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Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Naptown Gets Harmonic

The Indianapolis Business Journal ran a cover story this week about an initiative called HARMONI, the Historic Midtown Neighborhood Initiative. No, I can’t parse the acronym either. Their plan is to work to improve the infrastructure in Meridian-Kessler, Butler-Tarkington, and Broad Ripple. The focus is on Meridian St., and changing the feel of the road from that of a commuter highway to a more neighborhood serving street.

The complete vision is not provided in either the IBJ article or on the HARMONI web site. But there is still a lot to sink your teeth into. The goal is to “return this district to the walkable, bikeable, connected condition it was expertly designed to be nearly 100 years ago”. Phase I involves a series of improvements at high priority locations:

  • Adding a median, sidewalks, and parkways to Meridian St. between 54th St. and the Canal.
  • Adding landscaped sidewalks on both 56th St. and Westfield Blvd. from Meridian St. to Illinois St., linking Meridian St. to the commercial node there.
  • Enhancements at the Canal bridge on Meridian St.
  • A decorative crosswalk linking the Canal Towpath trail to Alice Carter Park across Westfield Blvd.
  • Decorative sidewalks, parkways, lighting, and landscaping at the commercial strip at 39th St. and Illinois.

In effect, this plan will upgrade a stretch of Meridian north of where the sidewalks currently end, and improve connectivity to Bulter-Tarkington’s two commercial nodes. This plan would cost between $4.4 million and $7.4 million, with about $2 million coming from private sources. Of the private money, $300,000 is in hand. Obviously with that price range, many decisions are yet to be made. Future phases aren’t detailed, but the article notes that the group would like to restore rail transit service along the College Ave. or Keystone Ave. corridors. As the College Ave. corridor rail line is the Monon Trail, don’t look for a decoversion there any time soon.

Here are some renderings that were posted by HARMONI. First the commercial node at 39th St. and Illinois St.

I’m not sure to what extent these renderings are intended to be actual depictions vs. conceptual drawings, but I’ll point a few things out. On the plus side, note the separately marked Chicago-style bike lanes similar to the ones that will be put in on Michigan St. and New York St. on the east side. Also note the landscaped pedestrian blister that constricts the street at the crosswalk to slow traffic and shorten the crossing district. On the negative, the sidewalk looks too narrow – far to narrow for commercial frontage, and the power lines on the street have got to go. Pay attention to the antique street lamps, which I’ll address later.

Meridian St. at Westfield Blvd. with a median, sidewalk, etc.

What I’ll note about this is the use of some type of bollard to give extra definition to the crossing zones and additional pedestrian protection while waiting to cross. Very good. The cross-walk hatches appear to be themoplastic, however. The use of colored concrete as on the 38th St. streetscape would be much better. The intent is to lower the speed limit from 45 to 30 on this stretch of road. I don’t see this project materially reducing actual speeds at this location, however. Speed limits are supposed to be set based on the design speed of the road and the speed at which drivers actually drive (the 85th percentile rule, for example). This road exhibits the characteristics of a 45MPH design speed.

Here’s the treatment at the Meridian St. bridge over the Canal.


I like the gathering place where pedestrians could take in the Canal. I like the semi-circle design as well. It’s like a mini-Monument Circle. That is a nice touch.

And the crosswalk on Westfield Blvd.


It looks to me like Westfield would be converted to a curb/gutter section here. That would be very nice indeed. I’d like to see the trail paved too. It is currently gravel. The big problem I note is that there is only the trail on one side of the road. There’s no sidewalk on the other side. That’s a design problem. It forces anyone walking to the park along Westfield to use the trail, then cross a busy street. This shouldn’t be necessary for people coming from south of Westfield Blvd.

What I like best about this plan is in how it strengthens neighborhood commercial nodes, and treats sidewalks as linkages between origins and destinations, making them functional transportation systems, not just leisure paths. That’s huge. Sidewalks are useless if they don’t go anywhere.

One day I might write up my own strategy for the city. One of the key parts of it is to recognize that unlike almost all other major cities, Indianapolis is almost completely lacking in major urban commercial streets. There is nothing like, for example, even what you see with north High St. in Columbus, Ohio. Rather, Indianapolis has more pocket nodes of commercial intersections, surrounded by more low intensity residential areas. My theme is something like “100 courthouse squares” (or Monument Circles perhaps), where these nodes become neighborhood focal points, with a network of excellent connections between the nodes and between the nodes and surrounding areas. Have something Cultural Trail like to link the nodes to each other and to major corridors such a Meridian St. or the Monon Trail and to parks and other destination points. Use a more standard sidewalk for neighborhood linkages.

This plan goes right along with that thinking. It leverages the existing sidewalks on Meridian, fills them in to the north, then creates linkages to the 56th St. and Illinois St. commercial district. The Westfield Blvd. and 56th St. linkages connect the node to the Meridian St. spine, and the Westfield Blvd upgrade is the start of a linkage between that node and Broad Ripple. Looking at extending this further, I see other spurs going off Meridian to the 49th St. and Pennsylvania St. district, as well as the various commercial nodes along College Ave.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Obviously I like this plan a lot. The city could build it as-is and I would happily raise my glass and drink a toast to it. But since this is Yours Truly, I naturally have a few suggestions to make. The current proposal is good, but frankly not distinctive. The renderings are nearly identical to many other such plans across the country. There’s nothing here that screams “Indianapolis”. While it is workmanlike job, it is not the type of project that would befit a world class city. World class cities think harder and dig deeper. So in that light, let me throw out a few suggestions that I believe could improve this project at modest cost. Hopefully they at least stimulate thinking.

I don’t want to read too much into a few lines of text, but it appears that the fundamental design vision behind the project is one of nostalgia. The IBJ article talks about it, noting, “Nostalgia may be one way to sell the effort.” The HARMONI web site says, regarding 38th and Illinois, “Nostalgic lampposts, street signs, brick crosswalks and plantings will celebrate the area’s history.” Remember those antique street lamps I highlighted? This type of design is prevalent throughout the project. Merriam-Webster defines nostaliga as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”. In the design, this is implemented through things like Victorian gas lamp posts.

I believe that nostalgia is the wrong approach, and the specific design elements such as gas lamps the wrong way to implement it. Why? There are three basic reasons.

1. Nostalgia, as the definition implies, is a state of looking backwards, of longing for the good old days. It is an emotion that very much says our best days are behind us, and that we’ll never have it so good again. I could not disagree more. This might be true of most of the Midwest, but it isn’t true of Indianapolis. As I noted before, one of the most distinguishing features of Indy is that its best days are head of it. Indianapolis is a bigger, more important, more influential place in the world today than it has ever been in the past. And it seems likely to only grow moreso in the future, with good leadership and a bit of good look. While cities like St. Louis talk about what they used to be, Indianapolis is still a rising star. It’s a city on the way up. A design that reflects this outlook, that is more forward thinking and optimistic, while still being rooted in the fabric of the neighborhood would be much preferred.

This is not to say that we should fail to consider the history or character of the region. That’s where all too many modernist designers fall down. They are all too willing to ignore the present and past in self-indulgence or a utopian zeal for blowing away the old to build an idealized future. The history of Meridian-Kessler, Butler-Tarkington, and Broad Ripple is a rich one. It is one to be celebrated and built on for the future – but not to be encased in amber. I believe this history can be tapped without engaging in retro-nostalgia, however. And I’ll show you how.

2. The traditional implementation of a nostalgia based architecture, as best exemplified by the antique gas lamp posts, is excessively Victorian and feminine. This might make it a good fit for Paris or even a small town, but it’s a bad choice for a Midwestern metropolis like Indianapolis. Think about the Midwest, Indiana, Indianapolis. What comes to mind? Tractors in the fields, fast cars and fumes, lunchpails and smokestacks, fierce competition on the sporting field, airplane engines, big rigs, a researcher’s white lab coat, war memorials, etc. What do most of these things have in common? They evoke powerful, masculine images. The Midwest was the land where people with strong backs, strong morals, big dreams, and an incredible work ethic tamed the prairie, fed America, built its cars and appliances, etc. If you are going to be nostalgic, that’s the image to shoot for, an unpretentious solidity. Frilly decorations just don’t fit.

3. The typical antique gas lamp design is also very undistinctive. As I noted before, these were could-be-anywhere renderings. There is nothing about them that makes someone sit up and take notice that they are in Indianapolis, except perhaps the Canal bridge treatment. One antique gas lamp replica looks much the same as the next. It is probably the most common street light design in America. You can order them straight out of a catalog, most likely.

There are four challenges I’d put out to the designers:

  • Create a design that unique to the city, rooted in its unique history and context. This is where we anchor to the rich traditions of the neighborhood.
  • Create a design that says “Indianapolis”. That’s not to say that it has to be a race car or something. Too facile or obvious a design can be worse than something generic. But a design that is consistent with the brand image (e.g., appropriately masculine) that can be imbued with the city’s own unique identity is a must.
  • Create a design that is forward looking and optimistic about the future.
  • It needs to develop or further a unique design identity for the city. As I have said before, so often a great design is made in one special place and never used again. Examples are the Warehouse District streetscapes, the brick along Market St., the 38th St. streetscape, and the I-465 NW fast track project. Making every design a one-off is like a company doing a different logo for every ad they run. It only confuses things. What is needed is a consistent and clear branding for the city, and a consistent design language is a big part of that.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog can probably predict what I’ll say next. (For a refresher course, read my first Pecha Kucha presentation). I’m a big believer that transportation facility design is possibly the greatest branding opportunity a city has. As I stated elsewhere, our interstates and arterials are our new Main Streets, our new public square. They are increasingly the venues that shape our impression of a place. What impression is your city leaving?

I believe there are already great examples of local design in place that could be re-purposed for this project. They meet all of the criteria. They are rooted in the local environment, masculine in tone, forward looking, unique to the city, and further its design identity.

The first design is the stoplight mast arms used in the Warehouse District.


This is one of my favorite designs, of anything, in the city. It is simple, clean, elegant, masculine, classic. Note the timeless quality about it. This would fit in with the Meridian St. historic district, but also in front of a modern 21st century building. It fits the Indianapolis brand image perfectly. (I believe this was locally designed and is unique to the city, but can’t say for certain). The quickest way to improve the look of the Meridian St. corridor would be to replace the INDOT mast arms with these.

The second is the streetlight design used in the Warehouse District.


This one is actually a real historic gas lamp replica from Indianapolis. But despite it being an old design, it also has a futuristic, almost science fiction quality about it. I had no idea it was a replica until I saw one in an old photo one time. Again, this is perfect. Now I’ll admit this appears to be an expensive design. So it might not be something that is that feasible to deploy on a wide scale. Perhaps a simplified, more cheaply constructable version would be a high value add item for the designers to create for this project. Plus, this version is also suitable only for major streets like Meridian St. because of its large scale design.

This points again to where the designers for HARMONI have an opportunity to really advance the ball for the city. Refine the large scale design to make it cheaper to build. Then complement the large scale design with something more human scaled and suited to smaller streets and walking zones. Say something the size of one of those Victorian gas lamp posts, but with a design that meets all the criteria and is in the spirit of the Warehouse District designs. The Cultural Trail lights are a good entry, don’t quite cut it. Their overtly modern design is not timeless, plus they are production models from a catalog.

I can’t give the answer, but can suggest a place to turn. Many of the great Tudor revival houses in the area were built in the 1920’s I believe. This was the go-go Jazz Age, as optimistic and forward looking an era as ever existed in America. It was also the Art Deco area, featuring such wonderful buildings as the Chrysler Building in New York. To me the Art Deco era was a forward thinking, almost futuristic period, a reaction against the Victorian and excessive curlycues of Art Nouveau. Much of it features clean lines, powerful masculine shapes, and exudes optimism. Looking for inspiration in the Jazz Age and Art Deco designs would be a great way of taking a cue from an actual appropriate historic time period. Don’t just copy, mind you, or replicate the past. But use something of the past to speak to the present and the future. Just a thought.

Moving on, the median designs from 38th St.


These medians are great. Replace that Maple Leaf with a Meridian St. design (say a rendering of a globe with a meridian line through it) or other contextually appropriate imagery and you are there. As I said in my review, I love the classical formalism of this approach which is very appropriate to an urban setting (vs. a rural or small town one). It reminds me in a sort of strange way of someplace like the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. Lush, green, stately, but clearly designed and urban. It would be perfect here.

And here the 38th St. crosswalk treatments.


The color scheme might not be appropriate for the HARMONI area, but change that and adapt the design and you are most of the way there. This is a very strong design element. The soft curb design might be something to reconsider, as it is a bit auto-centered. But what I like about it is how the designers used that to their advantage, in creating a soft arc motif that echoes the Circle without beating us over the head with it. (And there’s the edging around it like piping, the variety of textures, the grid pattern, etc all adding interest and thoughful detail – there’s a lot to like here).

There seem like plenty of places in the area someone might want directions to, making this an excellent area for wayfinders. And where better to look than the already nice downtown signs.


Note that these were already re-purposed and adapted for the 38th St. corridor, with a slightly different color scheme and icon. There it was a sort of reddish gold color like a leaf changing colors in the fall and the quadrant design was replaced with a maple leaf. So this shows how that wayfinder design is on its way to establishing itself as a standard. (It is also one of the few instances of reuse of that nature). It also shows how a base design that says “Indianapolis” can be adapted to put a neighborhood brand image on top of it. The HARMONI designers could do the same thing here. Replace the quadrant design with meridian line iconography, replace “Northeast Quad” with “Meridian St.”, etc. That is good for Meridian St. itself. For the various neighborhoods – M-K, Broad Ripple – I would create a neighborhood specific version. See how quickly this design could become an icon for the city? It won’t be perfect since very similar designs are in use elsewhere, but not everything has to be totally unique. As more standards are established, it is the combination that forms the brand image.

While I’m recycling my ideas from my Pecha Kucha presentation, I’ll also throw out my street sign design.


What better way to represent the city than with the city flag? This could be used as the base case design. But for streets like Illinois St., were the street is named after something, the city flag could be replaced with an appropriate design or rendering for that specific street. In the case of Illinois St., for example, the Illinois state flag could be used. For Capitol Ave., use an artists rendering of the Indiana State House. For Meridian St., use the meridian line imagery. Also for Meridian St. an auxiliary street sign in say brown with an Indiana state flag could denote this as historic US 31.

What I like about these suggestions is that, except for my street sign design, these are all things that are here today, right now, in Indianapolis, mostly designed by local designers. The city has plenty of first rate and even world class designs. But they are not leveraged to their fullest extent. The HARMONI initiative, which has a lot of people behind it who’ve shown elsewhere that that really get it, is a perfect opportunity to pull these together into a coherent package and articulate a vision for creating a unique design signature, not just for this neighborhood, but for the city. What’s more, this would take an overall design that, in its current nostalgia concept, is a very solid winner to be happy with, and turn it into a world class home run.

I don’t believe this would cost a huge amount of money. Obviously the dollars are in flux as the large range indicates. No doubt, using these designs costs more than what is probably an out of the catalog Victorian gas lamp post replica. But the money has been found elsewhere for other projects. And if the city standardizes on these, then the unit cost will drop dramatically with volume. All of the tooling to create them should already exist thanks to the previous projects that leveraged them. Some, such as the street signs, can be done in house by the city with its existing capability.

This area is arguably the premier neighborhood in the city. If there is anywhere to go world class, this is it. Again, the existing HARMONI concept is actually very good. The whole idea behind it is one I completely endorse. I just believe there are ways to dig deeper, think harder, and come up with something truly stunning.

Lastly, there is one other area of the concept I think should be changed. That is the umbrella neighborhood name of “Midtown”. This area is not Midtown. Logically, Midtown is the area from 16th St. to Fall Creek or 38th St. If you want a good name for this, I would suggest “Uptown”. Not only does that fit with the upscale nature of the neighborhood, it also is the northernmost region of the old city. This makes it geographically better as well. It doesn’t work with the HARMONI acronym, but then, this isn’t a strict acronym to begin with.

In closing, I’ve often noticed the deficiencies this plan is aiming to address. The ending of the sidewalks on Meridian, the lack of linkages to places like Broad Ripple and 56th/Illinois. The depressing streetscape on Illinois St. by the Melody Inn. It looks like a lot of other people not only noticed them, they decided to do something about them. The infrastructure of Indianapolis is sorely lacking in many respects. But simply replacing pothole ridden streets with fresh blacktop, or replacing crumbling sidewalks won’t fix the problem, no matter how much money the city throws at it. Spending a $1 billion or whatever the estimates are to rebuild the streets as is would miss the whole point. The street system of most of Indianapolis is conceptually obsolete. It needs to be completely reimagined before it is rebuilt. What I think is by far the best thing about the HARMONI initiative is that the people involved are doing just that. This isn’t just about smooth pavement. It’s about using a new conception and vision for the transportation network to remake the neighborhood. It is perhaps a shame that the neighbors are forced to raise millions in private funding to make it happen. But it is good to see that they are bringing the city along with them. Hopefully this comes to fruition, and the lessons it teaches rub off on the power that be in the city so that this becomes the new standard approach to rebuilding the city’s crumbling streets.

28 Comments
Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

28 Responses to “Naptown Gets Harmonic”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Urban can you guess what the cost to the city would be to replace 1 color street markers with 3 color street markers…get real.

  2. Michael Heneghan says:

    Loads of good ideas, as usual. The reuse of already designed features in our city seems like a no-brainer. As you’ve pointed out, it’s how we make our (relatively) average spaces that will make us a better city; everyone does their best spots well.

  3. Kevin says:

    This is one of those subjects that I have a hard time writing about, so I kept my post short in the hopes that you would come along and expand on the subject. It worked!

  4. David says:

    A couple of comments that perhaps you could elaborate on, urban. One, while this design looks nice do you think people will actually take advantage of it? Will we see people biking up and down the new meridian and spending time looking at the river in the little circle area? I’m not trying to sound pessimistic here, I’m just curious if you think people will come if “they build it.”

    Also, how do you foresee the alterations to Meridian affecting commuter traffic flow? Will it have a major impact, or a small impact?

  5. Clay says:

    Really good overview.

    I love these signs in DT Philadelphia that show where you are give you an idea of where you can get within a 10-minute walk.

    http://lh4.ggpht.com/_cMM1_dCrgPA/RhWzrPvydWI/AAAAAAAAANU/UG24-9kB2bo/DSC07834.JPG

    On another note…does anyone know what the fireworks display was for at 1:30 AM downtown last night?

  6. CorrND says:

    “Replace that Maple Leaf with a Meridian St. design (say a rendering of a globe with a meridian line through it) or other contextually appropriate imagery and you are there.”

    What about trying to use your favorite, the Indianapolis flag? The vertical line on the flag IS Meridian St. after all.

    It would be nice if IUPUI replaced their wayfinder signs with a version of the downtown quadrant signs. Their current signs aren’t eye-catching and are therefore incredibly unhelpful.

  7. Crocodileguy says:

    Usually I agree with you in most of your assessments, but here I have to differ, on the gas lamps. I’m all for the gas lamps because this project is for Meridian-Kessler (and Butler-Tarkington), an area that includes Forest Hills. Forest Hills has the gas lamp motif, as does Meridian St. south of Westfield? 57th St.? 56th? Somewhere around there. Those lamps are kinda part of the neighborhood’s identity.

    Also, Meridian-Kessler was built between approximately 1900 and 1935, with a few remaining lots developed in the decades since. I don’t think the gas lamps are incongruous with the era, and since they exist along Meridian and in Forest Hills, I welcome their spread. Hopefully, Washington Blvd. gets them eventually.

    Also, minor nitpick, but the speed limit on Meridian is 40mph between Westfield and 56th St., and this stretch, with the prescribed improvements, could really be down to 35 as it is so close to the 35 zone anyway, and sets the zone boundary at the neighborhood borders, instead of 56th St.

    You are right, though, that the street was designed for 45. Hopefully the new landscaping and medians help with this, as this is a gross oversight by the city.

  8. Crocodileguy says:

    David: As an area resident, I think people would make use of the circle things. I grew up in the neighborhood, and those semicircular places would be great for taking kids to feed the ducks bread, or for walkers/joggers along the trail to ret up and view the canal. I ALWAYS see people on the towpath, and the other benches/gathering spaces are usually occupied during the day.

    Urban: The towpath should NOT be paved. While the Monon was designed as a trail linking communities, the Towpath has always been more pastoral in nature. Paving it would remove a lot of its charm, as well as be vexxing to runners/joggers, its main users. The crushed limestone and narrower trail width make the Towpath better for joggers, as the soft limestone i better for their joints than the concrete or asphalt of the Monon.

  9. Anonymous says:

    To the first poster: replacing the street sign blades wouldn’t have to be done all at once. It could be done as the signs reach the end of their useful life and need replacing. Of course some majors corridors could be targeted to have their signs replaced sooner.

  10. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 6:58, I’ll admit I don’t know the exact cost, but going with the design I suggest can’t be too crazy. INDOT puts three color interstate shields all over the place. You could order the flag logo pre-printed on the blanks. Or if even that is too expensive, you could fall back to a decal.

    The non-city flag designs might be a reach too far. But that is the sort of detail that separates world class from wannabes. I saw something similar in Madrid, which inspired me.

    anon 3:57, exactly. By standardizing you don’t replace everything at once. You just replace as the items in question are up for replacement anyway.

    David, I can’t say how many people would use this, but the fact that the designers tried to make the sidewalks link to destinations makes it seem likely that they’ll see more traffic. Sidewalks are like streets: they are a network. As the network gets built out, more and more use will happen. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

    croc, the Victorian gas lamps on Meridian are of very recent vintage. They were installed in the mid-90’s I believe. Prior to that, more traditional pole lighting had been in place.

  11. thundermutt says:

    Disclaimer: I lived a few blocks from this area for a couple of decades and know it as well as anyone can.

    I completely agree that the HARMONI Meridian project is the place to start with the city flag motif, as it is the “alpha” north-south line represented on the flag. Where better?

    To the poster who wondered about utilization? Alice Carter Park is underutilized because no one can safely get to it. The Canal Trail is well-used, and a better feel at that spot where the trail, Meridian, Westfield, and Alice Carter Park all come together would bring lots of people. But there would also have to be a sidewalk connection on the west side of Westfield down to the Chase Bank (where the sidewalk now ends at Illinois & Westfield).

    There is a sidewalk all along the east side of Meridian now, just none on the west side or along 56th…a major problem for walking from Meridian-Kessler to the 56th & Illinois node. That needs to be fixed in this program.

    There’s nothing but good in this concept, though I agree with Urbanophile that the devil’s in the details.

  12. pig says:

    Great post.

    About Midtown: The name has historically referred to the Indiana Avenue area bounded by 16th, Ohio, Northwestern (MLK), and Agnes (University), but IUPUI has, of course broken this area up. I’m not even sure anymore what to call the area bounded by 10th, 16th, MLK, and Fall Creek. Anyway, in colloqial usage Midtown has usually been used lately to refer to the area centered on Meridian between 16th and 38th. I’m not sure why HARMONI transported it north of 38th. I guess it was just a weak attempt at an umbrella term for all the neighborhoods involved in this projected. Or maybe they backronymed? I dunno, but it’s not working for me.

  13. pig says:

    colloquial

  14. Crocodileguy says:

    The lamps on Meridian may only date to the 90s, but they’ve been in Forest Hills longer than that. They give the neighborhood an independent identity, setting it apart as an historic area. I’m also partial to the design…I find it very stately and not at all “feminine.”

    While in other areas I would agree that they are somewhat banal (Carmel and Fishers, anyone?), there aren’t many of those in Indianapolis.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Great post with thoughtful comments by all. However, before getting into style issues, I’d focus on solving the Indianapolis “brand promise” problem. Simon Anholt, a city branding expert, was quoted recently in a CEOs for Cities report on city branding: “Paris is romance, New York is energy, Washington is power, Toyko is modernity, Lagos is corruption, Barcelona is culture, Rio is fun.” So, then, what is Indianapolis? Reaching a consensus on the collective brand promise will have a tremendous impact on how the city chooses to focus its resources. It will also influence the strategies employed to support the promise, and these include roadway improvements and streetscape design. For example, if Indy aspires to become the heartland’s high tech business center, gaslight fixtures may not be the best way to reinforce that vision. Instead, a style that both supports the historic character of a neighborhood and has a contemporary quality may be the appropriate approach. Solve the brand question and a lot of other things will start to fall into place.

  16. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 8:16 – that’s a great post. I totally agree. If you look at most branding efforts, however, you’ll find that they almost always dig into the history of a company (to take company examples) to try to uncover the essence of what the place is all about. They don’t try to completely ditch what they’ve got in order to start fresh. That’s why I highlighted much of the imagery of Indianapolis as I did.

    I’ve got some thoughts on this very topic that have been germinating. Perhaps I will post them at some point in the next few weeks.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thanks. I hope that you do devote some thought and space the topic, and that your blog readers do the same. There’s an opportunity out there for Indianapolis. Only a couple of Midwestern cities have a strong (and positive) image and identity. Chicago (city of big shoulders, hog butcher to the world) continues to transform its image into a world class city (that, to me, is what the Olympic bid is really all about). I would say Minneapolis, overall, has a very good reputation, but no compelling global image. Kansas City is on an upwards trajectory reputation wise, but their downtown core is still a disappointment to anyone who thinks Amersterdam is great place to visit. Milwaukee is doing some really good things-and they have a very attractive downtown that’s only going to get better-but get lost in Chicago’s shadow. Des Moine always rates highly as a place to live and raise a family, but has a low key image and a weak downtown. At the bottom-St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit-have shown some spark, but will have to overcome chronic problems with the delivery of core services before they can effective transform their image in public’s consciousness. In the middle are places like Cincinnati, Columbus and Omaha. These are clearly peer cities that will increasingly compete economically with Indy in the global economy (along with Minneapolis, Des Moine and KC). Each could really blossom if they play their cards right and make savvy decisions on where they focus resources. All the more reason for Indy to start thinking about the big picture and the hunk of the market they want to claim / own.

  18. thundermutt says:

    How many of those “image” cities host a major international event (or two) every year?

    Like it or not, Indianapolis probably needs to strongly embrace its motorsports heritage and leadership before Charlotte zooms past.

    “A City on the Move” as brand slogan? (Only those from Philadelphia will have a negative “MOVE” association: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOVE.)
    City flag device as brand label?

    Standard pedestrian/streetscape enhancement elements, signage, and lampposts?

  19. thundermutt says:

    ps. I finally figured out the acronym.

    Historic
    ARea along
    Meridian in
    Old
    North
    Indianapolis

    or possibly

    Hopeful
    Advocates for
    Rich
    Meridian-area
    Organized
    Neighborhoods of
    Indianapolis

    Sorry, it’s raining today and I couldn’t resist.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Great post and great discussion.

    HARMONI doesn’t need a brand because it’s not part of the herd.

    HARMONI is contributing to a long overdue public conversation about public infrastructure and the future of our communities.

    IMO the most significant aspects of this entire endeavor is the assertion of self-determination and the spirit of collaboration: between the neighborhood groups & between these groups and City/State officials/departments.

    HARMONI’s member organizations are setting a new standard that could provide a useful template for other neighborhoods in the metro area. There’s no reason to wait for decay to set in and reach a crisis state before officials scramble around to cobble together a plan to “save” a neighborhood.

    Let’s pre-empt decline and assert the importance of maintaining and sustaining thriving neighborhoods for the range of constituents: residents, businesses & visitors. Vibrant, lively neighborhood centers require parks, wildlife habitats, environmentally sound pollution mitigation, bike/ped/transit accommodations – all of which enhance livablity, sustainability, safety and character.

    The specific design details will be worked out organically as the projects progress. In
    the meantime, a flexible, yet stable civic infrastructure of engaged citizens is emerging that has opened up a public space for independently recognizing our interdependence. I say, Hooray!

  21. thundermutt says:

    I passed up the opportunity to say that I agree with Urbanophile that Indianapolis needs to stop doing “distinctive this” and “unique that” that is different in every corner of town.

    We must develop a “visual dictionary” that applies to all visible public infrastructure: streets, highways, parks, trails, public transit, etc.

    To the anon HARMONI advocate above: tying the city together needs to be part of your argument. If the “down and out” areas start to look (and maybe even perform) like the “stable thriving” areas, it will help the whole city to look and to BE better.

    That’s why it is imperative that the same “visual dictionary” say to people “this is a SAFE park”, “this is a SAFE street”, “this is a SAFE trail”, “this is a SAFE crossing” and “this is a SAFE and NICE neighborhood” equally, all over town. I’ll be pushing the idea with anyone who will listen.

    (I do agree with leaving the Canal Trail in crushed stone. It’s a lot easier to walk and run on than pavement, and it’s more porous than pavement…therefore the “green” choice for a trail surface.)

  22. jtrippi says:

    Interesting comments all. What Indianapolis is … is central. Centrally located, transportation hub, center of the state and Midwest, and aiming to be the center of industry, art, sports etc. That is what the city flag conveys too. Meridian street goes to the center. Take that concept and run with it.
    One forward thinking idea for Harmoni would be to draw similarities to the one very unique aspect of Indianapolis for the future, the cultural trail. Continuation of that design as a gateway to the cultural downtown districts would make sense. I do like the idea of some kind of visual announcement of entering the center of the city.

  23. Anonymous says:

    From a marketing side, “at the center of everything” has some interesting potential. How that plays out in terms of differentiating the city economically/culturally/socially from other Midwestern cities who can make similar claims to the centralized location concept requires some thought (Chicago, Columbus, Des Moine, St. Louis and KC could all make similar claims). I recall in Richard Florida’s recent book Who’s Your City?, Inday was identified as being along to the southern periphery of the great megaregion that stretches from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis (which despite the downtown in manufacturing over past 30 years is still an economic powerhouse). Whether or not you subscribe to the idea of megaregions as economic units, it’s probably to Indianapolis’ advantage to tout this connection. Better than being identified with the old rustbelt/frostbelt image that’s been referred to for years. However, while image and identity are important, they are not the same thing as a “brand promise.” I’d love hear more from people about what they think Indianapolis can do economically and culturally to separate itself from the pack.

  24. The Urbanophile says:

    Anon, I had planned to work up more on this, but since there is good discussion going on about the topic on this board, I will throw out a topic on it.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I love your 100 Monument Circle to be adopted all throughout Indianapolis. It will immediately set up a “center” for that area and advertise it as a place to congregate to the general public and development opportunities for developers. However, it has to be catered to pedestrians and not solely to cars like the original Monument Circle. Also, I would prefer to call them circles instead of roundabouts to jive with the Circle City theme and to stress the pedestrian experience (while the roundabout stresses the automobile)

    If I recall correctly, Speedway had a circle/roundabout design for the Speedway redevelopment and in the Market Square area redesigns there was a spot for a circle/roundabout there. There was also circle in the concept drawings for the Circle Truss Gateway idea.

    Places where the Monument Circle motif could be adapted are IUPUI, Near Westside, Irvington, Lawrence, Broad Ripple, 38th Street, and Pike Township. I’m sure there more places that it can adapted to.

    In IUPUI, they should definitely put a circle with a distinctive spire at the lawn in front of Cavanaugh Hall. It can be a place for IUPUI students to gather, sit, eat, laptop, etc. just like the real Monument Circle. Designs for the new master plan should be released for the IU Bloomington and IUPUI campuses this December or winter so I’m wondering what they have planned for IUPUI.

    Other things I wish the city would do would be to convert the interim library back into a city hall (and convert the moved space in the City County Building into court space until a new courthouse can be built hopefully as a distinctive building attached to the Marion County jail – to heighten that block instead of it just being an intimidating jail) , a light rail line to the airport as the first leg, and extending the White River State Park/Canal infrastructure into the banks of the actual White River (I’m hoping a Congressional earmark will help pay for this if it does come to fruition – I believe the canal was paid for by a Congerssional earmark).

  26. Gary says:

    Everyone should click over to the Indystar article about this plan and read all the comments. To read the post and watch the people of N. Meridian Street sqaure off with the people from Hamiliton County is very enlighting about the who pays for what, who has the right to, etc.

    There of course many sides to the issue. Why hasn’t Hamilton County done anything on their own to develop a transit authortiy to link up with Indygo and Marion County to help solve some of their commuting issues? How alot of the people of that same county resent many of the residents along North Meridian Street that “live in million dollar manisons” ask for speical treatment. It is all very funny is a very sad way.

    On the opposite side it is extremely sad to see some of the people on North Meridian Street that do “live in million dollar mansions” throw their weight around with an “don’t you know who we are?” attitude. Those people that live there state that they have raised their own money to help with the project which, of course, is precieved as pocket change to them to most people.
    I wound have to admit that I too believe the $300,000 they have raised was merely some silver scrapped on the spoon they received in their mouth at birth.
    They make no bones about who they are and they will get what they want when they want it.

  27. Karen says:

    We live in the blocks of Meridian St most affected by Harmoni’s plans. The neighborhood is up in arms b/c Harmoni did NOT contact any of us about their plans – we had no input. They never said a word about eminent domain and confiscating 12′ of our front lawns, etc. We we are going to make sure our voices are heard b4 anything happens. They are bulldozing us and we won’t let it happen – their process is wrong and heavy-handed, plus their press releases are false! They must want to run for political office…

  28. Gary says:

    I have been reading more and more comments coming out that people in the area have no idea what is going on. They haven’t been approach or informed about what is being proposed “by the neigbhorhood”. Many state is is just a hand full of power brokers that say the represent the entire area. While others are pointing out it is a heavy handed few that are doing all this and that don’t neccesarliy state behind them.

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