Thursday, June 9th, 2011
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 naplab.net 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
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 www.naplab.net
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.