The Indy Green Growth Loop explores redevelopment opportunities in Indianapolis first-ring suburbs. Littered with remnants of outmoded industry and vacant brownfield sites, these first-ring suburbs have abundant acres of opportunity. Coupled with an all-but-abandoned belt railroad, the Indianapolis Belt Railroad corridor provides a physical framework for concentrating development and networking neighborhoods.
Prevalent throughout the United States, first-ring suburbs are struggling to compete with revitalizing downtowns and the endless sprawl of wealthy outer-ring suburbs.
A first-ring suburb renaissance is desperately needed to ignite a renewed sense of pride in these historically vibrant neighborhoods. With roughly 1/5 of the nation’s population living in first-ring suburbs and the geographic proximity to the city core, these neighborhoods need urban design with a vision for sustainable growth.
This urban design project explores best practices for revitalizing first-ring suburbs into mixed-use, transit-oriented developments to conduct innovative sustainable technologies throughout neighborhoods adjacent to the belt railroad.
Growth of an American City: Indianapolis since 1820
Indiana selected Indianapolis as its new new state capital in 1820. Alexander Ralston was commissioned to make a city plan for Indianapolis in 1821. Originally designed to be no more than one square mile, the city has expanded to 300 times its original size.
The city’s growth spurt occurred after WWII from 1944-1960. Prevalence of automobiles, favorable home mortgage rates, and the highway acts contributed to first-ring suburban development. These neighborhoods were vibrant communities complete with good schools, walkable streets, and local shops. In many instances, they were anchored by a large manufacturing plant that provided jobs for thousands of workers in these “lunch-pail” neighborhoods.
From the 1960s to the present, outer-ring suburbs followed different growth patterns than first-ring developments. Cheap land and lower tax rates contributed to continued sprawl around the city fringe. As the city continued to spread out, residents moved from the older first-ring suburbs into new, larger homes in the outer-rings, leaving behind a donut of blight.
According to the US Census Bureau, from 2000-2010 many first-ring suburbs nationwide lost 10-15% of their population, with some losing more than 20%. None of these neighborhoods grew in population (US Census Bureau, 2010).
The proposed project site sits at the intersection of three neighborhoods: Twin Aire, Christian Park, and Norwood. These neighborhoods are mostly residential, built from the late 1940s through 1960s. Christian Park has a small but active Community Development Corporation and a notable community park that shares the neighborhood’s name. Located approximately one-half mile north of the site, East Washington Street Corridor is revitalizing as a commercial corridor and catalyzing residential redevelopment. Fountain Square is located less than one mile west and is growing in popularity as one of Indianapolis’s more vibrant Cultural Districts with art galleries, restaurants, bars, and locally owned businesses.
The site proposal locates a transit-oriented development at the decommissioned Indianapolis Coke Plant on the city’s southeast side. Bounded by Southeastern Ave. to the north, Prospect Ave. to the south, Sherman Drive to the east, and Keystone Ave. to the west, the 140-acre site is bifurcated by the Indianapolis Beltline Railroad.
The site has three complicated factors: The Indianapolis Belt Railroad is a physical barrier (Figure 5), the site lacks connections, and the Coke Plant left contaminated soils. Combined, these factors pose a considerable barrier to redevelopment. Many post-industrial sites along the Belt Railroad are now abandoned. Once used to drive the local economy, now they mar the neighborhood’s identity and vibrancy.
The design proposal reutilizes the abandoned Belt Railroad right-of-way for public use. Two light- rail trains, running in opposite directions, will operate alongside a multi-use path for joggers, cyclists, and rollerbladers. A complete light-rail loop around the city will take 30 minutes. New green infrastructure and sustainable technologies are also conveyed around the loop and into adjacent neighborhoods.
Indianapolis first-ring suburbs are in decline and struggling to find relevance. Interrelated problems of local job loss, contaminated sites, outdated infrastructure, nonexistent connectivity, lack of reinvestment, underperforming schools, food deserts, and negative public perception have contributed to the downfall of first-ring neighborhoods. Negative externalities, namely those related to suburban sprawl, have compounded the first-ring suburbs’ demise.
Indianapolis first-ring suburbs are primed with a unique set of characteristics to host future sustainable growth. These essential qualities are previously developed land, transit infrastructure, proximity to downtown, and historical relevance.
The Indy Green Growth Loop has a regional impact, with benefits reaching beyond the immediate zones of the Belt Railroad. By concentrating new development towards downtown and reutilizing existing infrastructure, this plan preserves the region’s agricultural and ecological landscapes.
A 15-mile looped network of transit-oriented mixed-use developments provides the catalyst for the Indy Green Growth Loop. A sustainable growth plan with coordinated public/private investment is essential to first-ring suburbs, but also to greater Central Indiana. Where inexpensive land and cheap tax rates proliferated suburban sprawl, the Indy Green Growth Loop will guide Indy’s future progress towards a greener, healthier city.