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!

Developmentally Unchallenged: an update on Mass Ave

*This post is first in a series on development progress of the Indianapolis neighborhood.*


Block-By-Block Development Analysis

Massachusetts between New York and Vermont


  1. Pulliam Square – Welcome to Mass Ave: Pulliam Square, the mixed-use phase 1 of an ambitious project attempting to redevelop the former home of the Indianapolis Star. Although the GoogleEarth view is antiquated, it’s easy to envision how important Pulliam Square can prove to be, connecting the burgeoning Mass Ave and the CBD. A component of first-floor retail further diminishes the walkability gap between Monument Mall and the northeast quadrant of downtown with businesses such as The Tap (already open) assisting to create round-the-clock pedestrian activity. “When this project is finished,” said Bob Schultz, vice president of marketing and communications for Downtown Indy, “another 800 to 1,000 people will be living in that area, walking their dogs, talking their children to the park and to day care, eating at restaurants and all of those elements that come with residential living.”
  2. The Eagle – Replacing the long time dive of IndyStar reporters, Front Page, The Eagle is a restaurant/bar opening known for its signature chicken and warm atmosphere. It will be the restaurant’s second location and first outside of Cincinnati. It is expected to open in the first quarter of 2016. (A contemporary wooden outdoor patio is to be built where you see the tables below.)
  3. Louie’s Wine and Dive – Already open, Louie’s calls itself a relaxed, urban full-bar eatery with most wines between $6 and $9 a glass. Louie's Wine Dive opened May 27, 2015, at 345 Mass
  4. Marott Center Expansion – The 109-year-old Marott Center is planning a 30,000 sq ft. addition that would infill the labeled lot seen above. The addition would front both Mass Ave and Vermont Street but would be listed as 333 N. Delaware St., the address of the surface lot. The addition will feature 7,500 square feet of retail space on the ground level. Of particular note in the approved design is the elimination of the car-catering curb cut on the northwest corner of Michigan and Mass. Site prep is underway.INDIANAPOLIS HISTORIC PRESERVATION COMMISSIONB9318500731Z.1_20150903173412_000_G8DBMLO76.1-0
  5. Vonnegut Parking Lot – For now, a parking lot on a prime urban intersection. But what will it be in five years? Overlooked by the famous 40-foot Vonnegut, the lot was recently purchased by a developer that has not stated their intention. it would stand to reason the land is a prime candidate for infill given the vibrancy of the “Dancing Lady” intersection, however, it’d be a shame to see Mr. Vonnegut completely overshadowed. So long Kurt?

Coming tomorrow: a quick look at the activity on the block of Mass Ave between Vermont and Michigan.

As always, feel free to add any updates/photos you have or comment below!

632 MLK | Mixed-use, 4 stories | Approved


632 Martin Luther King Jr. | Studio – 4 bedroom apartments | Indiana Ave District

A wonderful infill for the Indiana Avenue neighborhood, this market-rate mixed-user is raising the bar on downtown rents -units ranging from $1000/studio to more than $2550 for 4 beds.

With an surplus of new residents arriving from the Axis/future Pointe and Collegiate projects, the near-westside neighborhood may begin to feel like an authentic urban place -inflated rents indicative of a healthy demand in the downtown housing market. Granted, there is still the pedestrian-unfriendly Goliath of West St. that separates N. Indiana and campus from the south developments of downtown but there is hope DPW works to put it on a road-diet. Maybe.

Perhaps no other neighborhood in the city is more primed for resurgence than Indiana Avenue with the advantages of a Canal locale, proximity to IUPUI and a rich history anchored by the Walker Theatre. On my short wishlist would be replacing a traffic lane on Indiana with two protected bike lanes and using increased density to transform the avenue into a walkable, vibrant campus village.

Update: Park10 | Chatham Arch 

 With the unseasonably mild weather during December, Milhaus’ Park10 project is progressing quickly. Recently topped out, exterior paneling should be getting done  in time for builders to focus on interior work during the more brutal winter months of January and February.

| Photo courtesy of Indyimby contributor A.Tucker @Tucker2492


Community = Walkable neighborhoods

Community cannot form in non-communal space, civic life requires settings in which people meet as equals. The absence of public realms mitigates individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds meeting, hardly a recipe for productive social evolution. Our time in public is now inside cars, sociopathic devices making others competitors for asphalt instead of equals.

130 E Washington | Wholesale District

Ratio Architects is involved in yet another downtown project, this time a restoration of 130 E Washington St., the former Disciples Center which directly abuts the Cultural Trail near City-County Plaza.

A full face-lift of the façade is intended to activate the street-scape and improve pedestrian interaction -I am assuming Onward Investors LLC, property owner, hopes to partake in the economic benefits other properties have experienced due to CT proximity. Along with an interior retrofit which will expose ceilings and create open floor plans (allowing for natural light), a restoration of the building’s west half windows is meant to recreate historic proportions.

Here is the street-scape now:

Rendering of future street-activating façade:


With its location on the Cultural Trail and the anticipated redevelopment of City-County Plaza, this stretch of Washington St. has potential to become an enticing urban avenue, acting as a conduit feeding pedestrian activity from the Circle to the newly-coined Market East district. Hopefully, the development continues east-ward to the surface-lot-riddled and somewhat decrepit east Washington corridor.