Turns out, I can’t remember why we landed on the name ‘People for Urban Progress.’ But I can remember where I was - sitting in a screened-in porch in the late summer, talking frustrations, dreams, and big ideas with my cofounder. I like to think that one of us said something along the lines of “it’s like we’re… people for urban progress!” with the guileless bravado of a new superhero.
Yet somehow it stuck. We immediately shortened it to PUP, which felt bright and exciting. Optimistic even. We liked that the name was an abbreviated manifesto.
Over the past 10 (!) years however, I’ve wrestled with it - occasionally despising it - as it implies a more loaded set of concepts than we ever intended. ‘Urban progress’ is an edgeless target. It’s vague and a bit righteous, but ultimately - and often with delight - you know it when you see it.
For me, it has always been about how the physicalness of the city as it is collides with the unbuilt future of what that city could be. It’s about the nascent potential of a place I love. And this transformation, this optimism made evident, requires people. People coming together to make the change they want to see in their city.
I started PUP because I was tired of complaining about the things I didn’t like about Indianapolis. In the fall of 2008, I wiped my judgments away, and aimed to see the city with fresh eyes. Where I saw the city failing, I wanted to help take responsibility. Change happens when you put up your hand and say ‘I got this,’ and really mean it. And over the years, I have found that that willing energy is incredibly magnetic, with ‘I’ quickly turning into ‘we’.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together. Stunned really. Many times since our founding I’ve felt like we should throw in the towel. But I could never shake those initial motivating thoughts, and more importantly, all the people that assembled around the work. Together we’ve built bus stops from stadium seats, discussed neighborhoods in Old City Hall, facilitated ideas competitions, celebrated First Fridays, invaded Circle Centre, hosted critical thinkers and speakers, designed shade structures, moved to Central State, and repurposed (literally) tons of resources from the IUPUI redwood to Super Bowl banners, seatbelts, Hinkle Fieldhouse seats, and countless random pieces of fabric.
For all of these projects, our work has been about how a salvaged resource intersects with people - the makers, fabricators, users, and citizens. Everyone working together to give something new life, a new use, and hopefully in the long run, demonstrate how we can be more proactive when thinking about the future resources of our city. Together we are leading by doing.
But almost nothing beats that first moment - that Day One - standing inside the RCA Dome, staring up at the glowing white roof, and thinking ‘We have to do something. We can save this.’ And then actually doing something about it. And we did. We have.
The RCA Dome existed for 24 years. We’ve been working with it for 10. Think about that.
At the end of the day, this incredible resource, this first idea manifest, has shaped virtually all of PUP’s past 10 years. It is our first chapter, and the resource that has brought together the most people. Special and deserved gratitude shoutout here to Jessica Bricker, Amy Beemer, Liz Roney, and Ray White who, more than anyone else, have shaped the product, brand, design, and quality of PUP’s products. They have created the standard of work by which we compare all PUP projects and products.
With the RCA Dome, every day, we continue to accomplish what we have set out to do. And we’ve gotten really good at it. What we haven’t done well, is measure and showcase what our resource salvage and reuse process looks like. We can better define our impact. We’ve been burying the lead here in so many ways by often focusing on the finished products. And while the products we make are a project (our biggest project), they’re not the whole story. So in 2019, we’re motivated to better feature our salvage work, starting with the Amtrak leather seats, a project which has initiated a whole new tracking, measuring, and manufacturing approach within our organization.
The Amtrak project has been beyond exciting, and for me, represents a big part of where we’re headed for the next 10 years. We’re engaging larger brands and organizations beyond the bounds of Indianapolis - including Amtrak and Exhibit Columbus - and showing that not only are we a capable organization, but more importantly, that our definition of ‘Urban Progress’ translates to all cities, and to the future of those cities. There is quite frankly, so much out there that can be reused and redesigned. We’re ready to step up and say ‘we got this.’
- Andrea shares initial thoughts for PUP’s future.
- PUP and Merritt/Chase present our connectivity plan for the future of Central State.
Michael Bricker is the Founder + Director of Public Design for PUP and works extensively in both design and film, aiming to raise the caliber and conversation of both industries in Indianapolis.