streetlife
  6. Stop subsidizing free parking

To see how these issues can be addressed in the planning for the City Market renovation, I have made a site plan showing the different areas of the property and its surrounding infrastructure.  With the rest of this entry, I have detailed specific actions that can help create a new future for the City Market property.


Aerial View of the East Market St Area

Aerial View of the City Market

Main Building
The original city market building has stood up to the test of time well.  The brick materials and arch windows matched nearby buildings, creating a style that set the area apart from the business area or the state capitol area.  It was created as a way to host market activities indoors, not dissimilar from its most current incarnation.  The best the city had to offer.

City Market Building from courthouse tower in 1888 (HABS)

To be honest, this building was not well suited for its purpose.  The building is long and tall.  The interior aspect ratios, high windows, poor lighting, double-height cathedral ceiling, and entry vestibules make it seem very similar to sacred architecture.  This building would be more effective as a church than a market. 

The Cathedral of Independent Commerce

In its current configuration a mezzanine wraps all around the exterior walls and a central area in the middle is used for market vendors.  This arrangement allows for most of the square footage to be used as leasable space, but it does not create a special relationship between the viewer and the space.  In fact, this space forces a feeling of agoraphobia rather than a feeling of comfort and closeness.  Contrast this with Circle Center Mall.  It is a similar space, tall and long, but has overcome its spatial arrangement to create areas that encourage exploration, interaction, and commerce.

I think the upcoming work on the City Market will need to address whether this space should really be used as a market or if there is a higher and better use.  In any case, this space will need to overcome the problems inherent in its configuration in order to be successful.  Honestly, I don’t know of many churches that have been converted into street markets. 

A view of the enclosed market space

Another issue that will need to be addressed in the renovation is the lack of quality workmanship in the city market.  The previous renovations focused more on budget than on excellence.  I got a close look at the building a few years ago when I was responsible for designing structural support for the mezzanine expansion.  The original structure, including the walls and roof, is beautiful.  There is some great handiwork preserved in them.  Unfortunately, the members from 1970 and newer look out of place because there was no attention to detail.  Exposed bolts, exposed welds, carrier angles, and all sorts of steelwork that should have been higher quality or hidden. 

The poor attention to detail creates some aesthetic problems

I have never been happy with the mezzanine.  Looking at all of the newer work, in addition to the doors, and the market vendors spaces, all these items just look cheap.  The sad thing is they aren’t cheap.  They probably were very expensive.  If the city wants to preserve historic properties, then they need to fully invested in the process.  The 1970′s were a different time, but any new work should meet the stricter requirements of Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel (AESS) at a minimum. 

One specific complaint that the city has about the main building is that it is expensive to heat.  I think one reason for this is that the city tried to cut corners when the 2007 renovation was done.  They reused the old HVAC equipment rather than spending the money to upgrade to newer equipment and systems.  As can be seen in the photo below, the work required a new slab so why did they not just put in a radiant heating system at the same time?  Combined with a geo-tied heat pump, the city could be saving many tens of thousands of dollars over the design life.  

An ideal time to install radiant heating system (Feb 2007)

If the City Market is going to be the “best of Indy” then we need to make sure everything in it is saying the right thing about our city.  Design excellence, product excellence, and operational excellence.  Now and forever.

Historically insensitive ducting, exposed speaker wires fastened to the steel with zip-ties

The Wings
If my criticisms of the main space include poor spatial arrangement and poor lighting, then my criticisms of the wing spaces are *dreadful* spatial arrangement and *dreadful* lighting.  The catacombs below the market building probably have more charm than these spaces.

I have no problem mixing modern and historic architecture, and certainly I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid for the Louvre or the Indianapolis Central Library proved that it can be a good idea.  But central to this idea of mixing old and new is that the old and the new must both be able to stand on their own as successful works of architecture.

I can’t believe they built two of these

Here’s a quick rundown on why I hate these wings:

  • Too much unfiltered light
    • Traditional buildings have 25% transparency on the southern face
    • The wings boast 100% transparency;  too hot in summer, too cold in winter
  • No windows on east, west, and north Faces
    • Nothing to offset the blinding effect from the south 
    • Difficult to accommodate lack of natural light, too many fluorescent make-up lights
  • Nothing to look at
    • Is the CCB worthy of that much attention?
    • Why is there a gravel parking lot across the street?
    • People watching is only interesting when there are people to watch

If someone proposed to tear down these wings, I would not object.  If people want them to stay, as some sort of historic preservation effort, then I would not object to that either.  I suppose they do kind of mirror the modern style of the Death Star, er CCB.  But don’t expect them to contribute to a sort of dynamic, shoppers paradise kind of downtown area.  Because these buildings are horrible.

East Plaza
The main concept that I wish to communicate about this area is that pedestrian plazas should not be parking lots.  Please Indianapolis, make pedestrians the priority of downtown planning.  With our new priority in place, we realize that it was a horrible idea to run vehicular traffic through a plaza.  Glad we got that settled.

The conversation pit and skewed parking lanes eliminate pedestrian usage

Now, lets address the other problems with this space.  The conversation pit sucks.  I appreciate that some mid-century modern visionaries tried to make these work in expensive homes.  But to use this in a public space?  I can’t imagine that random strangers looking for a place to sit for a few minutes would choose a space that:

  • Forces them to look at other people
  • Forces other people to look at them
  • Forces people to gather in a small area rather than spreading out, filling in as others join the area
  • Prevents any use of the space other than talking in a group
  • Discourages use by any disabled, elderly, or people with strollers
  • Conversation Pit?  Next to police car parking, an urban highway, and a county court?  

This space can be so much better.  Turn it into a real plaza, one that has a real chance at attracting pedestrians, and drawing their attention away from each other towards a central or distributed feature (think Columbus Circle).  Integrate into the pedestrian plans, make this the eastern pedestrian gateway for the cultural trail towards the Circle. 

West Plaza
How many plazas does an area surrounded by parking lots really need?  Counting the east and west City Market plazas, and adding the 1/2 block CCB plaza, we have lots of wasted space.  This is the equivalent of throwing away tax revenue.  I think some of these spaces need to return to profitable use.  But lets assume the city wants to keep its own building surrounded by empty plazas, parking lots, and urban highways.  How can the west plaza area be rebuilt to take advantage of its location and encourage pedestrian traffic?

Tables, chairs, and benches have been installed to give the impression of streetlife

I think that this area should be rebuilt along market street to provide frontage area for businesses.  The area currently used for tables and chairs can be retained (at a new elevation) as patio seating if desired.  The new building could incorporate the random arch retained from an earlier demolition.  This new building would continue the streetfront shopping experience from the western blocks and provide a space for restaurants, brewery/restaurants, or fast-food eateries.  Putting the seating out back but keeping the space open to Delaware St would preserve the opportunity for people-watching.  I would always recommend street level dining as an option but traffic would need to be calmed for this to be effective.

Why tear down a building if you can’t replace it with something useful?

My final recommendation for the plaza space (and this applies to city market plazas and the CCB plaza) is to remove those ugly brick planters.  They are a disaster as far as placemaking is concerned.  They contribute nothing to the area and take up useful real estate.  They divide rather than integrate.  They look cheap.  And they are ugly. 

North Lot
Hopefully this area will be developed as urban town-homes in the near future.  This will bring in new pedestrian traffic.  Of course, the city and the developer could always ruin this opportunity by enforcing the rules of the parking requirements.  The development codes in US cities must have been developed by some weird urban designers with a fetish for car fenders.  Totally not needed in downtown areas.  (see The High Cost of Free Parking if interested in reading more)

Alabama St and Market St intersection, now a gravel parking lot

To be honest, I don’t know where CBD lines are drawn and what parking requirements are set for this area.  Let me be clear about this, though.  Any requirement greater than zero (0) cars is a mistake. Just remember, neighbors don’t complain about density, they complain about more cars.  No additional cars means no remonstrators at the next hearing.

South Lot
The former Market Square Arena stood here, which came and went before I moved to Indianapolis.  Finding a developer for this plot of land has been difficult, since at least 2001.  The discussions I have seen regarding this project have been worrisome to me.  They seem to focus on how tall to make this building, how many car parking spots they can shoehorn onto the project, and how much tax abatement will be gifted to the project.

The replacement for Market Square Arena presents a great opportunity

If we review the original list of priorities above, we can see that these discussions are heading in the wrong way.  Indianapolis does not need another empty skyscraper, and we don’t need any more parking spots.  We probably don’t need another tax subsidized construction project, but I think that is dependent on the particular project so I’ll hold my tongue for now.  I think creating a project that benefits the entire downtown region would be worth some subsidizing, but not a new enclave that just provides a gated community downtown.

If the city is going to subsidize construction and operation for a few years, then the citizens deserve input into what goes in here.  I recommend a 3-4 story structure built out to the property lines, with no parking whatsoever aside from on-street parking.  All bottom floor streetfront space must be small, leasable spaces.  Upper floors can be mega-stores, restaurants, residential, or whatever the market will support.

While we are on the subject of parking, maybe the city of Indianapolis needs to re-evaluate its theory on parking space availability.  I have no sympathy for the laments of developers who refuse to build unless they have a dedicated parking facility.  You won’t find a single urban parking expert who thinks that downtown Indianapolis is lacking parking spaces.

Delaware, Market, and Alabama Streets
Here we come to the main problem with the City Market.  Vehicular traffic has been given so many advantages compared with pedestrian traffic in downtown Indianapolis that modern citizens don’t even know what we have given up.  The streets in cities used to be filled with people instead of cars.  A few months back Infrastructurist posted a video of San Francisco in 1905 from a Market Street streetcar, it is a perfect model of what cities can become when vehicles are regulated properly.  The video is below:


Many of the proposals for the City Market, and certainly my own thoughts and ideas, suggest that the city address the transportation infrastructure problems surrounding the building site if the overall project is to be successful. The best way to begin the transformation from vehicular oriented to pedestrian oriented is to roll back the traffic management schemes that increase vehicle speed.

Both Delaware and Alabama are one-way streets.  This is unnecessary.  It allows the cars to speed through the area.  This is the most dense neighborhood in the state, so it is beyond my ability to understand why the city wants quicker traffic in this area.  Elimination of the one-way street infrastructure will create psychological friction between the travel directions and slow down traffic.  A small decrease in vehicular speed leads to a large increase in pedestrian safety.  

The one-way streets also limit economic activity from tourists and convenience shopping.  Both elements are key to any City Market proposal.  By allowing people to drive by the structure from any direction they are maximizing visibility and the chance to make a sale.

Another important infrastructural issue is connectivity.  To take advantage of the City Market’s location, the city should create a portal or gateway element between the new cultural trail and the circle.  It doesn’t have to be expensive or voluminous, maybe just LED signs or something visual.

The bike hub proposal is a good idea, in my opinion, and would be a great way to engage a significant portion of citizens who choose a different form of transportation.  If the bike hub proposal doesn’t win this time around, I would love to see it used for the plaza just south of the CCB.  That area is in desperate need of a makeover. 

The final infrastructural issue that needs to be addressed is public transit.  The new CITI plan has been released and would use Washington Street as a light-rail corridor.  This proximity to a heavily traveled corridor would mean many potential customers (without cars or a need to park them).  If the city doesn’t begin taking this into consideration then a real chance at greatness could be lost.

Conclusions
The city should take this opportunity to think about what the City Market will be used for in 20 years, and while downtown should continue growing eastward the City Market will always remain the most significant historic property in the area.  Maybe acting as a gateway or centerpiece of a special district would be a good use, similar to the old Armory in the Pearl District of Portland.

I still believe that any of the proposals for a new use of the City Market building would be a good step forward, as most investments in historic assets tend to pay off in the long run.  The City of Indianapolis will be well served by these ideas.  However, none of these ideas alone will be sufficient to stave off financial ruin after the initial Wow! factor wears off.

The City must take the initiative to look at the real causes of urban malaise in Central Indiana.  The policies governing pedestrian rights, vehicular traffic management, and lack of connectivity are all infrastructural issues that have simple but far and long-reaching consequences.  If we get the policies right, the future of our urban core will be shining brightly once again.

New Transportation Plan for Indianapolis

2010.02.11

For anyone interested in seeing the next vision for transportation in Indianapolis, please visit the website at Indy Connect.

This study recommends proven technologies, and proven infrastructure investments.  It starts small, with an affordable and effective system that can quickly integrate into the streetscapes of Indianapolis. I approve of this plan, it is a great start to a city-wide transit system.

There are two problems with this proposal that we should seek solutions to in the public input phase:

  1. Limited Coverage Area for Rail
  2. Ability of Special Interests to Influence Outcome

Limited Coverage Area for Rail
The first issue will be present no matter how the system is arranged.  No system can provide the convenience of a transit stop 1 block away from each front door. 

The main problem here is that there is always a conflict between the need for especially dense clusters, or Transit-Oriented-Development, and the need for tax investments to be spread around equally.  In the case of transportation planning, simple is best.  The proposed plan lays out a very simple system.  This would be most efficient and probably most successful.  Any deviations from the simple plan will result in a confusing legacy that will inhibit future use. 

Whatever layout is chosen, the proponents of transit must ensure that a comprehensive plan will be developed that will involve the entire city.  A certain amount of this has been done in the plan, whereby express bus routes, expanded bus service, and road expansions have been proposed.  Unfortunately, this is not yet comprehensive.  A truly comprehensive plan must show how every person in the city will benefit from this proposal.   

The study authors readily admit that all transportation planning is connected.  Let’s do more than acknowledge this fact, lets use it to our advantage.  The plan can show that with complete streets policies, integrated and interconnected multi-modal transportation systems, walk-to-school subsidies, and similar programs, the transportation system in Indianapolis and the surrounding counties can be improved for at least 95% of the residents over the next 20 years. 

Ability of Special Interests to Influence Outcome
This is part I am most concerned about.  Many interest groups will be attempting to influence the study results so that their constituents will be served.  The system was most likely optimized during the study process, so any changes to the proposed system can have negative consequences for the city as a whole.

My worst fear is that a repeat of the Miami transit system will occur, where special interests blocked a transit line to the airport to maintain the monopoly of taxi service.  Since then, Miami has been struggling to maintain service between the most important source of tourists and their destinations with express bus service.  Short-sighted compromises to the business community can have horrible consequences.

Indianapolis needs every advantage it can get when competing for big events like the Superbowl, World-cup hosting, and many other smaller events and conventions.  The City can not afford to put in a transit system that satisfies the special interest groups while hurting the city’s prospects in attracting tourism and conventions.

Conclusions

In the end, I see any investment in the city’s alternative (non-highway) transportation system as a great step forward.  I imagine that it will facilitate a lot of independent investments, so that when it is fully built the city will see property values directly increased by a large factor compared to its cost.  This is equivalent to building equity in the city.  We can leave a more valuable city to the future citizens.

And the final reason I approve of this plan is because it is not about spending more, it is about shifting our priorities.  We can take a small amount of funding from our single mode of transport (highways) and shift it to 4 or 5 different modes of transport.  This would directly reflect the wishes of the population to start investing in multiple modes of transportation, without abandoning our legacy infrastructure in automobiles. 

I trust that the study’s authors have taken a neutral position and truly evaluated the costs and benefits of the many options.  With faith in their efforts (to be verified by a thorough evaluation of their report later), I hope that we put this plan into action as soon as the next stage begins!

UPDATE: IND International Airport

2009.11.11

Structure Magazine just published their steel focus issue, which features an article on the new IND airport terminal building. The article was written by the structural engineers and adds to the information I presented in my own post on the IND airport.

Also, I took some newer photos of the terminal and wanted to post them along with some closeups of the tensile membrane structures. So without further ado here are the terminal and concourse photos:

A view of the concourse from the parking structure

Terminal A from the South

The bridge link between the concourse and ground transportation center

View of the canopy structure and departing flight dropoff

As mentioned above, I also got some photos of the membrane structures for those of us who love that kind of thing. These were designed and built by Geiger Engineers.

Central canopy over parking corridor

Underside of the canopy

Canopy framing details

Vehicle ramp corkscrew canopy

Corkscrew transition and central hub behind

Edge connection details

My contribution to the Airport was the PARCS building (where they eat your money) – my firm did the building and foundation structural design, Geiger did the canopy design

Parking Access and Revenue Control System (PARCS) Building

Indianapolis Cultural Trail

2009.10.16

I love the cultural trail. It provides a guiding path through downtown and reassures visitors and residents that they are headed in the right direction. It attracts a lot of press and is a showcase for the great things happening in downtown Indianapolis. The people who made this project happen, either through donations or hard work, deserve to lauded for their efforts.


However, in the end I worry that the reason this urban trail is so successful is because downtown Indianapolis is entirely unlivable without it. Because the Cultural Trail, while great and necessary, is a very expensive piece of infrastructure that does what many cities can do for free.

2009 SustainIndy Report and Greening of the CCB

2009.10.14

The city of Indianapolis dropped two big reports this week, the state of sustainability report for 2009 and a special report from the Rocky Mountain Institute on the Greening of the CCB.

The 2009 SustainIndy Report details the efforts made to move the City of Indianapolis further towards its goal of becoming “the most sustainable city in the Midwest.” The report includes details on bike lanes, stormwater/CSO issues, and some general feel-good stuff. I think the most important part of this report is that it was produced at all. Sustainability is not an easy thing to argue for in the conservative climate of Indianapolis, so I think the city should feel proud to get this thing off the ground.

The Greening of the CCB report is also great step forward for city. This report lays the foundation for next few decades of operation and maintenance of one the city’s most expensive properties. While I don’t know what exact steps will be taken to make this a “national forerunner in sustainability,” I strongly approve of the report’s goal to make the CCB a “sustainable lab for the Indianapolis” that is “radically resource efficient.”



Looking into the future, I think that the city needs to accomplish some short-term and long-term goals to gain credibility as a green city. The current emphasis on pedestrian accessibility and mixed-mode transportation is a good start. The city needs to continue building on its success with the sidewalk policy, the bike lanes, the cultural trail, greenways, and the ICE commuter buses. Transportation accounts for 30% of emissions, so reducing the need for driving has a big effect on sustainability. Lowering VMT per capita is essential, and the city should make this priority #1 in their quest for sustainability.

Obviously, sustainability should not be an end unto itself. But sustainability efforts can produce enormous life quality improvements. One way to lower per capita VMT and make the city more pleasant and community oriented is to focus on land use reform. I wrote an entry about downtown Indy already, but since urban living is more sustainable than suburban/rural living, I think it fits this topic as well. One important update since that time is a great article “The Legend of the Skyscraper Fairy” that directly addresses the failure of city governments to proactively address urban land use (h/t to Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space).

It seems as if the first objective of every mayor is to create an enormous structure in the Indy skyline and ensure a permanent legacy. I don’t have a problem with this except when it conflicts with the principles of good urban design. A walkable downtown will have no more than 30 feet between storefronts. If the city wants a Market Square tower building, then it needs to have a ground level floor full of small storefronts. The city should concentrate on the experience of pedestrians walking on Alabama Street, not on what a driver sees from I-70.

Managing green assets should be priority #2. Coincidentally, Urbanophile posted a similar entry on this yesterday. This is a long-term priority, but Indianapolis needs to understand that Indy Parks has a much greater role to play in sustainability. The city currently has a goal of putting green roofs on park buildings. This will not provide a systemic benefit, as there is already plenty of green space in those areas. Indianapolis needs to think bigger.


Our city owned parklands can provide regional benefits. For example, the properties can provide stormwater relief and bio-diversity within the city. For this to happen, the parklands need to be proactively managed and carefully preserved. People are not the only animals in this city. Just as pedestrians and bicyclists need continuous paths to maintain a healthy population, the flora and fauna filling our city need corridors to communicate and travel.

In my own neighborhood I see foxes, deer, rabbits, hawks, and all sorts of varied trees. Each of these species has a part in our ecosystem. And don’t worry about wild animals, the most dangerous things in our city will always be the four-wheeled monsters we keep in our garages.


Unfortunately, the Indy Parks budget has been decimated over the past few years. We need the city to commit resources to help manage these lands. One way to save money for the city is to let some areas remain unmowed and untrafficked for the sake of bio-diversity. If the city is uncomfortable with the money required, then maybe a few starter grants should be applied for. To help manage these issues, I think that Indy Parks be given their own director of sustainability, because the goals for urban (human) sustainability are quite different from ecological sustainability.

The city should also use the parks as an opportunity for education and public awareness. The website of Indy Parks can feature stories about how the green parklands affects the sustainability of the city. Currently, there is just no realization that our Parks are major contributors to our welfare. There is also no long-term plan that integrates parkland management into the concept of sustainability. This is an ideal opportunity for Indianapolis to differentiate itself from other Midwest cities and lead sustainability efforts into the next decade.

Indianapolis Office of Code Enforcement

2009.10.12

I am in favor of stricter building code enforcement. Especially in Indianapolis, where typically only a sample of projects are reviewed. This new department will bring stability and standardization to the review process. Hopefully any problems related to sidewalks and accessibility (which are often brought up on the Indianapolis blogosphere) will be identified early in the design process and addressed.

The department will be staffed by “building code analysts” who will thoroughly review each project. Any problems will be flagged wherein the building designers must answer the questions raised. This falls under the police powers of government and public safety should improve from the efforts.

It is important for engineers to realize that our goal is life safety, and that working with building code enforcement is a necessary step in the process. It is not criticism, it is an independent review. My neighbor in the city government says designers “have no idea how much this will change things.” I don’t know whether to be frightened or excited, but I’m leaning towards excitement.

Council Approves Office of Code Enforcement
Office of Code Enforcement

On June 29, the City-County Council approved the city’s first Department of Code Enforcement.
The current acting Office of Code Enforcement, created by Executive Order in February 2009 to streamline the city’s licensing, permitting, inspection and abatement functions, will become a permanent city department effective January 1, 2010.

“This new agency has answered the call to step up enforcement actions and tackle issues that threaten public safety and the overall health of our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Greg Ballard.

“Overgrown weeds, abandoned cars, abandoned properties, unsafe buildings and other property maintenance conditions attract crime, reduce property values and make communities less desirable. Focusing new resources on these issues will better equip us to keep our city clean, safe and vibrant and will do so using a self-funding model that will not burden taxpayers.”
The Council’s approval transfers the following code enforcement functions to the new department:

  • Licenses and permits
  • Building, infrastructure
  • and zoning inspections
  • Property maintenance
  • Unsafe buildings
  • High weeds and grass
  • Illegal dumping
  • Forestry
  • Towing
  • Weights & Measures

“We have worked diligently over the past few months to streamline code enforcement processes that have been unnecessarily complicated and often outdated,” said Rick Powers, Director of the Office of Code Enforcement. “By consolidating code enforcement functions into one department and providing a one-stop shop, we are more accessible and able to provide better service to the public.”

With this new charge, the Office of Code Enforcement has been overhauling city enforcement initiatives through new, refocused measures, including:

  • Cracking down on unlicensed and non-compliant businesses
  • Combating high weeds and grass by cutting the abatement process time in half
  • Intensifying the focus on nuisance abatement and property maintenance
  • Addressing habitual violators through a new case management system and a partnership with city prosecutors to expedite priority cases
  • Joining the Mayors’ vacant and abandoned properties initiatives
  • Preparing the launch of mobile inspector offices to increase productivity
  • Utilizing Six Sigma expertise to refine and improve processes to optimize efficiency and service

All citizen reports should be directed to the Mayor’s Action Center at 327-4MAC (327-4622). To learn more about the Office of Code Enforcement, visit www.indy.gov/oce.

Categories : code  Indianapolis  policy

How Large is Downtown Indy?

2009.10.02

Monument Circle is the heart of Indianapolis. It marks the center of downtown, the central business district. I love this part of town. However, as I have been exploring downtown over the course of my escapades, I have come to realize that Indianapolis does not have a big “downtown” region. My sister best explained it during a visit when she asked “isn’t downtown supposed to have buildings?” She lives in NYC so I excused her comment, but she did have a point.

This prompted me to start thinking about downtown as it truly exists, not as we wish it. As far as I can tell, downtown Indy only extends within two blocks of the Circle in any direction. This is the true downtown. If you walk two blocks away you are presented with parking lots, buildings that are only open for special events, and monumental parks lined with unfriendly streetscapes.

This small plot of land is only a remant of the city that was (area of interest in blue)

Looking at the area within two blocks of the circle, I think it is clear why this meets the definition of downtown. Great sidewalks, calm traffic, storefronts, tall buildings (at least 3 stories), and lots of pedestrian options. It is somewhat unfortunate that the urban towers have been set into this downtown region, because they have typically eschewed storefront space and brought parking garages with them. That is truly my only complaint, because otherwise this central core is all right.

Monument Circle is extraordinary

Traffic is managed within the circle by civic goodwill instead of traffic signals

Traveling westwards, the pedestrian environment breaks down at Capitol Ave. The state government buildings are obviously necessary, but many of them have abandoned good urban design principles. Looking at the aerial view, it is clear that few properties exist between Capitol Ave. and Haughville that would attract a pedestrian.

The east side of downtown has too much green and too many mega-projects

A pedestrian would have to walk for several blocks along uninviting, uninteresting streetscapes. Even the museum campus is set far back from the sidewalk. This helps the buildings take advantage of the canal, but the frontage along Washington St is a wasteland.

This streetscape is fronted by buildings set back from (or on top of) the sidewalk

Can this even be classified as a sidewalk? Or did the street grow?

Northwest from the circle we find parking lots. Not much else for a downtown experience. And the one-way streets with timed lights sure make driving fast seem easy.

Walking East from the Circle rewards visitors with this charming site, but then…

…nothing but parking lots and suburban apartments to thrill our visitors

Directly north is our mall of city parks. Also some non-urban buildings. And more parking lots. Still nothing attractive to pedestrians. The library has a great location but we are missing a continuous pedestrian streetscape from the circle to the library door.


The problem with this area is that none of the buildings that front the park spaces are useful to pedestrians. They are just big plots of green that beautify the view for the nearby towers. I am not trying to minimize the importance of the parks, they are wonderful. But they need to be surrounded by properties that address it appropriately. The first step towards correcting this is to reduce one-way streets and slow down traffic. The park will never succeed as an island surrounded by an urban highway.

The Star might find a connection to the city if they physically connect to it

A permit-only parking lot – not a preferred use for this location

Walking northeast from the circle leads to Mass Ave, or at least it does after you walk past some more parking lots. Mass Ave is one of the crown jewels of downtown Indianapolis. And what did the city have to do to achieve this? Two important things: 1) preserve existing buildings & 2) encourage infill development. The old buildings correctly addressed the street with good urban design, but there were so many parking spaces and empty lots that infill development was needed. Urban Indy’s post discusses the issue and has a link to lots of photos of the area before and during infill stages.


Mass Ave should be the guide for downtown Indianapolis development. Start with an area that has existing assets. Create small, mixed use plots for independent development where parking lots and asphalt currently exist.

Remove *all* parking requirements from the zoning code in urban areas. In fact, try to actively discourage on-site parking. Provide parking with city sponsored multi-level garages and treat it like part of the road infrastructure. Next, spend a hell of a lot of money on getting the message out, using hired guns for marketing. Connect the area with other downtown amenities. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, just keep it rolling.

The enduring efforts on Mass Ave have led to this latest infill project

Directly east from the circle is the most depressing sight of any downtown I have ever visited. A gravel parking lot. Several, actually. It has been this way for a while. Apparently infill projects that would convert this area into a usable downtown are not good enough. The city is angling for yet another mega-project that would give a nice symmetry with the west side.

Huge, low-profile, block-killing projects that prevent people from walking around. And if they are not walking, they are driving. That’s the wrong kind of development. Stop the insanity!

This part of town is shameful

No comment

Is the CCB part of the problem or part of the solution?

Judging from this sign prohibiting walking on the sidewalk, I’m guessing that the CCB needs to rethink its policies on pedestrians

To the southeast is a discouraging blend of special-use structures, parking lots, and parking garages. I do enjoy seeing basketball games and concerts, but there should be some kind of balance between other uses.

The Broadbent building along Washington Street was a wise renovation

Directly south of the circle is the only other part of downtown that was retained. This gives downtown another three blocks extension, and this is widely marketed by the city.In this case, the city only had to avoid bulldozing the original buildings to acquire this unique cultural district.

Past the South Meridian area the downtown region is absolutely destroyed by the parking lots south of the train tracks. In fact, if I was to characterize this part of Indianapolis, I can think of no better descriptor than asphaltic.

Lucas Oil Field is a great stadium, but the Colts only play 10 home games

Indianapolis needs to rethink its urban land-use and construction policies in the downtown area. The zoning code has been reworked within the last decade, but the whole concept of mega-projects ruins natural growth possibilities and clearly kills the pedestrian scale of downtown. Indianapolis needs to follow through on the original plan of an urban square mile. Not just a small CBD area ringed by parking lots and mega-projects. Give the citizens a downtown big enough to justify Indianapolis.

A parking lot visible from Washington Street, how can the owner justify this when tax rates should be astronomical? Good question…

There is no reason to invent a new urban form, all the city needs to do is specify three story (or higher) buildings with limited setbacks and waive all parking requirements. Then subdivide the city-owned blocks into manageable plots and make it easy to develop them. Instant walkable downtown! There, I fixed it. No subsidies required.

Good urban design

And now for some of my favorite annoyances:

Please Indy, demolish more historic buildings – I prefer spectacular concrete UFOs

This is why people like Urbanophile want better looking lightposts, because these don’t even look good at 70MPH

This pathetic sign wouldn’t be necessary if the original building design had included storefronts