Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Indy: The Failure of the Canal Walk

Agencies tend to use capital, for the most part, as if money itself were capable of solving problems…but without creativity, there is really very little, if any ‘progress’ that money can buy.
– Jane Jacobs, “The Economy of Cities”


Indianapolis development blog DIG-B recent broke the news that two prime lots on the downtown Canal Walk are available. The IBJ covered the story this week, and since I was quoted in it, I thought it would be a good time to elaborate my thoughts on the Canal.

The Canal Walk can be viewed as a success in some regards – the Canal itself is quite nice, there is new development along it where previously there were rundown buildings or weedy lots, and at times you’ll see a few people strolling along it. However, if viewed against the aspirations that were publicly set for it – that it would be another San Antonio Riverwalk – the Canal has clearly failed. There is very little retail development along the canal, the developments there have generated effectively no organic spin-offs, and the Canal is generally lightly patronized.

Why is this? And what can we learn from it?

For those who aren’t in Indianapolis, a little history is in order. In the early 1800’s, the state borrowed massively to fund an ambitious network of canals. Indiana’s timing was impeccable – impeccably bad – since rail was about to eclipse water as a form of transport. Also, the costs were radically underestimated. The end result was that after 13 miles of the Central Canal in Indianapolis were completed, the undertaking was abandoned and the state declared bankruptcy.

Today the Canal is owned by the Indianapolis Water Company, that which uses it to channel water to its filtration plant. On the north side, the canal is a recreational amenity with a popular trail that links Broad Ripple to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and beyond. Downtown, the grassy banked canal was replaced with a concrete channel and high quality side paths in an effort to create a riverwalk amenity that would spur redevelopment in an area that had seen better days. The Canal cut through the Indiana Avenue district, once a thriving black neighborhood. As with many such segregation era neighborhoods, most of Indiana Avenue was obliterated by urban renewal and industrial encroachment. But this area was in downtown and the city viewed it as prime property where redevelopment could be kick started with public investment. The vision was, to use a hackneyed phrase, to create a “live, work, play” area with a mix of residential, entertainment/commercial, and office space. The Canal itself would be a bustling recreational and entertainment zone, which would then generate spin-off development in surrounding areas.

Today, almost all of the land fronting the Canal has been filled in with buildings, but otherwise little of the vision was achieved. Why? It is a direct result of the type of uses and style of development that were implemented along the Canal, development that was, by design, incapable of producing the types of benefits the city wanted to see. I attribute the decision to default to this style to the maturity curve of downtown. At the time the Canal Walk was developed about 15 years ago, downtown was a very different place. It would not have supported robust urban development. Unfortunately, recent developments have largely continued the template established back then even as downtown and macro trends have changed dramatically.

Almost every block or super-block along the Canal was developed for a single, monolithic use, typically institutional. The uses are not well integrated and have not created synergies. What’s more, virtually all of them are very inward facing, and many of them are explicitly suburban in design. Developments along the Canal generally engage with the Canal proper in a decent way architecturally, if not functionally. And almost every development completely turns it back on the surrounding streets of West St. and Senate Ave. Given that West St. is a six lane mega-highway, perhaps that side is understandable. But the ignoring of Senate Ave is less justifiable.

Unfortunately, the IBJ article came out so quickly I didn’t have time to take a full photographic survey of the area, so will rely on narrative for much of this, but let’s take a virtual tour of the Canal and see what we find.

The Canal starts, or more properly ends, in White River State Park. It meanders through it, making an east-west cut under West St. in a much needed underpass, then turns north. Crossing under West St., we come to development. There north side of the Canal is a fire station. The south side, and extending around the bend where the Canal becomes north-south, is the Indiana Government Center.

The Indiana Government Center is a sprawling campus stretching between Capitol and West north of Washington St. It includes the State House and a number of auxiliary buildings. Other than a midrise tower, most of these are very short buildings. Two of them are parking garages with no commercial space that kill entire city blocks. Another is a low-rise superblock development called the Indiana Government Center South building. This campus creates a huge barrier between the Wholesale District and White River State Park, but that is for another day. The north end of the campus abuts the Canal. It has exactly the effect one would expect of a state office building. Other than people on lunch break who get to use the Canal as a sort of outdoor area for the state cafeteria, this frontage is dead. Of course, as a government owned building, this extensive “beachfront property” frontage generates no tax revenue.

When the state built a non-revenue producing parking garage along the Canal frontage, it did leave a narrow grass embankment where future development could go. The state issued an RFP to developers, but an organization called MCANA – an umbrella group of neighborhood organizations that is principally oriented towards outer township areas – wants to leave it empty. They are basically people who like to come downtown a handful of times per year to use that embankment to watch concerts across the Canal. The city shows every sign of having capitulated to them. While the economy precludes development at this time, the city and state have made no statements that they are currently supportive of development on the site.

The concerts take place at a building on the west side of the Canal north of Ohio St., which is the headquarters of the Indiana Historical Society, a non-profit organization. The IHS headquarters is a classic Indianapolis building that looks great if photographed from one particular direction, in this case the front of the building on Ohio, but otherwise seems to not care what people think about it. The rear of the building is taken up by a large surface parking lot clearly visible from the Canal, and a loading dock.

We’ve now come two blocks and have yet to find any tax paying property along this multi-million amenity. North of here, however, there are some private developments. Among these are a block taken up by a Courtyard by Marriott Hotel and a Residence Inn. These are exact replicas of their brethren you see lining every interstate highway in America, complete with a parking lot that takes up the majority of the land area.

This introduces us to another feature of the Canal that will recur again and again. Namely, large private parking lots that are verboten to the general public. Ironically, while there is a large amount of parking directly along the Canal, it can be surprisingly difficult for a visitor to actually find a place to park. We also see a development that wants to seal itself off from the city around it. You can access the site as a pedestrian from the outside, but not easily, as this picture shows.

These hotels received a ten year tax abatement plus a generous land deal.

There are a couple of apartment complexes along the Canal in this area too. These are among the earliest developments and curiously among the best. While one can quibble with the architectural style, they make some attempt for good urban engagement with the surrounding streets by maintaining a continuous streetwall, first floor windows, hidden interior parking, etc. Here is one of them, the Canal Square apartments, seen on its Canal frontage:

The newer residential developments are actually less successful, showing that in some regards the quality of development along the Canal actually declined over time. Paradigmatic of this is a townhome development called Watermark. Watermark consisted of a series of detached townhouses and some condo buildings along the Canal. Notably, the parking garages face the street on Senate Ave., not that we have to look at them since the development is enclosed in an opaque perimeter fence:

This is literally a small gated subdivision downtown. It is hermetically sealed against all outside intrusions when the gate is closed. This shows precisely why the Canal has never generated material spin-off development. When the buildings along it are designed to be entirely self-contained, self-sufficient islands walled off from anything around them, why would anyone expect anything different. These buildings are designed specifically so that nothing outside can affect them, and hence ensure that they can affect nothing outside. Save, of course, rendering Senate Ave. even more bleak.

This is Exhibit A in what I mean by the maturity curve of downtown. It is easy to complain about this development, but 15 years ago or so when it was built, downtown was a very different place and the country was a very different place. The current vogue for city living was yet to take hold. Downtown Indy had few residents and this area looked – and still looks – to the casual visitor such a prospective home buyer rather sketchy. A lot of the development from this era was built to look suburban in order to attract the suburban home buyer with a familiar product, and was designed to give off the impression of security.

Even so, this development struggled and I don’t know if even to this day every unit has been sold. As it turns out, when you given someone the choice between a real suburban environment – complete with good schools, low taxes, and safe streets – and a downtown development masquerading as a suburb, people choose the real thing most of the time.

Across the street from this is an apartment complex beamed into downtown as if directly from some nearby suburb. Called the Gardens of Canal Court, it consists of several buildings set in a jumble around winding streets with mostly surface parking. Here’s a picture:

One feature of this I don’t have a picture of is some detached garages that do exist for it that whose backsides face West St. West St. is the principal entryway into downtown from the northwest, and these garage backsides are among the first thing any visitor sees when arriving in downtown Indy from that gateway. When the design was originally proposed, this was decried in an Indianapolis Star column by Steve Mannheimer to no avail.

The frontage along the Canal is nicer in some respects:

But if you look closely, these buildings, though they have small patios along the Canal, don’t have any direct access to it. The buildings are completely fenced/walled in. Again, this was probably done for reasons of privacy/security, but I can’t help but make an analogy to a city street. Would someone build apartments this walled off from the street? No. This is typical of Canal development, however, and demonstrates again the hermetically sealed nature of most such developments. Also, you can see the dearth of users of the Canal here. Clearly, I took this picture in season where the leaves are not on the trees, so weather is likely cool, but from what I’ve seen even in perfect weather there are rarely that many people on the Canal unless there is a special event of some sort.

One new residential development bucks the trend. That is the under construction Cosmopolitan on the Canal at Michigan St. This is a multi-use building that is primarily apartments but also has some commercial space both at Canal level, and on the corner of Michigan and Senate. Set across the street from Mo-Joe’s coffee, this could create a bona fide commercial node at Senate/Michigan. It is going to provide something that is oddly missing from the Canal at present: a public restroom. The building also engages reasonably well with the neighborhood on all sides. Had the Canal been lined with Cosmopolitans right from the start, things might be vastly different today. Senate might have become a more inviting street with a mix of interesting residential and retail, generating spin-off development to the east.

Unfortunately, this building burned to the ground in an arson fire set by a homeless person. It is currently being rebuilt. My only picture is from the construction period pre-fire, but it gives you a feel for the structure:

North of this residential zone, the Canal turns commercial again and is surrounded mostly by low rise offices. One of the earliest of these was a building originally known as the Technology Transfer Center, and which is still used as some sort of Indiana University research building. The following picture will give you an indication of how buildings in this section of the Canal engage with it. The TTC is the building in the background:

The TTC has a large parking lot that is again off limits to anyone who is not an employee or visitor the to the building. To enforce this, they used to padlock the empty lot shut after hours, preventing anyone who wanted to visit the Canal from parking there. Today they make due with a menacing sign:

That’s the TTC in the background. This building is directly in front of the USS Indianapolis Memorial, one of the key attractions of the Canal. Good luck finding a parking spot. The now on the market lots are north of this.

The TTC canal basin with the USS Indianapolis Memorial used to be the north end of the renovated Canal, but it was extended north another couple blocks, principally so that Clarian Health, the largest hospital chain in the region, could build a series of three buildings around it. One of these is Fairbanks Hall:

As you can see, we continue with the suburban theme. This is a photo that could easily have been taken in north suburban Carmel, with a low rise office building flanking a detention pond. I’m imagining a “fountain” spraying water up in the air in the middle of it. This illustrates what the Canal has in effect become, namely an office park amenity. This office park, however, is owned by a non-profit institution.

And that is the best view of the building. As with most suburban office buildings, this one is indifferent to the streets around it. Here’s the 10th St. frontage:

10th St. here is also a one-way, high speed arterial with no parking, similar to many suburban circulator roads. Here’s the view along West St., again a principal entryway into downtown.

The north end of the Canal is anchored by another suburban style building, this one, however, has the very urban feature of an integrated stop on the Clarian People Mover, an elevated rail system ferrying people between their various facilities:

Clarian admirably built this with their own money. However, since they used public right of ways to do it, the city required that they make the system accessible and free to the general public. But they didn’t say Clarian had to make it easy for the public to use it.. Look again at the picture. Superficially, it looks like an urban metro station, but the glass in front is merely a window. There are no doors along the street in order to enter the station, which can only be accessed from inside the building.

The fake metro entrance perhaps epitomizes what has happened along the Canal Walk. It’s Potemkin development. In some respects it is almost literally like the set of a Western, something not designed to stand up to real scrutiny. Look at it from the Canal, and it’s like a bustling main street – minus the bustle. But behind the propped up facades….

It also illustrates the truth of the Jane Jacobs quote above. Throwing money at problems isn’t always the answer. The Canal Walk itself cost millions to build. But it is lined with insular, suburban style development that by definition cannot generate self-sustaining urban life or spin-offs. Also, probing behind the commercial developments, we see that they are largely either public sector, quasi-public sector, or non-profit, making it questionable how much commercial tax revenue the city is actually generating from what is there. The Canal, likely because of its proximity to to IUPUI and the fact that most of its residential developments are apartments not condos, has attracted a lot of people to live downtown. That’s a real plus. But they do not have the same access to groceries or other easy neighborhood conveniences they can pleasantly walk to like those who live along Mass Ave.

Was it ever realistic to expect that the Canal Walk could go from unattractive wasteland to thriving mixed use district in one swoop? Perhaps not. When the dial is completely turned to one side, you can’t easily turn it all the way to the other side. Perhaps instead we need to look at this, in homage to thundermutt, as a type of Hoosier version of the Japanese kaizen ethic of continuous improvement. Each iteration should be better than the last and we continue to get better over time. Clearly, the Canal is better than what was there before by a long shot.

There’s something to this, but it has serious weaknesses. It creates a benchmark of success based only on existing conditions. In this logic, if something is better than what was there before, it must be good. However, was the result as good as we could have achieved under the circumstances? We could be better than the past while still vastly under-performing versus our potential.

Also, while a purely continuous improvement view of the world might work great in a world with one city, the world we live in, alas, is a competitive place. Indianapolis isn’t just in competition with its own past, but with other cities all around the world. It is in a fierce war for people and businesses. Is the product it is putting on the field matching up well against the competition? That’s the true challenge.

I’d like to propose two aspirations by which we can evaluate development. These applies to any city as well as they do to Indianapolis:

Seek to achieve the best outcome possible given the circumstances and constraints.

Continuously improve at a rate greater than the cities you compete with, and aspire to compete with, are improving.

Implicit in this is that we are actively looking at the world around us and what the competition is doing, Midwest cities do a poor job of this at present.

Is Indianapolis meeting these standards? Speaking as someone who tries to look at what is going on in many cities and also to visit and see first hand what is going on in them, I’d have to say that, when it comes to downtown development, it is not. The quality of development in Indianapolis is often lower than you see in competitor cities. And while Indianapolis still has a Midwest-leading downtown in my view, and one of the strongest of any city its size, with some very unique and successful assets such as the Wholesale District, the reality is that the gap between Indy and Midwest peer city downtowns is narrowing, not widening. Partially this is natural. Incremental improvements generally become more difficult to achieve over time. Indy has to keep elevating its game with new ideas while other cities can, to some extent, merely replicate what Indy has already done, a much easier task. And the gap Indy needs to bridge between it and aspirational competitors like Denver is significant, though I think Indy’s downtown can definitely hold its own against Minneapolis, especially when factoring in the size difference in metro areas. I would say that to meet the criteria I laid out, Indianapolis needs to embrace the marketing tag line it has created for itself and raise the game for downtown. These two on-the-market parcels on the Canal Walk would be a good place to start.

Additional Reading

You may also enjoy this story on the Canal Walk from a fantastic new Indianapolis blog American Dirt called “Where the Canal Walk first went wrong“. DIG-B is also a great source of information and photos about the canal. I borrowed some of these pictures from those blogs and hopefully the authors won’t mind.

26 Comments
Topics: Architecture and Design
Cities: Indianapolis

26 Responses to “Indy: The Failure of the Canal Walk”

  1. Don K says:

    Reminds me of a larger-scale version of the Ren Cen debacle in Detroit from 30-odd years ago – walled off from Jefferson Ave by the climate control bunkers, from the river by a huge parking lot, and with nothing on the east or west sides to connect it to the city.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That doesn't look like a city at all.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It doesn't look like a city because it's NOT a City: It's a suburban oasis. Indianapolis has to learn to quit investing in suburbanites if it wants to move forward with life. I mean out of all of the bad developments in Indy, the Canal Walk is definitely the worst downtown. I think it would fit much better in Fishers (FI-TOWN sounds so much cooler). I think development in Indianapolis is conservative–but not in a good way for the most part. Time alone can save bad developments, however there comes a time when you have to ask yourself, "How long is it worth to wait around for." The Canal will not start developing in an organic, urban form for a LONG time because it's not being developed for future residents. And whatever residents will live in this area in the near future are all transient. It's just another non-functional EYESORE amenity for ???…Oh, for all of the suburbanite workers or tourists!! For these people…it's just another generic mass of EYE CANDY. Indy needs to quit developing for Isolationistic NIMBY's to move forward. How long do you truly believe it will take for the Canal to become an urban amenity?? Quite a while. The Cultural Trail will help. The Cosmopolitan development will help a bit. Future improvements for IUPUI by turning it into an actual campus for people and not cars will help but that's years away. Lets transport the Canal up to Kokomo where it belongs and START OVER!!!

  4. Darrin Thompson says:

    My wife and I just took a downtown Indianapolis staycation from our suburban home in Pike township just this very weekend. Since we ended up in that very hotel (Priceline lottery) that has the highway look I thought I needed some free entertainment and walked the Canal. My impression, from standards set by Pike township, was that the Canal walk was beautiful, in the breathtaking sense.

    Walking by what turned out to be the 3000 square foot Watermark mansions, I was blown away. Personally I didn't care for the gated community part, but I did liked the idea of a walkout basement emptying onto a bike-able path and 3000 square feet is soooo appealing when you have 5 kids. I guess you can take the philistine out of the suburb, but you can't take the suburb out of the philistine.

    BTW, there were plenty of properties for sale in there, although we didn't pay attention to if they were new or not. Unfortunately we didn't get to walk inside because it was, after all, only for upscale philistines. In these tough economic times, I'm not one.

    If I'd had $800k burning a hole in my pocket at the time I'd have one today. There were a few units that faced north away from the "sanctum" on North street and I would have preferred one of them I think. Which I believe makes me cool.

  5. Ahow says:

    A couple of unfair items from your assessment:

    1) I try to run on the canal twice a week. While on my runs, I don't think I've ever seen less than 100 people in the 30 minutes it takes me to get around the canal. The mix of people is white, black, hispanic, and asian. Those people are walking, running, biking, and paddle boating. Granted my runs thus far have been around 6pm and during nice summer days, but the canal is far from abandoned.

    2) You completely and utterly skipped Buggs Temple. It contains a public restroom, a coffeeshop, and two restaurants (a deli-type sandwich shop and a high-end restaurant with amazing deck views.

    I'm not sure if you just haven't been there in awhile (which is entirely possible give the winter pictures), but the usage of the canal is fairly consistent. I certainly won't argue that the city is getting its money-worth though. There is very minimal tax revenue generation at the canal, which is certainly a major downside.

  6. thundermutt says:

    Aaron, thanks for the call out.

    I'd suggest that Indy actually does a pretty good job at #1 (best possible development considering all constraints).

    Of course, one of the base constraints is the suburban sensibility that controls much development capital in this city. Another is our complete dependence on the automobile. Neither of these things can be "fixed" one development at a time, so every development must account for them. MAYBE $5 gasoline would change it. Maybe. But even Priuses and Volts will need parking spaces.

    I think city leaders will need to focus on the second of your two postulates: improve faster than competitors.

    Canal Walk has morphed into a connector/cog in the "life sciences" area. As you point out, the Science and Tech Center has become IU Med offices, as have other buildings along the mid-stretch of the canal. They link IUPUI with the Methodist campus.

    There is now only about a three block gap from IUPUI to Methodist along the Monorail from I-65 to 15th St., plus a gap occupied by the triangular shopping center across from Wishard that isn't really a gap…it has essentially become "Campus Corner" for the IUPUI/Medical complex.

    All that development pushing in accounts for the campus form of the Canal today, IMO.

  7. Ironwood says:

    Urb:

    Haven't taken the tour, but I will. Please keep the design critiques coming as part of what this blog does. They're great.

    One small point on what may have been a little bit of a throw-away observation on your part: I don't think downtown Indy really can compete — at this point — with Minneapolis. And the Canal Walk appears to be one of the reasons why. I think Minneapolis has been increasingly aware of its riverfront, something that started way back in the 70s/80s. and, while there are some industrial/institutional monoliths that remain, University property and carry-overs from the old mill days, Mpls has done a pretty good job of making its Riverfront a vibrant place for tourists, walkers, joggers, etc., especially in the downtown area.

    Wonder if you might take a closer look at the Minneapolis riverfront — and the Chicago riverfront redevelopment, for that matter. Would love to hear your critique of both, particularly on a compare and contract basis with the Canal Walk.

    Would also welcome your broadening the discussion to Louisville, St. Louis, Cincinnati and other riverfronts, given that so many midwestern cities sprang up along rivers.

    If you've already done this, and the articles are buried in the archives, suggestion: pull 'em up and repost 'em.

    Thanks,

    Iron

  8. Trueblood says:

    I would have to agree with Ahow about the amount of people along the canal. I lived in Gardens for a year and the canal was always very busy when i would go walking and biking along it.

    Maybe this is an example of just how much the city is missing out. There isn't that much residential on the canal which means a lot of people actively choose to come there even on week nights. So if this many people are attracted to such a poorly utilized area think of the incredible potential of this place if redesigned and done right.

    Also I like Iron's idea of doing a series of posts on some of the downtown waterways in the other cities you cover. In my opinion Cincinnatti has really missed the boat with a lot of its river development as well when compared to the Kentucky suburbs over the bridge.

  9. Sharon W. says:

    On a tangential note, the one thing I remember from my first experience with Indy's Canal Walk when it was new was how many grammatical and punctuation errors there were on the historical plaques along it.

  10. Darrin Thompson says:

    Don't know about the grammar, but I think if I had tried to follow the directions they provided to the RCA dome I would have been disappointed when I got there.

  11. CorrND says:

    thundermutt — more than just a "connector/cog in the "life sciences" area" I'd say the whole canal walk north of New York is just an extension of IUPUI campus. The apartment complexes are 90%+ occupied by students, the canal-front space of Canal Square is almost completely occupied by the School of Law (they very quickly outgrew the "new" Inlow Hall across West), and the whole head of the canal is obviously a health and life science cluster. There are only a handful of uses north of New York St. that aren't intimately tied to IUPUI.

    It wouldn't necessarily be wrong for the city to embrace this de facto campus extension, but it doesn't excuse bad design.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I agree with CorrND about the best utilization for the Canal Walk is that it should be considered the main HOUSING VILLAGE for IUPUI mixed with Life Sciences and hopefully someday, restaurants, bars and other basic commercial amenities. Following this period of designation this place may morph into a better mix of residents. Wow, think of over 75% of students living by water: the Canal or White River. Not bad for land-locked INDY. IUPUI would definitely be better defined as a community bordered by clustered housing villages on both 'EAST and WEST ends.'

    Bad design is one thing but lack of creativity is another. It doesn't need to cost much to make a statement, people.

  13. Jeffrey says:

    The canal is far more crowded than you are giving it credit for.

    I, for one, would hope it never becomes the over-crowded collection of chain restaurants, bars, and drunk conventioneers that makes up a healthy portion of San Antonio's Riverwalk.

    It has obvious flaws, many of which you aptly point out, but not resembling the Riverwalk is most definitely not one of them.

  14. ArtistDan says:

    I've always enjoyed my visits to the canal. Just this afternoon I talked with a person about how her son wanted some senior photos taken at the canal. But along the lines of improving the canal – check out this story about how a creative lady dealt with the opening of the Highline Park right outside her NYC apartment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLo3P_zMVXs&feature=player_embedded#t=242 – perhaps we could use more of this type of fresh outlook.

  15. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    I must say, for those of you who think the Canal is a well-patronized place, your standard must be very different from mine. I don't jog along it in the morning, so can't judge then, but I've been on the Canal several times in the last few months and while there are always people, it is far fewer than what you would expect. In a place like Seattle, the Canal would be packed with people. Now, one can view this as a positive, I suppose. As someone said in an Indy Star article a few years ago, the Canal is a great place to enjoy some "peace and quiet" downtown. But that certainly wasn't way tens of millions were spend to build the Canal in the first place.

    I think this an example of judging versus only our own past. Compared to the average Indy street, the Canal is like rush hour, but that's an exceptionally low hurdle to jump.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Perfect statement about the lack of street life in Indy! That's why the Cultural Trail will start helping change the perception of downtown living…not because it's a great design but rather that it's a bold enough development. At least the C Trail straddles thru and borders the more interesting urban amenities. I guess people who want to enjoy a peaceful, quiet walk downtown along the Canal are the same people who wouldn't be caught dead walking the residential neighborhoods of Brooklyn or Chinatown because they may have to encounter more than beautiful fountains, greenery, memorials, ornamental hardscapes and colorful flowers. These people will also go out of their way to dispute al fresco dining on the one and only established retail corner in Meridian Kessler. Hmmm…NIMBY SYNDROME is what promotes CRIMINAL ACTIVITY. For example, many Indy neighborhoods such as the Old North Side—due to the lack of commercial space and nightlife activities within the boundaries— suffers with higher crime than what most would want to admit. These places feel too isolated during most times of the day, not just at night.

  17. Anonymous says:

    in other words:

    …PAULA………will never see the LIGHT!!!

  18. Anonymous says:

    It sounds like some people here think there should be more attention paid to catering to rich people. The canal is great just the way it is. Free for all the people. There are public bathrooms in the State Museum and in the government center by the way.

  19. Anonymous says:

    What do you mean by catering to rich people? I would say if the Canal was line with more mixed use, higher density developments (INCLUDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING close by but not canal view) would cater to a greater demographic. Livability would definitely be increased! Quick fix, cheap developments are many times necessary for the downtown market in INDY but many of these will be very expensive to re-fix or fit into a more suitable, urban context for the future. This could have been planned back in the day. Or, maybe INDY is just use to fixing things by tearing down and starting over. What a waste of taxpayer money!!

  20. CorrND says:

    Gardens of Canal Court sucks up a huge amount of canal frontage, about four straight blocks. The canal is roughly 13 blocks long, with 26 blocks of canal frontage, so the Gardens of Canal Court represents roughly 1/6th of the canal frontage.

    That's very unfortunate for now. But on the flip side, that project was also built to the lowest construction standard of any apartment complex on the canal. That means it's going to be the first one to go. We can only hope that the buildings quickly deteriorate (the first phase was opened in '96, so we may have to wait a while for that) or that the market demands a better, more intensive use of that land sooner rather than later.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Development can be cheap and perception changing at the same time. It's going to take this creative attitude toward developing the Canal into a distinct mixed used district in the future. It's easy to say this will start when gas reaches $5. Unfortunately the city of INDY will have to invest quite a bit rather than wait 20 more years. Lets just hope the 'Gardens of Canal Court" will be no more. It SHOULD be on downtown INDY'S list of TOP 10 DEVELOPMENTS TO DESTROY…or maybe just transported to Avon or Fi-Town!

  22. Anonymous says:

    Let's hope this conversation about the canal has raised people's urban design standards just a little bit. Maybe people wouldn't be in such denial about how suburban in nature downtown Indy–especially the Canal–actually is!!! Sorry, it doesn't help make Indy a world class CITY.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I'm not sure the San Antonio riverwalk is the benchmark for Indianapolis or any other city. I understand its success has come at the expense of vibrant pedestrian activity on adjacent streets.

    No mention is made of the Indy riverwalk's ultimate strategic goal. Was it intended to stimulate residential development? Retail? Or, was it intended to serve as greenspace that links downtown districts?

    I don't live in Indianapolis, but I've been visited downtown many times over the past 30 years. My take is there is probably a limited market for retail or mixed use that includes retail outside of the core area. Generally, lots of rooftops or other kinds of destinations that attract a steady stream of visitors are needed to support retail. It appears the canal walk has successfully attracted rooftops (though not at sufficient densities to have a meaningful impact on the retail market), and that regard it could be described as very successful.

    I think a better model for Indy's riverwalk might be the Country Club Plaza district in Kansas City. The Plaza is an urban retail center that comfortably accommodates both autos and pedestrians. It's surrounded by high rise residential that provides additional support for the the retail. There's also a relatively new and very attractive riverwalk that links the residential to the Plaza area.

    In Indy's case, downtown is the Plaza, and the riverwalk is the "green" link that gets residents close to downtown and the other nearby institutional destinations.

    Now the medium density residential has proven successful, perhaps there should be more focus on creating high quality, high rise residential along or near the canal… once the market returns.

    San Antonio's riverwalk is unique and successful because for many years the city's downtown had no other destination on par with downtown Indianapolis. I think Indy's riverwalk has a different role to play. But that doesn't mean the current strategy and approach should not be reevaluated.

  24. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 10:26, the fact that you can't articulate the strategic intent of the canal speaks volumes about how the city approached the project. I can say, however, that the San Antonio comparison was made by many people in positions of power over the years and they have also expressed frustration about retail development. The city leaders' own statements over the years would indicate that the Canal has not achieved what they hoped it would.

    And one difference between the Canal and Country Club Plaza: Country Club Plaza isn't inside KC's equivalent of the Mile Square.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Point taken. My guess is that either marketplace demand for retail and / or a festival environment ala San Antonio was poorly understood by Indy officials, or sufficient controls were not in place to guide desired patterns of development. Given the size of the public investment in the riverwalk, the city should have been able get the kind of development they wanted… if the market existed.

    I'm going out on a limb here, but I think a San Antonio style riverwalk and entertainment district would have hurt Indy's continued efforts to create an entertainment district around the core downtown area. There are only so many retail and entertainment dollars to go around in a given market. A cool riverwalk may have stimulated demand that did not previously exist, somewhat like Chicago's Navy Pier area, but it would take a lot of new, destination oriented visitors to support downtown / Mass Ave AND a riverwalk entertainment district.

    Regardless of intentions, the riverwalk is a great amenity for the city. This is a case where I wouldn't waste too many tears over lost opportunities. Call it a victory for what it is and move on.

    That said, I think it's worth reevaluating why the powers that be thought the market could support a San Antonio type vision so as not create future redevelopment expectations that lead to more disappointments. Squelchers love to jump on disappointments and use them as examples of why future redevelopment initiatives are a waste of time and money.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Highlighting what's wrong with Canal Walk is helpful as our community tries to do better on the section of the Canal that already has vitality, a commercial/residential mix and a devoted, dedicated user base: Broad Ripple Village. The section between College & Westfield Blvd. is the place to show how to do waterfront treatment right in Indy. For a couple million bucks, the City could transform the banks of the canal in BRV. This would create another "center" in the Village and shift emphasis away from "The Strip" (Broad Ripple Avenue) increase property tax, sales tax & food & beverage tax revenues while enhancing an existing destination neighborhood and economic engine. The Downtown Canal has had its facelift. Time for urban renewal on the Canal in the Village!

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