The Central State Connectivity Plan
When you think of PUP you probably think of the non-profit that does cool *little* projects: bags, and wallets, and bus stops: well-designed, of course, but small scale and personal. So you may ask why we would insert ourselves into something as large and potentially unwieldy as a master planning process for connectivity on a virtually empty 150 acre site on the west side of Indianapolis?
Ten years ago, PUP was founded when Michael Bricker inserted himself into the demolition process of the RCA DOME – an unwieldy and unpredictable affair if there ever was one! Since then PUP has become more confident about when and where we should insert ourselves into a process. For example, repurposing event banners and the continued Amtrak leather reuse.
As community designers, this coordination with – and curiosity about - all phases of a process is just what we do. As good designers, it is within our responsibility to ask the holistic questions – where does this material come from? Who is impacted by its extraction and reintroduction in use? How can the full story of that process be told, especially when that process is an important, if unnoticed, current in the human life of a city?
Eskenazi Health is a sponsor of the Connectivity Plan, which may seem at first glance like an odd pairing: a hospital and a design organization teaming up? Last November I attended a panel discussion that included Dr. Lisa Harris, M.D., CEO of Eskenazi Health, and it made me think about how aligned the goals of PUP and Eskenazi Health are. Eskenazi Health is not only an institution that values great design, as evidenced by their award-winning hospital with integrated arts and gardens, but they are also a health care provider that is interested in treating the whole patient, not just a single symptom. They provide wraparound services: environmental, lifestyle, and social impacts are all valued as having an influence on the health of every patient. At the panel discussion, Dr. Harris spoke about how, in a business sense, providing wraparound services is harder to apply pricing to, but results in better health outcomes, thus saving the entire system–and community–money (study in Health Affairs Magazine, vol. 37 No. 10, October 2018).
Eskenazi Health was the spark that ignited this entire connectivity study. As they have built neighborhood health clinics, they have also paid attention to how their non-car-owning clients can get to those clinics. On the west side, Eskenazi’s clinic at Michigan and Holmes – the north side of Central State - is about a mile away from the future Blue Line BRT station at Washington and Tibbs, on Central State’s southern edge. Walking from the stop to the clinic would take about 20 minutes – but distance isn’t the whole story when discussing walking! The current options for walking between the two points are challenging at best, with one path being through muddy areas lacking sidewalk and another being adjacent to a busy fast-moving car corridor. The point of neighborhood clinics is to make access to healthcare easier for community members, but for those who don’t have a car, having to walk along a dangerous, muddy route may mean the difference between accessing that care or not. This is a critical component of public health and where public health and urban design deeply intersect.
Indianapolis’ Central Indiana Community Foundation is also a funder of the Connectivity Plan. Whenever the discussion of pedestrian movement in Indianapolis comes up, I’m always reminded of the phrase I first heard from CICF’s Michael Kaufmann, that people accessing public assistance need to be able to “process with dignity” as they physically approach that aid.
The intent of public design is to ensure that all members of a community are treated, in their daily routines in the built environment, with the dignity that allows them to flourish. In a democratic society, where street rights-of-way are public property, the price of movement shouldn’t be owning a car. The use of the public rights-of-way in our city should be able to be utilized not only with minimal danger or difficulty, but with the feeling that one is as equally valued a member of society as is everyone, no matter what form of transportation they use. This is good design: design that makes everyone feel like a contributing member of a shared community.
Collecting ideas for the future of Central State.
Vision Plan feedback with the congregation at St. Anthony Catholic Church.
Good design should never be a zero sum game, but a collaborative effort addressing a broad spectrum of questions. The Connectivity Plan is also sponsored by Holladay Properties, Nottingham, and Compendium companies. The developer companies all understand that a well-designed site, including adjacency to amenities like a bike or walking trail, is good for health and connection and also provides economic benefits. The Indiana Medical History Museum also sponsored this project: despite being hidden in plain sight in the middle of campus, the Museum sees the opportunity to increase its ability to reach a broad audience if public amenities are available and accessible across the campus.
A trail through Central State connects The Grove to the surrounding neighborhood.
The Central State campus offers Indianapolis an opportunity to think big picture, in 2019, about how we want our city to be built. The campus is essentially vacant land surrounded by dense but disconnected neighborhoods. Building the connective threads that both weave across the campus and weave into the neighborhood, creating connections that reach beyond the Campus’ borders and benefit all of the surrounding residents, is an opportunity to take seriously. Merritt Chase, the landscape architecture firm we partnered with on this project, has roots in Indianapolis and experience across the country in making well-connected public places that have meaning and cultural significance for their residents.
I often compare the future of the Central State campus to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The Trail started as a pie-in-the-sky idea but is now famous in design circles, drawing people not just locally but from all over the world to look at what we, Indianapolis, achieved to make our city better. At Central State, we can do something as bold as the Cultural Trail here again. We can learn from other cities across the country that are facing housing and land shortages already, and try to get out in front of these challenges as they spread. We can look at best practices in other regions and countries and think beyond our own expectations. And in implementing these ideas, in an existing albeit challenged part of Indianapolis, we can create the connected, walkable, diverse, and vibrant kind of community infrastructure that makes a district a successful neighborhood. As an organization embedded in the life of the city of Indianapolis, PUP looks at the large and the small, connecting what we have with how to make it better for more. The Central State Connectivity Plan is the next right thing for us to do.
- Donna Sink, PUP Board President
Vision Plan Renderings:
Accessible entry to The Grove with new gardens.
Improved intersection at Michigan St connects the B&O Trail and Central State.
Terraced seating in The Grove creates community gathering space.
The Clearing in The Grove is a new space for public art, gathering, and performance.
An adventure playground is located along a new residential streetscape.