Author: indyimby

A blog devoted to smart growth and urbanism in Indianapolis.

Pulliam Square Phase II Update

According to IBJ’s Scott Olsen, an updated proposal for Pulliam Square’s second phase should be filed by March. 

As for the reason for delay in submitting: 

“TWG has held off on submitting design plans to the city on its second phase until occupancy hit a certain level, Dye said. In addition, TWG has increased the density of the second phase from what the developer originally expected, contributing to the delay in submitting plans.”

Increased density on a lot that was already originally planned to host more than 300 apartments? Yes please. 

More to come. 

The Good, the Bad, and NIMBYism pt. 3

Happy belated holidays from indYIMBY! After a couple frenzied weeks, we are returning to post-holiday programming with the 3rd and final installment in our The Good, the Bad, and NIMBYism series.

The first two installments of this series dealt with benevolent and malevolent forms of developments and asserted that, because design is integral to a neighborhood, steps must be taken to ensure community projects are beneficial to tourists, inter-city visitors, and residents alike. So what about NIMBYism? What is it and what can residents and urbanists alike do to combat its most malicious forms?

Given a renaissance of urban demand throughout the United States, masses of empty-nesters and millennials have flipped suburban preferences for urban ones, returning profit-seeking developers and their attention back to inter-city neighborhoods. However, developers must make adjustments. Building in cities hugely differs from constructing in low-density, more laissez-faire municipalities eager to increase their tax bases. To finally break ground and construct, developers confront multitudes of ordinances, preservation committees, and constraints on square footage and parking. However, beyond the disjointed, bureaucratic mess an American planning process can be, a dark menace lurks for developers -the dreaded NIMBY.

What is a NIMBY?

According to Google, “a NIMBY (acronym for the phrase “Not In My Back Yard”) is a characterization of opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development because it is close to them, often because such residents believe that the developments are needed in society but should be further away.”

Now, there  is some merit for this general definition, allotting plenty of gray-space. “New development” could be any range of things, from a landfill to a 27-story tower to a transit line. “Further away” entails not in my community, but then where? And how would that location affect the rest of “society”, or, the living creature that is a city?  Given this dissection, we establish that there can be both “positive” and “negative” (“justified” and “unjustified”) NIMBYism

We, as urbanists, cannot conflate NIMBYism as solely a black-and-white ideology despite its connotation with ignorant agendas. Granted, there are instances where a development will definitely be a bad thing for everyone and these fit into the “justified” category -however, most NIMBYism arises from a resistance to change (“unjustified”), where concerns of a few may outweigh what may truly be best for all. A community is a cohesive group of hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens that each have their own self-interests and agendas in mind. The goal here is to establish a harmony between these interests. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau eloquently states in The Social Contract,

“There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will; the latter considers only the common interest, while the former takes private interest into account, and is no more than a sum of particular wills: but take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel one another and the general will remains as the sum of the differences.” 

Justified NIMBYism

Opposition to a project due to its proximity is a valid rationale only if well-informed locals have weighed the impact and objectively argue the project will negatively affect both them and their community. 

The general will takes common interest into account and what is good for all is good for one. To address community concerns in the public arena, arguments should be educated and well thought-out, acknowledging both pros and cons of a potential development. If after this process, the cons outweigh pros and indicate a proposal is malevolent for a community, then avenues to relocate it can be explored. This is the only possible way to establish commonality and ensure the best for all.

I would most definitely loathe a landfill three houses down even though it is an inevitable necessity of my metropolitan area. There must be somewhere else the landfill can go. And assuredly, there is. This sort of NIMBYism is not construed as wrong, it simply makes sense. I do not want my kids playing in trash. I do not want to smell trash. Easy. My rationale is justified because it does not make sense to have a dump (locally unwanted land use or “lulu”) in a residential area.

Perhaps the greatest example of productive NIMBYism is the story of Jane Jacobs and her successful campaign challenging plans to construct a freeway through Lower Manhattan. (Author’s note: This particular instance is one of the most famous of the Highway revolts, a specific form of NIMBYism during the 60’s and 70’s that proved to be benevolent for the communities they affected.)

The Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) was a radical plan for a highway from the Holland Tunnel on the Hudson River to the Williamsburg Bridge on the east side of Manhattan. It would proceed through the city as an elevated ten-lane road through Greenwich Village, SoHo, and Little Italy. Proposed by Robert Moses (city planner would be an understatement) in the 1940’s, by 1961, his LOMEX plan would use federal urban renewal funds  to destroy a plethora of historic structures, displacing over 1,900 residents.

Community activist and renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs organized rallies, staged demonstrations, and attended hearings to block the project at every expense – correctly claiming replacing whole expanses of neighborhoods with a concrete freeway would act as a physical barrier to pedestrian activity and decimate vibrancy of streets. (She’s right: walk eastward on Michigan, Vermont, St. Clair or New York under I-65/I-70, or look at the history of Fountain Square before it was cut in two)

Eventually, with help from the press and political figures, Jacobs won her fight and the neighborhoods LOMEX would have destroyed are thankfully still intact. But this was pure, unadulterated NIMBYism.

However, it was justified.

Jacobs used insight and observations to conclude this project would have a negative impact on quality of life. Reflecting on at the world-famous neighborhoods this freeway would have destroyed proves her right. This is justified NIMBYism because educated arguments in a public forum were used to ensure her community would take the course of action most suitable for its future. Even though the Jane Jacobs case is heavily magnified under the light of NYC, NIMBYism does not have to be on the large-scale of hers to remain justified.

Researched NIMBYism is healthy, and frankly, makes sense. There will always be those in the community who don’t see things eye to eye, but given an educated public forum where pros and cons can be discussed openly, the community can come to a common conclusion ensuring that what happens in their neighborhood is what is for the best.

But let’s take a look at the gray-space where things get a bit convoluted.

Unjustified NIMBYism

“Those resistant to change are destined to perish.”

NIMBYism for the sake of stopping developments whatsoever, in spite of the benefits a proposal may bring, is ignorant and gives NIMBYists their negative connotation. Opinions determined only to mitigate change are not justified, and often give neighborhoods a bad name while diminishing prospect of a greater neighborhood for everyone. Forward-thinking and educated citizens understand that growth is a beast that cannot be stopped, therefore, in the best interest of their community, municipalities must turn growth into its most benevolent form. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser states poignantly,

“Ordinary citizens, rather than the planners in City Hall, should have more say over what happens to them, but community control must unfortunately be limited, because local communities often fail to consider the adverse citywide consequences of banning building…many of the world’s cities, both new and old, have arrayed rules that prevent new construction at higher densities. Sometimes these rules have a good justification, such as preserving truly important works of architecture. However, sometimes these rules are mindless NIMBYism or a misguided attempt at stopping urban growth. In all cases, construction restrictions tie cities to their past and limit the possibilities for the future. If cities can’t build up, then they will build out.”

If anything, NIMBYism is derived from a deep-seeded desire to protect the integrity of a neighborhood someone has invested in, their “home”. However, it is also, due to evolutionary instincts, a rudimentary facet of human resistance to change. Most humans yearn to have a say on what goes on in their stomping grounds.

Uninformed citizens do not necessarily understand what is best for their community, and instead think of what is best for them, with little thought given to how future developments affect the inter-connected pieces of every member of a city. As Mindy Fullilove argues in Root Shock, her expose on the destruction of inter-city neighborhoods,

“The principle is simple: we -that is to say, all people- live in an emotional ecosystem that attaches us to the environment, not just as our individual selves, but as beings caught in a single, universal net of consciousness anchored in small niches we call neighborhoods or hamlets or villages.” 

Can we ever become something other than an extension of evolutionary instinct?

Aligning with the best interests of the community is paramount, but at the end of the day, what everyone wants is to have a better place to live. Unjustified NIMBYism overlooks educated processes to determine if a project is beneficial, simply becoming a sad by-product of humanity’s resistance to change

Simply arguing against something because it doesn’t seem like a good idea without any sort of facts or research makes your argument look ignorant and gives NIMBYism a bad name.

(*Author’s note: A previous version of this article used inappropriate tone and for that, we apologize. All members of the community, old, young, right, left have to work together and try to understand each other’s concerns if anything is to be accomplished.)

The forest fertilizes itself by burning down

We all want to live. But for a living entity such as a city, change is necessary, renewal is inevitable and the city needs food. Allowing things to remain the way they are only incites decline and disinterest. However, this comes with the knowledge that not every new change will be for the benefit.

This being said, it is impossible to stop NIMBYism -there will always be those who will be resistant to change. But we cannot overlook its benevolent forms and we must fights its malevolent iterations, the goal being a better city with a brighter future for all involved.

We cannot allow a few self-interested citizens to cause detriment. It is our job as urbanists to turn public participation in all its forms into a tool for smart, benevolent growth that stimulates and benefits all members of our communities.

 

Ransom Place | Mixed-use residential | Approved

Building C

We were waiting to see how the fight for this project turned out before writing anything about it, but, due to ridiculous NIMBYism, this development may end up in court. Developer Olaf Lava LLC is planning to construct a 19-unit apartment building that will span four lots: 517 W. 10th St. and 944, 946 and 954 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. A 27-unit building is slated for 1010 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. Originally calling for sets of duplexes at 517 W. 10th St. and 933 and 935 N. California St, the design was changed to single-family homes by request of IHPC in order to appease the wishes of residents. Now, the same residents appeased by the Sudetenland that is lower density are aiming for more living space by suing IPHC, claiming higher density really is that bad.

“If you stand on the lot where this (project) is proposed, you can see that it’s preposterous to put apartment buildings here,” attorney Jessica Webb so eloquently states. Nevermind the fact that this project is near an urban college campus hosting over 30,000 students or the fact it is located in a downtown neighborhood in one of America’s largest cities.

What makes this argument even more despicable is now, the NIMBYs are bringing out the race card. The lawsuit states: “Ransom Place is a historically black neighborhood that still takes great pride in its rich diversity. There is a very real concern that the residents of Ransom Place are not receiving equal protection under the law because of their race. If racial discrimination played even a small part in the IHPC’s decision … it must be reversed.”

You got to be kidding me.

Yes, historically Ransom Place was part of a much-larger archipelago of Midwestern city neighborhoods that harbored and cultivated Black culture. Yes, Indiana Avenue was lined with jazz clubs and churches and barbershops and yes, Black culture thrived here and around Ransom Place (one of the best surviving examples of this is the Walker Theatre). However, this lawsuit obviously finds more truth in what was than what is.

Beginning in 1949, the federal government’s urban renewal program was initiated as a systematic destruction of “blighted” neighborhoods -which mostly meant Black neighborhoods near downtown. Indianapolis leaders, realizing the Federal Highway Administration was not intending to “loop” downtown with interstates, set off to use urban renewal dollars in order to transform West Street into a city highway. Using eminent domain, many of those jazz clubs and saloons and churches and barbershops were demolished for the sake of clearing “blight”. Years later, American urbanists would come to realize that the “root shock” caused by systematic destruction of inner-city neighborhoods effectively destroyed vibrant Black communities and hindered possibility of connecting a greatly-stretched Black archipelago of neighborhoods into the whole of America.

Take a walk through Ransom Place now. Because of its proximity to campus, I am sure there’s a decent, sustainable amount of diversity. But you’d see no African-American saloons or jazz clubs. Beautiful, tree-lined streets with burgeoning real-estate value shading the surface parking-lot ghosts of former clubs on Indiana Ave is what you see. What this lawsuit is fighting for does not exist. Once, but no longer.

If you want to preserve history then fight to make sure it is not forgotten.

But do not preserve it by fighting a development that will assist in bettering your area of the city. Do not preserve it by filing a lawsuit which makes your neighborhood seem like an off-limits zone for developers.

The Wilshaw | Main and 16th | Mixed-use, hotel

Set to transform downtown Speedway, Wilshaw is a mixed-use development anchored by an unannounced hotel. The proposal calls for 10 condos, 150 apartments, a 120-room hotel, and 15,000 square feet of retail space – this adds to a prospering Main St. that in recent years has undergone a slew of redevelopment efforts including the construction of Daredevil Brewery. Notably, the plan also implements a 500-space parking garage which looks to be wrapped and hidden from street view. Developers Loftus Robinson and Scannell Properties intend to name the project Wilshaw in honor of Wilbur Shaw, the last Indiana native to win the 500 which he accomplished for the third and final time in 1940. Slated for completion in 2018, Loftus and Scannell hope to start construction in summer 2016.

The Good, the Bad, and NIMBYism pt. 2

The Bad

To understand what makes a community project malevolent, we must clarify what makes up the physical creation of a neighborhood.

For the most part, Americans as a whole are pursuing narrower agendas and withdrawing from public life into private realms, encountering the world through television, smart phones, and computers. Urban development, a key aspect to combating the decline of civic life, must encourage interaction between citizens and not the opposite. Public life necessitates environments where people meet as equals and the absence of a public realm leads to people unlikely to meet. This is why, when it comes to development in urban nodes, we must invest in smart urban developments that:

      1. Create mixed-use destinations that cater to people, not carsIt is malevolent for urban nodes to remain single-use. Astute urban projects encourage walkability, not the car, by mixing uses that are accessed throughout the day. It is destructive to urban nodes to insist businesses close earlier, or to force them to remain single-use. Single-use zoning ensures that areas would only be in use at certain times, making them inefficient as a resident would always have to travel somewhere else to buy consumer goods and employees will always have to travel elsewhere to sleep. Given the dearth of public transit in Indianapolis, this most likely means that these people would drive. Thus, the best thing we as a community can do is invest in dense, mixed-use neighborhoods that offer stimulation to the pedestrian. This is turn will lay the framework for more adequate public transit. In addition to being unsustainable, developments that nurture to cars are aesthetically unappealing and dangerous. Auto-orientation means fewer choices to walk which creates empty streets, and with less walkers the less safe streets feel, etc. making them tantalizing for criminals. Given several uses throughout the day, windows of buildings and extended pedestrian activity into the night act as“eyes on the street” (aka Jane Jacobs) that deter crime. What NIMBYists have not understood is that these practices, in fact, increase the likelihood of crime by decreasing pedestrian activity. Criminals will not commit injustices if they feel someone else will see them.
      2. Mix socioeconomic structureAlthough, an effective branding tool for developers responsible for the profits of a project, it is malevolent for an urban environment to allow residential developments to become entirely exclusive, especially to affluent individuals. 

        Circa’s mostly-residential orientation is decent if eventually the ground floors are retrofitted for commercial uses. However, the original design leaves nothing to engage the passerby. The only “public” commercial use is a side-alley coffee shop between College and Spring seemingly tailored only for residents, thus not a true public realm. This exclusivity contributes to a destruction of civic life, effectively making the development more like a grown-up dormitory than an activating urban place.

        How can progress as a society happen if we do not have opportunities to face others from varied backgrounds? Like it or not, cities are born not from wealth but basic human need for productivity, opportunity, and proximity to society. Obviously this draw will attract some of those less desirable on the socio-economic chain. By allowing developments to remain exclusive to only those that can afford it and then fitting those developments with resident-only businesses and cafes, we effectively take away the public realm that drew people to cities in the first place. The more self-satisfying, self-centered our society becomes, the less empathy we will find we have -a dangerous slope. Cities are the place for opportunity but what will the future of our cities look like if the opportunity to interact with various backgrounds is negated?

        villagio.jpg

        This automobile-centric parking garage on the south end of The Villagio effectively acts as a pedestrian dead zone.

      3. Create human-scale streets! – It is malevolent to use lazy design in neighborhoods. We touched on several of the principles of “good” design Monday, but to reiterate: human-scale developments should create architectural enclosure because people are naturally attracted to places with well-defined edges. Street walls should ideally be uninterrupted, capturing comfort. Ground floor commercial usage should have continuous windows that engage and activate the street to pedestrians.

        Mozzo’s non-continuous windows, residential-style buffers and entrances do not administer street activationappropriate for thisVirginia Ave corridor.

        Outdoor setbacks, plazas, and sidewalk cafes should be designed as outdoor living rooms.  Also, tree lined streets are encouraged to create spatial dimension that accommodates our evolutionary instinct -our ancestors hid along treelines for protection and to safely see what was in the field beyond (this is why columns are prominent throughout world cultures). Fortunately, these design practices are not difficult to implement given the pedigree of most developers/architects, all it takes is a little push and some creativity.

         

 

Mass Ave, continued

The Mass Ave series continues today with insight on the blocks between East and College -one of the most walkable corridors in the city. This particular stretch of Mass has become a vibrant commercial node serving the Chatham Arch neighborhood, the aorta of Indy’s LGBT community, and a considerable contributor to Indy’s local theater scene. Here follows a brief discussion of significant developments that will supplement one of Indy’s true urban hamlets.

Between East and Park

mass4

Mass between East St. and Walnut/Park. 

  1. The Libertine Liquor Bar – 608 Massachusetts Ave – Owned by Neal Brown (arguably the greatest chef in the Great Lakes region), one of the best bars in the country according to Esquire, a favorite of Katy Perry’s, and now, a resident of Mass Ave. Formerly located on E Washington St, Brown moved The Libertine for the late night foot traffic generated on Mass Ave and, if there was some before, there’s going to be more now. This is a huge win for this stretch of block and a particularly neat location, considering the bar is now in the basement of Pizzology.
    The entrance to the Libertine Liquor Bar can be found

    Maybe it’s the Manhattan in me, but this bar entrance just feels so…urban

    2. Millennium on Park – Proposed mixed-use infill coming to block surrounded by N Park Ave, E North St and Leon. Squeezed right between Chatham Arch and historic Lockerbie, this project has found one of the best locations downtown in terms of real estate. It’s fantastic to see infill downtown rising to more than 4-5 stories. If the project is built as proposed, it will aid the developments already underway in creating a massive influx of residents to the Mass Ave area, further bolstering street vibrancy. With added density and increased pedestrian activity, it’d be fantastic to see Mass Ave make the leap from solely local businesses/boutiques to a business district with a wide-array of commercial properties.

    tumblr_nz06ehiFDG1qavvxko1_540

    Hopefully, the design is improved…but you gotta love that density!

    Between Park and College

    Obviously, most critical here is the development of the Firefighters Credit Union, Museum and parking lot on St. Clair -all of which permits the land swap that allows Montage on Mass to be built a couple blocks south. mass51. and 2. Fire Credit Union & ****ing parking lot – The $5 million project migrates the Firefighters Credit Union from its current location at 501 North New Jersey Street, where Montage is to be constructed, to the north end of Mass Ave. A new credit union would be constructed next to the IFD Museum and union hall located at 748 Massachusetts Ave. As part of the project, the union hall will be expanded 40 feet to allow for more offices.

    Okay, let’s just discuss the few positives here: the contribution to the Mass Ave street wall by the Credit Union/Union Hall is decent and the public plaza on the corner is okay only because it’s better than what was already there. That’s about where the positives end.

    Although the buildings may aesthetically look “nice” if you ascribe to mediocrity, even their assistance in street wall creation is mitigated by the fact their uses totally DO NOT activate the streetscape or engage pedestrians. Yeah, the little plaza is cool but really, they occupied a delicious, prime corner spot (on perhaps Indy’s most urban street, at one of its major intersections) that possessed glorious potential.

    The intersection of Mass/College is downtown’s door (I enjoy alliteration) for those traveling south on College and this is what we get, Indianapolis? I was already sick of seeing IPS driving in, but there was hope we would get something other than potential wasted on asphalt  – a golden opportunity which was not only wasted, but an opportunity that spoiled and then was force-fed to the populace. Just cover it with some art -what a slap! A surface parking lot, what an entrance! Oh! A trifle plaza that feels more like concession than intention to create public space – a public space that could have been capital, activating streetscape. It seems that with a small amount of creativity, planners could have combined both these facilities into one building on the plot of the parking lot – a parking garage in back and underneath a certain portion would be a drive-through for the credit union.  Instead of the land actually being used, developing the lot on St. Clair could have relinquished the ripe, luscious Mass Ave-facing property for private commercial uses.  But that would have required too much thought. Or money. But damn, think of the future property taxes that would have been generated for the city by a mixed-use development built adjacent to (and perhaps branded with) the old fire station. I can imagine a cool mixed-user named The Station or something. Maybe that would have made up for the investment. At least the option should have been frickin’ explored. Goodness gracious.

    Alright, I’m calming down. Anyways.

    Tomorrow, we will be discussing the beautiful Mass Ave from College to 10th St.. Feel free to comment, as always!