Mass Ave

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?


        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


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.


    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!

Development: The Good, the Bad, and NIMBYism pt. 1

*Today is the first of a three-part series on what smart development is, what it isn’t, and the obstacles it faces. *


Let’s get it out of the way: despite being proponents of development, it is near-sighted to address every neighborhood project as beneficial for a community. If that were the case, this website would promote Greenwood retail development or herald construction of gray-scale OneAmerica garages as a success when that is certainly not the case.



Which of these would you rather walk past?

Rather than totally regulating neighborhood development from top down, there must be a balance between the best interests of developers, residents, and planners to ensure that future construction projects help contribute rather than assist to diminish communities.

But what makes one development “good” and another “bad”?

This piece will explore several principles many urban planners have commenced to advocate over the past couple decades (as well as principles that have proved destructive) and apply these to recent projects in Indianapolis.

The Good

For the sake of brevity, I will underline, uppercase and embolden this next sentence. DESIGN AFFECTS BEHAVIOR.

It is imperative for communities to hold developers accountable to design standards in order to keep neighborhoods desirable, sustainable, and stimulating. Thankfully, there are several components to smart design that cities (even Indianapolis!) have begun to acknowledge and enact.

The first step is encouraging intelligently crafted, mixed-use development in neighborhoods- this is paramount to creating engaging urban environments.

Mixed-use implies an array of uses throughout the day (opposed to single-use suburban zoning) as business associates will naturally mingle with citizens that reside there and both these groups will organically interact with the patrons of businesses. It has been well-observed that this interaction between people of various socioeconomic backgrounds is conducive to the incubation of new ideas, hence why cities throughout history have proved instrumental in mankind’s progress. That being said, mixed-use development is a huge step in creating vivacious neighborhoods. The next step is creating mixed-uses that are desirable to invest in, look at, and interact with on a human level.

Here is a peek at just a few smart-design components that communities can and should demand, helping developers attain profits by ensuring built places people demand while simultaneously creating interesting, engaging urban communities.

Communities should demand activating uses on the first floor and continuous storefront windows!

Sidewalk-adjacent, active commercial uses should be placed on the first floor, creating a activated pedestrian streetscape. Good job, Hinge!


Trailside: continuous windows and frequent, highly visible entrances along the street should provide visual interest while promoting walkability. Keep it up!


Communities should demand facade interruption to provide inspiring and architecturally appealing streetwalls!


Lockerbie Lofts: residential projects should be designed to avoid large box-like forms with continuous unrelieved surfaces. Notice how colors break up the flow of form. *highfive


Bulky, or block-long buildings, should limit building length by implementing horizontal and vertical setbacks/stepbacks instead of long flat walls. You go, Montage!


Communities should demand limited setbacks!


Buildings should be adjacent to sidewalks, enclosing the public realm of the street while locating shops and restaurants next to the sidewalk to engage pedestrians, encouraging street vitality. You did good Slate, you did good. 😉


Less shallow setbacks are appropriate for a few things: wider sidewalks where they are narrow, entrances/structure articulation, outdoor restaurant seating (as seen on the corner of the rendering above), and plazas or other high activity areas. I see you, Marott Expansion! c:

The Alexander: setback areas should be used for public entry and outdoor commercial activity. This makes them destinations as gathering places. They should provide shade and places to sit. Gold star, CityWay!


Communities should demand diminished/hidden parking!


Do you see that parking? Didn’t think so. That’s because Collegiate did a great job here of keeping it wrapped up by some nice, ol’ residential units. The visibility of parking from the street and sidewalk should be minimized, especially at corners. Parking detracts from aesthetic pleasure and negates interacting streetscape. Parking should be placed to the side or rear of buildings, or underground. So proud. :,)

As stated before, these are just a few of the demands communities can request of developers to ensure a healthy, vibrant community and create places people want to be -a scenario beneficial to everyone involved. These are not demands to discourage growth and should not be distorted as NIMBYism -collectively, they are nothing less than having enough respect for our communities in order to make them the best, most vibrant and stimulating urban environments they can be.

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Later tonight, we will have the fourth article in the Mass Ave series.

Mass Ave: the key block

Block of Mass between Michigan and North:

Today’s post (the third post in the Mass Ave rejuvenation series) focuses on a block many see as the vital, key component to connect the north and south ends of Mass, which for so many years felt disjointed due to a pedestrian-unfriendly Firefighter complex and a hole in retail continuance walking north.


Note the red dotted line on Michigan. South of the line on Massachusetts lay active retail components – however, for years a quick walk north of the line found a disengaging dead zone. 

Let’s take a prompt glimpse at two developments ensuring to resurrect this “dead zone”.


  1. Millikan on Mass: Intended for completion in two phases (that methodology presently seems ubiquitous in urban development), the first phase, which is seen here, opened in December 2013 and includes 61 apartment units that offer reduced rents for low-income residents, as well as 4,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. The retail space on Mass/East is already occupied by Nine Irish Brothers, a Lafayette-based restaurant/bar. A second phase will include 64 market-rate units and 15,000-square feet of retail space -from my sources the apartments are finished currently and the commercial spaces should be finished in time for spring openings.

    While it does engage the street, Millikan leaves you wishing for more. 

    While Millikan does a superb job of infilling what was once a non-activated city block, the architecture is horrid and at the very least, blatantly mediocre. Although, I am not the biggest fan of Brutalism (which some in the arch community are hilariously attempting to rename Heroism), the fact remains that Barton is one of the best examples of an architectural ideology in the city, offering aesthetic stimulation by way of its relation to the context. To detract from a

    What is Millikan aiming for? Postmodernist, quasi-historic that failed out of art school? You can’t be everything at once, but at least align with your context. This juxtaposition is a prime example of what is wrong with modern architecture. 

    pure architectural statement by surrounding it with a spurious historic/neo-traditional wrap is almost despicable. However, at the end of the day this project augments Mass Ave’s connectivity, mixed-uses, and neighborhood structure -all which make Millikan a net gain for the city.
  2. Montage on Mass – One of my favorite approved projects in Indianapolis, Montage is a mixed-use, 5 floor development slated for completion in 2018 on the former site of Fire HQ. Following a complicated land swap involving the Firefighters Credit Union, a fire station and the Red Cross, work was finally approved in November 2015 with the only hindrance a proposed LED-board (submitted as a huge digital canvas featuring local artists) facing the Mass/New Jersey intersection -that proposal is currently awaiting litigation decisions on Indy’s digital sign ordinance (assuming it withstands local NIMBYism). Digital board or not, the proposal in terms of the structure itself stands to be a remarkable one for the city. Offering over 37,000 sq ft (!!!!) of retail space, a more than 25% increase of Mass Ave’s commercial space currently,Montage on Mass Rendering Looking SouthMontage will assist immensely in fortifying the Massachusetts street wall and stands to be the last step in negating the pedestrian “dead zone” previously mentioned. Personally, I adore the rounded corner retail activation (a stark contrast to opposing Millikan with its sharp jut into the Michigan/Mass interface) and its open, engaging storefront windows. There has been much clamor over the use of facade color in the previous design but the updated proposal seems to have implemented a more urban aesthetic with its brick/blue segments and glass interruptions. As for the digital LED board (if given approval), I think it adds to Mass Ave’s implied street activity and suddenly makes the intersection combining the Murat and Athenaeum one of the most vibrant and engaging places in the city.

As always, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

Tomorrow, we will be continuing our series on Mass Ave with an piece on the block between North/East and Park/Walnut.

Mass Ave, continued.


  1. Davlan Park – Located in Davlan Park, The Art Bäks is a pop-up art gallery inside a shipping container. The grand opening was held on Friday, November 6, during First Friday and the hours for Mass Ave’s newest art installation are at the discretion of the featured artist. Art-oriented projects and pocket parks such as this maintain Mass Ave’s brand as a creative hotspot as well as contribute to a sense of place. Given the prominent location of Davlan Park, The Art Bäks further glues the first two blocks of Mass together.  “Our design for this public “place”, which was approached with a place making-based methodology, will transform this key underutilized open space into a dynamic, flexible urban plaza that articulates the unique ethos of Mass Ave., serves as a home for public art and helps to increase overall quality of life for residents and visitors alike.” –  Eric Strickland, Executive Director of Riley Area Development Corporation
  2. Southwest corner lot & 3. Northwest corner lot – Owned by Lockerbie Court LLC and 500 Marott Center respectively, these lots have done nothing short of contributing to the walkability gab between the north and south ends of Mass Ave. Upon passing Chatterbox or Hoaglin walking north, pedestrians find themselves facing a surface lot then a 6-way interchange before the new Millikan on Mass and Montage developments. Surface lots detract from urban vitality, negate sense of place, and add nothing stimulating for the passerby. Assuming the goal of the new developments further north on Mass is to mitigate the pedestrian dead zones, a great start would be infilling these lots as well as making the intersection of Michigan/Mass/New Jersey cater to walking/biking. This would most assuredly involve killing these ridiculous curb cuts. Of concern in regards to infilling these lots would the parking requirements for the residential apartments they service -although it would be ideal in an urban setting that these residents rely little on cars, the fact they do must be confronted. Fortunately, something like a well-designed or perhaps hidden parking garage behind future developments can assist in alleviating this problem.

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!