Archive for the 'Irvington' Category

The Power of Natural Places


Natural places have a role to play in our neighborhoods.  The best urban sites share space with nature so well that you can not tell when the bricks stop and the trees begin.  Whether it is a chestnut tree in a courtyard or an old street lined with elms, nature has to be present or our cityscape is unsatisfactory.

The beautiful streets of Lockerbie Square did not happen by accident

Michigan Street in Irvington with sidewalk and tree canopy

The ability to incorporate natural spaces into our neighborhood is often limited by our choices in infrastructure.  We refuse to plant trees along streets because it is considered dangerous for drivers (even though its much safer for pedestrians).  Once we convince ourselves that trees are a good idea we find that the power company “tops” them to keep the power lines free of limbs.

Using alleyways or underground wiring can solve part of the problem.  But even then our arborist friends are thwarted, sometimes because steam pipes rot tree roots (even wonder why we have so few trees downtown?) or the city starts poisoning vegetation to save on costs (checked out Robert D. Orr Plaza lately?).

A small street near Pleasant Run Creek has kept its natural appeal

Integrating nature into our neighborhoods doesn’t happen by accident.  It has to be an explicit strategy that is aggressively pursued and maintained.  It must have support from everyone in a community, from the family next door all the way to the deputy mayor.  Otherwise, we end up in a desert of concrete and asphalt.

Using natural elements in our city improves our quality of life.  But some places deserve the right to remain natural. Sometimes the beauty of an area overwhelms us and we realize that we can’t improve it.  The Kyle Oak in Irvington is just such a place.  The Kyle family loved their Bur Oak so much, that they abandoned and bulldozed their home rather than put the tree at risk.

Meet the oldest resident of Irvington

The tree limbs span time and space

People need access to nature to stay healthy

While the Kyle Oak is a unique example of nature in our neighborhoods, there are opportunities all around us that we should be taking advantage of.  Pocket parks reclaimed from shuttered houses, community gardens, tree-lined avenues and shopping streets, or wildflower meadows instead of lawns.  Let’s get serious about inviting nature to live with us.

A wrinkled carcass reminds us that trees grow old and pass like all things in nature

Fixing Ugly Buildings


Recently the question has been raised how to fix an ugly building, mostly in regards to the Di Rimini (and here and here and especially here).  It is a hard question to answer without first discussing what “ugly” means. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there are obvious problems with treating a building purely as sculpture and ignoring its contribution to the urban environment beyond aesthetics.


Buildings can be ugly in many ways.  Some turn their back on the street, showing a blank concrete or sheetmetal wall.  Some use such cheap materials that their facades disintegrate within a decade.  Some are unconscionable mixtures of architectural styles that blend into an incoherent bloody mess.  Some are multiple offenders.

Fortunately, designers have many ways to improve a building’s appearance and functionality without wiping the slate clean.  An industrial building in my neighborhood serves a good first example.  The structure was built right in the heart of the historic district and presented a brutal precast concrete face to the neighborhood.


Adaptive reuse by a local firm in 2008-2009 resulted in a new appearance and some good activity within the space. By using a modern scheme of awnings and accentuating the windows, the designers drew out the positive aspects of the building.  It’s not a perfect fix, but it shows that the space is cared for and that the owners care about its place in the neighborhood.

The renovated building now hosts a design factory, an architecture firm, and technology firms

The updates were simple but effective

Another example of an ugly building is the site at the corner of Virginia and Washington.  One of the most important street corners of Ralston’s original plan for Indianapolis, it has been host to some of the best and the worst buildings in Indy history.  The fun part about this one is that the votes for best and worst flip around depending on who you ask.

The original building was a ornate flatiron style building called the Indiana Trust building.  (See Vance-Block building history).  This was demolished in 1959 to make way for a modern building for Merchants Bank. It lost the urban density, street-level retail, and historic urban texture of the previous building.  The new structure also introduced a drive-thru and a facade meant to be appreciated at 40mph.

The "Zipper Building" was a famous Modernist landmark

The quest for modernism claimed another victim in 1959, but the result was a structure that some hoped would be even more timeless in its beauty.  The debate over the new building was a reflection over a more universal debate:  what is the role of historic preservation in our cities?

The new owners changed the facade of the zipper building in 2007.  I will recuse myself for professional reasons and not offer an opinion on this one, but I am interested in what people think.  Was the loss of a modernist building just another missed opportunity to preserve our heritage, or does the new facade and street level commercial space fix an ugly building that was never meant to be there?

The new Broadbent building recalls the historic buildings once on site

The newer design allows for a more active streetscape

Most importantly, do these examples give us any ideas on how to deal with our current stock of ugly buildings?  Should we enthusiastically preserve ugly buildings as part of our urban history or should we focus on converting them into buildings that fit downtown?

The Roundabout Bandwagon


Traffic Roundabouts are becoming a hot topic of infrastructure in the US (see Infrastructurist post, PPS post). Naturally, you would expect Indianapolis, a.k.a. Circle City, a.k.a. Crossroads of America, to be a leader in the circular traffic systems. The symbolic and actual city center is a shared space traffic circle – even the flag (see above) is based on Indy’s transportation system.

The monument at the city’s center is a shared space (mostly) traffic circle

Traffic can enter from all directions and there are no lane markings but everyone manages well

Indianapolis used a grid layout for the street system (which worked well early in its history), but ended ceding too much ROW to cars and parking for the downtown to remain viable for pedestrians. Later on, Indy unfortunately embraced the raised superhighway with cloverleaf ramp layout. These tactics elevated the rights of drivers (many of whom don’t even live or work in the city) over every other citizen and local land-owner. Much of the effort of modern urban planning is attempting to roll back these developments and try to incorporate strategies which allow traffic to flow freely but also protects pedestrians.

Luckily, clever minds in the suburb to the north (Carmel) of the city have decided to take advantage of the modern traffic circle (now known as a roundabout). There are now so many circles in the planning/construction phases that some residents think the traffic planning department is crazy. They have simple roundabouts, regulated circles, dogbone double roundabout highway overpasses, etc. It makes driving a motorcycle a lot more fun, or more exciting if the sweepers haven’t been through recently (I lived in Carmel for two years and enjoyed the developments).

This is a dogbone overpass

Wacky, but effective

Traffic now flows through this area much more quickly

Unfortunately, too much signage and lane markings lends a cluttered feeling and causes visual overload for drivers

Carmel also hosts some interesting information on their home page. A link to Kansas State Center for Transportation Research and Training Roundabout page, a link to a flash demonstration showing how to negotiate a roundabout (this should be required viewing for anyone living in Carmel who can’t figure out the difference between the yield sign and the stop sign (I know they are the same color, but honestly!)). Finally, a brochure produced in Carmel discussing the reasons for building them and tips for safe driving. Carmel’s Roundabouts seem to be good policy. They are still a bit too auto-oriented for my tastes. But they are a great experiment and I hope the Carmel-ites are well served by them.

Satellite image of Clay Terrace north circle

The outdoor shopping area of Clay Terrace has two roundabouts and one pedestrian plaza

The distinctive pavement makes excessive signage unnecessary

The angle of entry and yielding requirements keeps traffic flowing at a slower pace

Pedestrian crossings and median breaks are provided

Here in Irvington, we have three circles of our own (traffic circles – not roundabouts; but I could be mistaken as I have not a great mind for traffic engineering semantics). The two main ones are located on Audubon Road, they were built to link the two sides of the town that grew up across the old National Road. All circles function as traffic control devices, but are not so oppressively auto-oriented.

Satellite image with locations of three traffic circles in Irvington

The North Audubon Circle now is the site for a Methodist church (built 1928). It is the largest of the three circles. Several streets branch off, and it acts as a collector for the arterial of E. Washington Street / US 40 / Historic National Road.

North Audubon Circle

The South Irving Circle is a pocket park with a bust of Washington Irving. The south circle has been recently renovated and hosts outdoor concerts, local gatherings, and plenty of teenagers looking for a place to hang out.

South Irving Circle

Restoring the old brick pavers would really make this area special

The final circle in Irvington is on North Campbell Street, and looks like more of a private development early in the neighborhood history. The central house sitting on it is pretty outstanding, sitting high and proud in the middle of the street. The house is magnificent, but I’m sure it is somewhat similar to living in a goldfish bowl. It’s a fun location, and one of the more interesting bits of character that I have found roaming the streets near my house.

Side yard/front yard/back yard… or radial yard?

So there are the three traffic circles in Irvington. Each is different, one hosting a church, one hosting a park, and the other is privately owned. It is easy to contrast the varieties seen in Irvington vs. the modern ones in Carmel or downtown Indy. The experiment with traffic circles has been going on for quite some time in Indianapolis, and I hope the form continues to evolve. One thing for sure is that traffic circles have a great opportunity to act as a transitional element or landmark feature, and modern roundabouts save time, money, and gasoline all day long. I hope that we start taking advantage of it, too.

Updates from Irvington: round-up

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Just wanted to formally announce a few items of note. First off, the Pennsy Trail has been paved and is now only awaiting a trailhead (I think) before it would be ready for opening. When I stopped by to take some photos there were already a few travelers using it, so the populace is ready for sure.

Next up, the Audubon Court renovations are complete and the majority of units have already been rented. The finished results are excellent based on what I’ve seen so far. IDO has written up an article on the renovation.

A new transit option is available for the Eastside. The Near Eastside Orbiter (NEO) travels an hourly route between the 10th street corridor, downtown, E.Washington Street, and Irvington. I hope it works out, but I honestly have no idea how it will be received. At the very least it is a good experiment. From the website link:

The Near Eastside Orbiter (NEO) is a circular shuttle which provides transportation for residents of the near eastside community. The shuttle fills the gaps of current Indygo service as a way for individuals to have access to not only the downtown loop, but to also connect them to jobs, shopping and recreational in the neighborhood.

Update from Irvington – Streetscape & Other news

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The Irvington Streetscape committee met its fundraising goals for full Federal funding (see old post here), so hopefully work will begin soon. They are still short of their overall goals so that incidental costs and contingency budgets will be covered, so don’t think it’s all over just yet. In the meantime, I put a photograph of the board at the corner of Audubon & Washington showing the fundraising progress and a plan view of the planted medians, crosswalks, and sidewalk improvements that are planned.

I apologize for the poor photo qualities. The sun glare was impossible to work against.

The streetscape is just one of the efforts underway to help improve the neighborhood. If you are interested in the overall strategic vision of the neighborhood, I recommend you delve into the neighborhood plan (published 2006) hosted here. It’s a big document (22MB / 147 pgs), but there is no better collection of information about Irvington.

Also, I wanted to thank the Irvingtonians (esp. Irvington Terrace Crimewatch) and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful volunteers who planted the cloverleaf at the intersection of Shadeland and Washington Street. This interchange has such an interesting history. I’ll look for a write-up in the media about the event to link to. Word has it that 160 volunteers showed up. Way to show support and committment to the neighborhood, everyone!

Here’s what the first leaf planting looks like from the exit ramp:

Update 2009-04-08:
The Irvington Development Organization put an article about the cloverleaf planting in their monthly newsletter. Check it out for the background info on the oldest cloverleaf in the city as well as some great photos of the planting event.

Update from Irvington – New York & Michigan Bike Lanes

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The city of Indianapolis has installed bike lanes running from Irvington (Ellenberger Park) to downtown along New York and Michigan Streets. I took some photos of how they have this arranged. Essentially, the bike lanes follow the one-way street pattern and are inside the street parking strip.

Here is a flyer produced by the city and distributed to the neighborhoods near the bike lanes:

I’m stoked about them finishing this, and can’t wait to ride downtown soon to have a pint of beer on Mass Ave. I think the mayor is organizing a ride soon (Mayor’s Bike Ride – May 16th), but he probably has things to do that would cut into my relaxing ride. Of course, this is going to be a very popular place on Bike to Work day – May 15th. If only I worked downtown…

Updates from Irvington – Pennsy Trail

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There has been a lot of work going in Irvington in the past year or so. I’ve managed to photograph some of it, figured I would post here to show people that things are progressing along just fine. First on the list is the Pennsy trail.

The Pennsy trail (see original post here) is under construction, I took some construction photos during the nice weather this past week. This phase of construction will link Arlington to Shortridge along the old Pennsylvania railroad line.

Looks like they are stripping the original tracks down a significant amount and re-building the roadway. Should be very good quality and long lasting pathway. Judging from how deep my footprints went, they need to add and compact a bit more soil before they are done.

I was very happy to be able to get to the old rail bridge across Shadeland. This bridge is essential to the success of the trail, because there would be no way to get across a limited access freeway like Shadeland otherwise. A big benefit of this project is that the no-man’s-land in between Shadeland and I-465 is now accessible by pedestrians. Thus, I can now ride my bike to Applebee’s or K-Mart without risking a busy street crossing.

Soon, the trail will be extended to Ritter on the West and underneath the I-465 highway on the East. With a bit of luck, the state will continue its plans to extend to trail to Cumberland, Greenfield, and eventually all the way to Ohio. But the longest journeys start with a single step.