Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Announcing the Indianapolis Neighborhood Map

One of the things that has always struck me about Indianapolis is its weak sense of neighborhood. Now this isn’t monolithically the case. There are many neighborhoods with a strong sense of identity. But in many parts of the city, people probably can’t even name the neighborhood they live in apart from perhaps the name of their subdivision. This is probably an artifact of Unigov which consolidated the city and county governments. Much of the suburban area was anonymous. Also, many of the neighborhoods that do exist strongly in the minds of neighbors in the city are what I call “micro-hoods.” Many of them are basically glorified block clubs. That doesn’t make them bad by any means, but it is hard to call something a neighborhood if it doesn’t contain a single business.

You can see this in action in the way TV stations report crime, for example, which is generally just on the “East Side” or some such and not specific as to the neighborhood where it happened. There are many other possible examples as well.

As a start at changing this, a group of us decided to put together a first cut at a comprehensive neighborhood map of Indianapolis. We used every resource available, including city records, community documents, local experts, and the internet to assign every square inch of Marion County to a named neighborhood of reasonable size. Some of these were new areas we had to define ourselves. This is certainly not definitive at this stage. The idea is to provoke a discussion and to get people thinking about this. Eventually I’d love to see stronger neighborhood differentiation and different neighborhoods coming up with unique strategies to attract their own specific mix of residents and businesses. We’ll see what happens.

The initial result though is what I believe is the first comprehensive neighborhood map of the city of Indianapolis ever created. With that, here it is:

This map was created by Yours Truly in conjunction with Josh Anderson and Matt Hale. There was significant input from Chris Barnett, Matt Hostetler, and Sarah Lester, along with review and suggestions from many, many others. The map itself is available as a 46×48 inch high quality poster you can purchase online at and also at First Fridays at the Harrison Center for the Arts. I hope all of you in Indy will check it out and pick up a copy today.

What is Naplab? I’m glad you asked. Naplab is an informal group of us who decided to stop just talking about things and start doing actual projects that would be a positive influence on the city. This map was one of them. The fact that we’re a rogue operation made it possible for us to do things like draw lines on a map that would have been very difficult for government to do. Having said that, this map still took about two years to complete. I’m no longer active in the group since I don’t live in Indy anymore, but I know there are other cool projects in the works.

The graphic design of the poster is by Matt Hale, who incidentally was the designer for my web site too. He and Josh talk about the map over at Urban Indy‘s Kevin Kastner, and I got permission to re-run that interview here, so enjoy!

Word about a new neighborhood map for the city came to me unexpectedly. Phil Hooper, from DMD and the Greater Indianapolis Neighborhood Initiative, stopped me in the lobby of the City County Building, and the first thing he said was “have you seen the new Indianapolis neighborhood map?” He was excited, and I was intrigued. I’ve loved maps since early childhood and majored in Geography, so sure, tell me more. He mentioned it was a paper wall map that was for sale at the Harrison Center for the Arts’ First Friday event. I was unable to attend, but thankfully, the website for the group who designed the map went live. And it was worth every bit of hype

I sat down with the Naplab duo, Landscape Architect Josh Anderson and Graphic Designer Matt Hale to find out more about their inspirational creation.

Josh and Matt in the Indianapolis City Market

How did the idea for the map come about?
Naplab: Aaron Renn from the Urbanophile pushed for it, inspired by the Chicago Neighborhood Maps from Ork and other designers. We wanted to help create a dialogue about neighborhoods in Indianapolis and better establish a sense of neighborhood throughout the city. Initially, Aaron approached Ork about doing a design based on our research, but it wasn’t in the cards for us. We finally decided we would do a neighborhood-based map, but in our own design style. In the beginning, we had meetings with different people that have a good understanding of the entire city and we had a lot of discussion about what exactly constitutes a neighborhood in Indy and other cities. We wanted it to be a cool poster that people enjoy looking at, but also we also have a higher goal to promote a conversation about what it means to be a neighborhood in the city and help establish the identity of “the neighborhood” throughout the city.

What sources did you use?
Naplab: Human resources, as well as IMAGIS, city documents, google and wiki maps, official city neighborhood resources, Polis Center info, and of course, the internet. Chris Barnett, Matt Hostetler, and Sarah Lester were a tremendous help as well. We started out with a sharpie marker and a paper map, scanned it, and then spent months refining it with the multitude of sources we found.

Any personal favorite features of the map?

Matt: There are some really neat lesser-known neighborhoods that the map reveals. I grew up in Speedway, so the west side is my territory. North of 16th St (east of Speedway and north of Haughville) I never knew that that neighborhood was called Venerable Flackville, so that was a cool discovery for me. Also, though we don’t have the roads labeled, you can tell what they are if you know the city well. It’s neat to scan the map visually and fill in the informational blanks, so to speak.

Josh: Everything on the map is to scale. It makes it easy to see the difference in the scale of the airport when compared to downtown, the track, etc. It’s amazing to see the differences of neighborhood footprint size within the city. From the near southeast side, stretching around to the near north side, the neighborhoods are really small. Whereas the farther out you go, the neighborhoods increase in size, but also sprawl.

What font did you use?

Matt: It’s from a typeface family called Knockout by Hoefler & Frere-Jones. The specific weight/width is HTF26 Junior Flyweight. It’s ultra-condensed, and created better word-shapes across the wide spectrum of neighborhood word-lengths and combinations. Those word-shapes were more square, less horizontal, and that helped them fit in the varying neighborhood shapes more efficiently. In a nutshell, it’s a confident, condensed typeface that helped with legibility!

How has the reception been?

Matt: It’s been great. Snowballs are starting to roll. We just launched the website 2 weeks ago. Recently, we’ve been selling maps at the Harrison Center for the Arts on First Fridays. We have really seen the conversation that we were hoping for start to happen as we talk to people there. In one unexpected turn, Chuck Lofton from Channel 13 bought one last month. If we get people in the news organizations interested, it could have a huge impact on how neighborhoods are labeled in the city. Instead of always saying “a murder happened on the east side,” which is often blatantly false or misleading location-wise, a more specific area of the city can be specified. The City of Indianapolis is huge at around 400 square miles. We’ve got to stop labeling areas only by north, south, east, and west sides, or variants of those. It just makes less and less sense the farther out you go from Monument Circle.

Josh: I live on the east side, and if a crime happens anywhere within a particular 20 mile section of the city, then the entirety of that part of the city is dangerous. Also, regarding the map’s reception, people you don’t normally think of as urbanists do get very excited and proud when they see the name of their neighborhoods on the map and they begin to see the city in a new light. Especially for the lesser-known neighborhoods that people living on the other side of the city don’t know about.

Matt: You can see the lightbulb go off in their eyes. It’s really great.

What’s next for Naplab?

Matt: We’d like to find out more about the history of all these neighborhoods and display that somehow. The coolest way would be to have a clickable map online, but maybe just a wiki of some sort would be good too.

Josh: Yes, there are definitely more ways to promote this idea, make it more interactive, and expand the impact.

The Neighborhoods of Indianapolis 2011 map is available online for $35 at

You can also pick one up at the Harrison Center for the Arts this Saturday, June 11 from noon to 8 as part of IMAF and the INDIEana Handicraft Exchange.

Topics: Urban Culture
Cities: Indianapolis

24 Responses to “Announcing the Indianapolis Neighborhood Map”

  1. pete-rock says:

    What a great idea! Congrats on a wonderful undertaking.

    Neighborhood identification is indeed pretty weak in Indy, and in some other Midwestern cities as well. I think neighborhoods are the foundation of successful cities, and if cities are going to rebound it will be because people choose to live in easily identifiable neighborhoods that have the economic, cultural and social amenities that make them livable.

  2. I wonder if the media folks could be persuaded to use the neighborhood names only when reporting good news.

  3. Brennan says:

    Is there a graphic available online that allows you to zoom in on the neighborhood names that are smaller and harder to read?

  4. John says:

    I like the design, but it seems more geared towards looking cool than actually being a useful way to figure out where you are. Why not create a version showing street names, parks, and water? Something more like the practical – and also attractive – Chicago neighborhood map.

  5. Eric Fischer says:

    Do people seriously say “So Bro”? I imagine the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association (where I grew up) is sad not to have made the cut instead.

  6. Brennan says:

    As a resident of SoBro, yes, we use that term quite frequently, as do a lot of people.

    In fact, enough people say it that a little boutique called N. Rue & Co sells this pillow which sits on my couch:

  7. Chris Barnett says:

    I lobbied for Forest Hills and Canterbury (its mirror on the opposite side of the Monon), Eric.

    I think the “SoBro” designation was originally applied to the neighborhood east of the Monon and south of Kessler, south to 52nd, which you (and I) might have called the “Christ the King” or “Chatard” neighborhood. A couple of apartment complexes along 52nd added Broad Ripple to their name in the 90’s and I think real estate brokers picked up on it.

    Real estate folks may have been desirous of seeing houses south of Kessler approach the values north of Kessler. (But there still appears to be at least a $10K difference crossing Kessler for similar houses, as there has been for decades.)

    And to be fair, as applied to the northeast portion of Meridian Kessler (including Forest Hills) along College, there is actually historical support for calling them “South Broad Ripple”. Those areas from Central Ave. to the Monon (down to almost 52nd) were part of the former Town of Broad Ripple before annexation into Indianapolis.

    As a former resident of that area, like you, I prefer the “traditional” neighborhood brands of Forest Hills and Meridian Kessler to the faux-SoHo brand of “SoBro”. But it probably helps the restaurants along College and 54th to be thought close to Broad Ripple.

  8. Chris Barnett says:

    I lived in SoBro way before it was cool, when the Fair Train still ran on the Monon Line and all those shops and restaurants on 54th were grungy offices, warehouses, and service stations.

    Way before they started a street fair. :)

  9. PJ says:

    East Castleton and Camby! Represent!

  10. Matt Hale says:

    John, thanks for your thought-provoking comment on the design.

    At 46″x 48″ representing 400 sq miles, the purpose of this particular map is not wayfinding per se. It has two primary functions:

    1. break up the entire county-sized city into individual neighborhoods
    2. help embed the concept of neighborhood into the hearts and minds of a greater spectrum of Indy citizens.

    Both goals are unprecedented for Indianapolis, a historically less neighborhood-centric city than Chicago.

    It’s now a design cliché, but “form follows function” was definitely the mantra we followed designing this object. We toyed with adding layers of information of varying design to designate streets, nearby counties, other minor landmarks, etc, but ultimately decided that approach was counter to the primary goal. Therefore we left out any extraneous information that would distract from communicating the basic shape, size, and location of neighborhoods.

    We specifically decided to highlight or include the 3 major rivers, several highways, and two major bodies of water in Marion County because so many of the suburban neighborhood’s boundaries were created by these features. FYI, land-locked Marion County is only 1.68% water. We’ve included the major bodies, which every resident can easily name. We chose to include the airport and IMS, which are large and familiar Indy landmarks, to help convey scale.

    Citizens of Indianapolis (the primary audience for this project) will easily be able to identify major streets, highways, bodies of water, etc. by the shapes of the neighborhoods. And that’s part of the fun of this design for Indy residents: filling in the informational blanks, simply from the shapes of neighborhoods.

    Because of its strong history of neighborhood designation, there are many neighborhood map designs for Chicago. Many of these have even less information about the city and its infrastructure than ours, and many are certainly less attractive. Ork’s certainly has less information and is harder to decipher in certain cases because of their approach to typography (which in turn also makes it whimsical and attractive). I’m curious, to which particular Chicago neighborhood map design are you referring?

  11. John says:

    Thanks for the details Matt. I noticed the rivers/creeks after I commented. If the neighborhood boundaries are enough for local residents will recognize the major streets, that may be good enough for your goals, but does that imply that the map is not intended for non-residents?

    I know when I was moving from Columbus to Chicago, I found the neighborhood map very useful when searching for apartments. (This one is my favorite by the way). I don’t think the traditional look and style would be the best fit for the Indy map, but I think a version with street names may be something for you to consider someday. Or maybe leave the print version as is, but create a web-based version on a Google map overlay for newcomers? Just ideas though. I’m really impressed with the final product. I’ve always wanted to see something similar for Columbus too.

  12. Matt Hale says:


    (Could you repost your link? It didn’t work for me. Thanks!)

    Glad to share my thoughts. I don’t mean to imply the map isn’t for non-residents, but Indy residents are our primary audience.

    That said, we definitely want to explore more ways to communicate the layout of the city to everyone using Indy’s neighborhoods as the vehicle. I’m particularly interested in documenting and communicating the history (and vibes) of our neighborhoods. A web-based version with clickable overlays and other informative features is a great idea and one we’ve discussed at length about implementing in the future. :-)

    There’s definitely a lot of potential energy in this project. This first step was to document and display in a compelling way. That alone was a ton of work! Now we are revealing and engaging the public. The next steps will be to explore the best ways to enhance the work we’ve done and make it even more useful.

    By the way, my wife also found the Chicago neighborhood map very helpful when she moved to Chicago before coming here. We talked about it a lot as I worked on Indy’s map. :-)

  13. George Mattei says:

    Great idea.

    Moving from New Haven, CT to Columbus, I was struck with the very thing that Indianapolis has experienced-there are “sides” of town instead of neighborhoods here. In Connecticut, every city was broken up into a microcosm of neighborhoods.

    I think that’s partly due to development patterns that were formed by transportation options. The east coast was founded earlier. Many cities were made up of several villages that fused together. Additionally, the “town green” mindset is prevalent, so people naturally made nodes. Since the foundation of many New Haven neighborhoods were laid in the 1800’s, they were designed more as nodal walking neighborhoods out of necessity. Even major roads often had long stretches of primarily residential development broken up by retail nodes.

    By the time the Columbus and Indianapolis laid their neighborhood foundations in the early 1900’s, the patterns were different. Streetcars were now the main mode of transit, so you went from small circular nodes with commercial at their center to more of a linear design-retail laid out along main streets with housing stretching away from the main street on either side.

    This nodal vs. linear development pattern may seem trivial, but I think it’s one of the main reasons that older east-coast style cities have more definitive neighborhood identities than Midwest industrial cities have. In the east coast, your neighborhood was the area around the place you shopped. It had a name, and hence you identified with that name. So maybe you lived off Main Street and so did your co-worker, but there were pretty clear physical boundaries for neighborhoods, and your neighborhood clearly wasn’t the same as his/hers.

    In the Midwest you lived off “Main Street” or “First Avenue”, which was more or less a continual strip of retail for miles. The lack of nodes also led to a bit of a lack of identity, apart from living on “the east side off of Main Street”.

    Some older pre-industrial Midwestern cities, such as Cincinnati, seem to have much stronger neighborhood identities than places like Columbus or Indianapolis, which I think is for the same reasons noted above. Of course there are the exceptions, like Cleveland which has very strong neighborhood identities despite developing rapidly in the early 1900’s, but the pattern generally seems to fit.

  14. Jeff says:

    As a resident of St. Louis, Indianapolis always struck me as an anomaly among Midwestern cities. The older big cities have tight urban boundaries and dense, well-defined historic neighborhoods (St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and even Detroit), To me, Indy feels much newer and more suburban overall. Just compare the sprawly nature of Indianapolis to the tight 61 sq. miles of St. Louis City:
    The character of Indy’s inner-city neighborhoods feel more similar to St. Louis’ inner-ring suburbs in terms of age and density.

  15. Linda Hupp says:

    This is great! Growing up I lived just north and west of Irvington, where I attended elementary school – but I always called my neighborhood “Ellenberger” because everyone knew where the park was. I agree – people SHOULD know where they live, it helps to build community pride which leads to a cleaner, safer, happier city for everyone. Thanks for the effort that you put into this great project!

  16. Tee R. says:

    I’m not a native of Indy or Indiana but I am a fan of maps, especially city and neighborhood maps. I do have two questions for those involved.

    1. Is there any plan to document the overall history behind the locations and names. Maybe in a future blog post or a book?

    2. “SoBro”? Really?

  17. @Tee, as for your first question, I know the Naplab folks would like to do some of that, including setting up an interactive online map to learn more about the neighborhoods.

    As for #2, perhaps a real estate business created names, but one in actual use by people in the city. I didn’t make that one up.


  18. Eric Fischer says:

    This got me looking at some old Indianapolis maps.

    I knew Forest Hills was once “an addition to the town of Broad Ripple, now in the City of Indianapolis,” as I remember reading on a title deed once, but IUPUI has a map from 1945 (,136) that makes me doubt that today’s “SoBro” ever was, since by that time Broad Ripple had been annexed to the city, but the eastern city limits were at the Monon between 52nd and Kessler.

    It looks like the neighborhood may at the time have been part of a town called Malott Park, which in an 1898 map (,123) was on the east side of Keystone between 52nd and 56th.

  19. Tim George says:

    Josh and Matt – great job on this map and I’m anxious to get a copy. This will hopefully be a point of discussion as Indianapolis perhaps evolves into a more neighborhood-centric community.

    Just curious, my dad grew up in an area just west of the White River around I-70; in fact, his childhood home on Ray Street was torn down for interstate construction. He has a very strong identity to this area which he calls The Valley and even refers to “valley rats” that he still comes across. There is even an area call The Little Valley. Did this come up in your research? I’m not seeing these neighborhoods on your map, just “West Indy”.

  20. Tee R,

    Yup, SoBro! (South of Broad Ripple). Used by most, hated by the rest. :-)

    SoBro is also used by the South Bronx from what I understand. No offense to New Yorkers who would say otherwise.

    Eric Fisher,

    Thanks for the links and comments. Looking at the old maps is fun, right!? :-)

    The area around Forest Hills and Malott park was somewhat prickly because some Meridian Kessler documents claim the neighborhood covers land all the way to Keystone Ave. Other documents show Meridian Kessler ends at College Ave. We chose to end it at College Ave. because of the clear delineation in housing stock and resident (older and wealthier vs younger and new families). We ultimately went with SoBro (probably the most polarizing name on the map) over other smaller older names because of its up and coming status with Indy Residents. Since there were so many overlapping boundaries in the area, we decided to absorb the smaller neighborhoods into Meridian Kessler and SoBro because that better fit with the urbanist-accepted definition of neighborhood. (That definition falls apart the farther out from Monument Circle one travels, so that wasn’t always possible.) The Meridian Kessler/SoBro/Keystone Monon area also has the informal nicknames of Midtown and The Gourmet Ghetto. :-)

    Tim George,

    Thanks for the compliment. We hope it helps push Indy into the neighborhood-centric mindset as well!

    The West Indy neighborhood was a troublesome area. With any of the larger ‘hoods I tried to find ways to break them up without causing a landslide of nameless neighborhood sections. There was little contemporary designation to be found outside of “West Indy.”

    Contemporary vs Historical names came up often in our research. Haughville, Stringtown and their west side brethren are still well-defined and used, but as far as I found it this first round of research, the West Indy area doesn’t have much current history other than some new CDC’s just calling it West Indy. We were thankful to have that. Thanks much for the heads-up. I will do some more research using the Little Valley lead. :-)

  21. Eric Fisher,

    After posting on another blog, I realized a mistake from my post above.

    I’d like to clarify that Meridian Kessler on our map does in fact end at 40th/Monon Trail and not College Ave as I mistakenly wrote. We used the exact boundaries outlined by


  22. GeoJunk says:

    Great map, but do you have a higher resolution version available; I cannot make out the smaller neighborhoods around downtown. I was surprised that there are so many, though I am familiar with a few, especially on the north side. How about North of 465? I’d like to see this done for a few other cities as well, like Chicago or New York. You hear about particular neighborhood all the time but you rarely see them labeled on a map to tell you where they are. Well done.

  23. John Morris says:


    Please don’t do this for Pittsburgh! Every three blocks is another self defined neighborhood.

    Also, NYC doesn’t really need this either. Most people know the major, hoods which ussually have a minimum population of 50,000-100,000. The other obscure classifications one hears on the news just help to confuse people.

    As in most places, Real Estate agents control a lot of this with good neighborhoods always defined as bigger than they really are and bad neighborhhods shrinking or taking on aliases like Hells Kitchen becoming Clinton.

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