Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Pecha Kucha Night

I had the privilege of participating in the inaugural Pecha Kucha Indy night on Friday, February 1 at the Harrison Center for the Arts. I had no idea what Pecha Kucha was until invited to submit a presentation proposal. It is a sort of rigid format “open mic” night that originated in Japan. Rather than have people drone on and on about their work, each person instead gets 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each. This 20×20 format keeps things moving quickly, ruthlessly prunes the fluff, and allows a dozen or so people to have their shot at fame. To keep it interesting, conversation in the crowd is encouraged during the show, and there is an open bar in the back. It’s your presentation versus free beer and may the best man win.

This format has taken off and spread to cities around the globe. You can probably find one of these going on in your town if you are not based in Indianapolis.

Just don’t ask me how to pronounce “Pecha Kucha”. Being the pretentious fellow that I am, the Urbanophile took a shot at pronouncing it the “right way”, but didn’t quite get it. Pretty much by unanimous consensus the crowd decided to Hoosierize this by decreeing it “peh’-chuh, koo’-chuh”. To me this is one of the great things about Indy, btw. There is no need to pretend that everyone is a bunch of Parisian sophisticates hanging out in the salon. Instead, we can skip the posturing and get right now to business and pleasure.

Here’s a picture of the very first presenter, Jim Walker and his “The Big Donut”.

Just reading the above intro would take up about 15 of your 20 slides, so you can see that in Pecha Kucha, you need to get to the point, not my strong suit to put it mildly. Nevertheless, in script form, I’m including my presentation from the evening below in a slightly modified format. Click the slides for full sized versions. I can provide this in Power Point format on request.

  • Projects like the Cultural Trail, a stadium or a light rail line can really transform a city.
  • But these cost tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to build, and take years to implement.
  • Tonight I’m going to talk about some things we can do starting right now, that are either free or don’t cost much money, but could make a big impact on Indy
  • These are focused in the areas of building an urban design identity, and the urban design/cultural tourism spaces.

  • Everyone instantly recognizes this city because of the iconic landmarks
  • Landmarks can really give a city a sense of place
  • Indy has its own landmarks like the Soldiers and Sailors Monument
  • This is the logic behind the Indy Gateways initiative
  • But there’s another type of visual design identity a city can have

  • This is the same city, still instantly recognizable
  • But here it is the design of ordinary things that give that sense of place – a bus, a police uniform, even a phone booth.
  • I argue the design of the ordinary is actually a more powerful factor than landmarks, because of the pervasiveness throughout a city.

  • The mark of a great city like London isn’t how it treats its special places – everyone does those up right – but how it treats its ordinary ones
  • This is where Indy has struggled a bit
  • My suggestions today are going to focus on the ordinary, and how to improve the design and experience of the ordinary to build a visual design identity for the city.

  • These locally designed stop light masts are truly world class
  • They are best I’ve seen in any city in the world
  • They are simple, clean, elegant, timeless classics
  • Every time there is a new or replacement stop light in the city, it should use this mast.
  • By ordering in bulk, you even drive down the incremental unit cost

  • These street lights are historic replicas, yet they still manage to have a futuristic look to them – very nice.
  • Sadly, the city isn’t installing a lot of street lights these days, but when they do, this is what they should use.
  • Imagine the 38th St. streetscape project with this street light and stop light combo – much more powerful.
  • [You’ll note that I’m constitutionally incapable of correctly referring to the Wholesale District]

  • Indy has a pretty awesome city flag – it is even better than some countries’ – but you rarely see it.
  • You should see the city flag everywhere the US and state flag are flying
  • It ought to be on every city letterhead, uniform and vehicle
  • Private businesses and citizens should be encouraged to fly it as well.

  • Speaking of, design a new street sign that incorporates the city flag. How hard is that?
  • Even better, use that as the base design, but if the street is named after a person or place, replace the flag with an artist’s rendering of the eponymous person, as in this example in the lower left from Madrid.
  • (Thanks to my brother for Photoshop assistance to create this sign)

  • Do I really need to see a big green sign to tell me I’ve arrived at the interstate?
  • These are nothing more than gigantic billboards that visually blight our streets, even right downtown.
  • Kill these and you actually save money while making the city look better.
  • Chicago and other cities just use small interstate shield signs on the side of the road. If it works there, I see no reason why it would not work here.

  • This interchange design at 86th St. is very nice.
  • Note the masculine metal arc, which echoes the Circle, the new library, and the JW Marriott.
  • There are lot of different colors and textures, landscaping, etc. – a lot going on here
  • I already see that the 38th St. design is different. Why?
  • By standardizing on this design you make the city look good, build a visual design identity, and save money by not having to reinvent the wheel every time.

  • Note here the grass parkway separating the sidewalk from the street.
  • So often, even in brand new developments downtown, there is a narrow sidewalk along the street, where half of it is blocked with various poles and such, and a grass buffer between the sidewalk and the building.
  • Firehouse Square is a good example of what I’m talking about.
  • Where ever right of way permits, do it like in this photo. Very nice.

  • This 38th St. median is very nice. It has a sort of formalistic design that is very appropriate to an urban environment.
  • Where ever the city undertakes a major streetscape project, don’t design a new median, just use this one instead.
  • Replace the maple leaf with a location specific image – or a city flag!

  • Naptown is a great city nickname – it beats the heck out of Beantown, I can tell you that.
  • Who cares if it started off as an insult? So did the Windy City.
  • It means what we say it means, it could mean the image on the right (Ken Vandermark), not the one on the left if we choose it.
  • So I say let’s embrace the nickname and rename this the Naptown Pecha Kucha night!

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if someone tracked and published developments in competitor cities?
  • That way Indy could measure itself against not just its own past, but the best of what is going on out there, pick up on trends, find good ideas to copy, etc.
  • I figure this is a part time, entry level job at the chamber of commerce or something.
  • Heck, I was practically providing this service for free in my spare time for lots of cities on my blog.

  • The existing city guides are all put out by booster groups, and thus focus on being comprehensive and don’t tell you what it is you really should and shouldn’t see, particularly for the been there, done that urban tourist.
  • A thinner guide to the real best of Indy, modeled on these Wallpaper guides but better, would be very helpful, particularly for the design and the culturally interested.
  • (The Wallpaper guides are nice as far as they go, but they target a generic international urban hipster jet-set lifestyle. A better guide would focus on the unique qualities of the city in question).

  • Create architectural walking tours with iPod audio guide accompaniment.
  • Include a photo of the building, or even a video of the interior, construction, etc.
  • Put this up on iTunes for free, easy download.
  • Create a printable PDF map to go with it, and you are set.

  • Cities like Brussels are known for their murals. Every guide book mentions them.
  • But Indy has some great murals too – this is one of my favorites.
  • Create an online map of these with addresses, photos, and even downloadable GPS coordinates.
  • Be sure it is easily printable, unlike the public art guide, so people can take it with them in the car.
  • (Thanks to ablerock for taking this photo for me).

  • Hardened urbanites such as myself love public transit
  • But even I don’t like to take the bus in a strange city, because I’m afraid I won’t know how it works and I’ll end up looking like an idiot or easy mark.
  • IndyGo has a How to Ride guide, but it needs improvement, and ideally an accompanying video that shows exactly how to put the money in the slot, etc.

  • Thanks a lot
  • If you only counted fourteen ideas, my fifteenth is the notion of treating the ordinary as more important than the special
  • But if you want a real fifteenth suggestion, kill those giant high mast light towers at interchanges. They just look like cell phone towers and are ugly. Replace with more human scaled individual light standards.
  • Thanks again and good night.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Civic Branding, Public Policy, Urban Culture
Cities: Indianapolis

20 Responses to “Pecha Kucha Night”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great presentation. You really need to be mayor:-)

  2. CorrND says:

    Cool concept, cool presentation.

    Was there any mention of when the next event might take place?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing. Great presentation.

    A couple of my favorites:

    1) Embrace the city flag
    2) Embrace Naptown as the city nickname

    One additional note for your city bus slide:

    1) Stop painting the windows on city buses! It leaves you guessing as to what might be waiting for you on the inside.

    By the way, I will happy to help you write a new Tour Guide!


  4. Anonymous says:

    We are planning on hosting the next PK event in late spring. Anyone interested in being included on the mailing list should email: and we’ll make sure that you’re kept in the loop.

    Kristian Andersen

  5. Crocodileguy says:

    I second it…you should be mayor. Better than the buffoons we’ve had for the previous 8 years and counting…

  6. SpeedBlue47 says:

    Looks like a great presentation. I like most of your ideas. As long as the city government holds a monopoly on these types of infrastructure improvements, they should strive to achieve the highest possible quality at a reasonable cost. I definitely agree about the flag, it is one of the classics of all vexillology, and should be trumpeted everywhere it can be. Buts all those silly New England coat-of-arms flags any day(By the way, the North American Vexillological Association ranked Indy’s flag No. 8 amongst all cities in the US).

    I also agree the Warehouse district hardware is pretty iconic, though I also like the Cultural Trail lighting. I also would prefer blue hardware, as that seems to be the primary city color(that and the green just kind of blends in). Also the 38th Median design is great and would look great with a take off the flag being the base design.

    Most of your other ideas sound more like the province of travel promotion groups or other private associations. Though I do agree that IndyGo needs to not only fix their How to Ride guide, but their entire system. How dispensing with the failed white/green/blue IndyGo brand and continue with the City flag theme, or at least the city color of blue. I mean, when you see red, you think of London. When you see blue, maybe youll think of Indianapolis.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. Jason266 says:

    Well done.

  8. thundermutt says:

    Urbanophile, I made the same comment in person to IndyGo staff some time back: the “how to ride” guide needs to be online and detailed because non-riders like me avoid the system for fear of looking like an idiot.

    There also needs to be a GIS-based mapping/routing system available so that an IndyGo application could tell you which busses and how long for a trip from point A to point B.

    Speedblue, perhaps you’re newer to Indy than I am. “IndyGo” was a replacement marketing ID intended to flush the stigma from what used to be called “Metro”. (That’s why the Fishers express bus is called ICE and doesn’t use an IndyGo coach.)

  9. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments and compliments.

    Kristian, thanks to you and the event team for putting together a fun and successful evening.

    speed, I was not aware of that study, but found it online. Very interesting. Obviously you are a blue fan, but I think that nuclear blue color, though it works in some European cities, is a bit too much. I do agree that the Cultural Trail lights are good. Not awesome, but solid. The could make a good standard as well for smaller light pole, perhaps on residential streets or where you want a more intimate feel.

    Feel free to write in my name in the next mayoral election!

  10. SpeedBlue says:

    About my IndyGo comments. I don’t have a problem with the name per se, being someone who rode busses frequently during the “Metro” era(I’m an Indy native), but with the branding. I think busses with a single visual identity would increase ridership. Of course, that is if the routes and rideability of the system also improve.

  11. s.Jane says:

    Nice presentation! I wish I could have been to Pecha Kucha.

    My faves:
    -embracing the city flag! (it’s cool!)
    -a better ‘how to ride the bus’ guide. I remember my embarassment the first time I rode indygo a year ago (specifically needing exact change).

    They’re all great ideas :)

  12. thundermutt says:

    As I have let this sink in, I think the flag elements are incorporated in the quadrant wayfinding system downtown. I think we can and should do more details like that.

    I hope those of us who know people in CAP:IC, IDI, and DMD will gently push the “small details” idea when appropriate. I know I will.

    An overlooked example on 38th St. (overlooked by me until showing an out-of-town guest around recently) is the “old fashioned” street-name tiles laid into the sidewalk. I happened to notice the one at 38th & Central Ave.

    That could be done on the Cultural Trail utilizing the city flag in a manner similar to Urbanophile’s proposal for street signs.

  13. NDG says:

    Super article and presentation. One correction from an old timer. The name Naptown originated from FM radio station 93.1 WNAP back around 1971 or ’72. The use of Naptown then meant hip, cool, young happening positives not “sleepy town”. This was the time Indianapolis began it’s new vision for downtown.

  14. diong says:

    great presentation! I also like the “Embrace the Flag” and “Embrace Naptown Nickname”…

  15. Anonymous says:

    Really great ideas here. I never really paid attention to the city flag, but you’re right, it is one of the best out there. Definitely something we should be seeing more of. I agree that it is the mundane but more prevalent elements of a city that give it a unique feel. I like the stoplights, but I’m not quite sold on the streetlights for widespread use. Locating sidewalks such that they have a grass buffer from the road is another good idea, but really just a start on making the city more pedestrian friendly which is something that could help set Indy apart from similar cities in the Midwest.

  16. Sven says:

    Good JOb! :)

  17. Anonymous says:

    I thought I would clear up some confusion about the nickname, Naptown. NDG, may remember the name dating back to the early 1970’s and being used by a particular radio station. However, the nickname is actually far older. It dates back to the Jazz Era of the 1920’s, and it is deeply tied to the city’s Blues and Jazz scene of that time which developed in the local African-American community. Leroy Carr’s “Naptown Blues” is a good example. Also, Naptown was originally an insult–it referred to the popular perception of Indianapolis as being a “sleepy town.” However, the name was adopted and transformed by local Jazz and Blues musicians to refer to their own smooth brand of Blues and Jazz–the “Naptown” sound.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Along with the iPod tour idea:

    I recenly spent a summer in Salt Lake City and amongst the many fine elements of its downtown is a nice little walking tour. It looked so simple and cheap to do, but added so much. All of the historic buildings have a little pedistal and plaque out front with a description of the building telling of its unique history and/or important architectural elements. Each plaque was numbered and tour maps were made available in the usual spots (kiosks, libraries, convention centers, downtown mall, public buildings). iPods are nice, but if you haven’t noticed, few people (especially over 30) are walking around with one downtown.

    Get the historic society involved, a small grant from the city, and done.

  19. The Urbanophile says:

    Anon 8:44, nice ideas. You should go to the Harrison Center for the Arts and see the architectural style signs that ablerock created. They are truly first rate.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Wonderfully creative yet practical. These are leadership ideas. Better than being mayor (who has to waste time getting votes) lets get these ideas to leadership as a consultant or aide! You have my vote.

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