Announcing New Area Meetup Called Strong Indianapolis by Jim Hodapp

I am very excited to officially announce a new area meetup called Strong Indianapolis that seeks to empower a local community of like-minded individuals who care about Indianapolis and want to see it flourish. We seek to continually make sure that Indianapolis is a livable, sustainable and desirable city for all people who live or just visit. What exactly does that mean? Let me give you some history about it and myself that might help explain things.

I've lived in Indianapolis for over ten years, first having moved here from Milwaukee to attend college at Butler University. Due to my career and various friends I've made along the way, I decided to make Indy my home instead of choosing another city. I've always liked Indy even from the very first moment I saw it when touring Butler. It has had and continues to have a lot going for it with many opportunities to become even better. I'm a software/hardware engineer by degree and through my career choice I've honed my eye for noticing details and wanting to help fix/improve upon things all around me. I can't help but notice so many different ways in which I'd love to see Indy be improved upon.

Fast-forward to about three years ago when I first discovered a non-profit organization called Strong Towns. Almost immediately I knew that I'd found something that deeply resonated with what I consciously and even more subconsciously thought and felt towards Indy as well as the many questions I had about it. They are questions such as why does Indy struggle to have adequate funding to do even some of the basics like sidewalks in all the places they make sense, or more effective public transit, or even why we struggle with basic storm water drainage and street potholes? Why does it have these financial struggles even though nearly 900,000 people directly living within the Indianapolis borders? Shouldn't there be enough sustaining tax revenue to pay for these things, and if not, why not? Strongs Towns has given me a framework of words and ways of thinking to identify the issues in Indy as well as what Indy does really well such as having a compact downtown that's highly walkable and bikeable while being quite affordable.

No longer will I sit on the sideline complaining or only asking questions. I want to do something to help Indy incrementally improve to become more human-centric and less car-centric, further evolve a strong sense of local culture and place that will be a national draw for people to both live and visit Indy, and further create a culture of sustainability in every sense of the word (quality urban infill and less sprawl, affordability in the midst of economic growth, environmental consciousness, public and private financial stewardship and wisdom, etc).

This meetup seeks to explore these ideas and create a strong local community that is passionate about figuring out ways to instill and implement these core principles all across our great city. It will also be a place to come and hang out for a social night at a local pub and geek out over all things urban. I hope it will be and remain a very open and inviting community of people from a diverse set of backgrounds.

The inaugural meetup will be Thursday, May 12th at Tomlinson Tap Room. Join us there and grab a beer and come with your own ideas for what you'd like to see this group become. I look forward to meeting everyone.

You may find more details as well as the page to sign up here:

Reflective Thomas Merton Quote by Jim Hodapp

Even though the following quote has nothing directly to do with urban experiments, it implicitly does within each of us. I've learned this lesson even recently in my life that many things get worse when we try to force things in our lives. The same applies to our towns and cities. Anyway, here's the quote from Thomas Merton:

One of the strange laws of the contemplative life, is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life solves them for you.

A Preview of the Unigov Series by Jim Hodapp

It's been a little while since I've last posted and it's time to fix this situation. Recently, I thought of an idea for a series of blog posts that I intend to use to learn more about the concept and government entity in Indianapolis referred to as Unigov. In this series I'll give a background on it, some history of it, where it stands today with its positive traits and the negative ones, and then finally discuss where I think it needs to go. I also hope to do some comparison to other cities that have done a similar thing with their encompassing county.

There's been very little said about this form of city/county government nor about the financial implications of this approach, and so I plan to explore this as well as hoping to start a good conversation about it. I have some preconceived notions of what I think about it, but I hope to deepen my understanding of Unigov and the reasons for why it exists to challenge my currently surface-level understanding.

Stay tuned for the first part of the series on the background and history of it here in Indy.

Improving Indy's Cultural Trail by Jim Hodapp

Indy's Cultural Trail is now two years old and is a huge success in so many significant ways. It continues to receive wide acclaim throughout the country as being a model of success for what proper biking and pedestrian infrastructure can do when done in a smart way instead of only going by the engineer's guide book without thinking. So why then does the Cultural Trail need some improvement? Most areas are already functioning well and are fairly well optimized, but there is at least one area that needs some rethinking. Here's where I'm referring to, do you recognize it?

What's wrong with this portion of the trail? I'm willing to bet that almost anyone who has ever biked or walked through this section immediately knows what is wrong. The trail just simply stops out in front of the Conrad hotel and frequently is blocked by cars loading or unloading by the hotel valets. Then there's the three bollards on either side of this zone that make it extremely confusing. As a person on a bike, are these saying I should go around the zone, use caution and risk going through the zone, or what? It's just not very clear and this is one of the most crowded portions of the entire trail.

I've been attempting to work with some of the local leadership to make sure that this is known about this small but significant area of the Cultural Trail. I've met with the director of the Conrad hotel to learn what I can about the trail in front of the hotel that he manages. I also met with the director of operations for the Indy Cultural Trail non-profit that is in charge of maintaining the trail. However, I seem to have hit a brick wall in making any more progress with the leadership. The Conrad director is still willing to dialog about the portion of the trail in front of the Conrad, but he does not have the authority to make any changes to this without Indy's DPW or the trail non-profit. I can no longer seem to get in contact with the Indy Cultural Trail non-profit leadership about the next steps on this portion of the trail. This has left me highly frustrated.

I'm left not entirely sure what to do next. My current idea is to start with this post to raise some more awareness and then to start a social media campaign where people can post pictures of the dangers of this part of the trail to all people who need to use it. So here's a callout to all of you who read this. Post in the comments what you think could be done and why you think it'd be effective. How do we get this portion of the trail improved so that it's safer for all types of people who use it?

True Community by Jim Hodapp

This couldn't capture my experience any better and so I had to share it! These are words from Andy Howard who runs the Downtown Phone Repair in City Market.

What does “community” mean to you?

"I grew up in the suburbs and still have friends and acquaintances living there. They drive in and out of their garages, spend their entire Saturday tending their yard, and barely know their neighbors. In contrast, every time I’m on the Cultural Trail, at the coffee shop or hanging out at the park, I know someone. If I don’t know them, I find out who they are. My social network since moving to a downtown neighborhood has become so rich and connected, I can’t imagine life without it. That is community. The things the community does together–decorate traffic signal boxes, support local shops, paint the equipment at the park–that creates place."

Check out the full interview here:

Market East by Jim Hodapp

What happens when a city adds a lot of residents to its downtown that are really eager to be there? What happens when a city adds hundreds and thousands of new residents to an area that is 5 minutes walk from the center of the city, 5 minutes walk from the bustling trendy area with many shops, restaurants and places to congregate? Or how about being a 10 minute walk or 5 minute bike ride from another trendy area along a world-class protected bike and pedestrian pair of great looking paths? What you get is a district of Indy called Market East.

Market East

Market East

I now call myself a resident of this area of downtown Indianapolis and can speak to it's tremendous location. I walk my dog twice a day around here and can attest to being able to get to everything I need, on foot. How many desirable US downtowns can claim this distinction? Indy has the good fortune of already being a very compact downtown, contrary to most of the rest of the county that it resides in. This has been working out nicely for the Market East district, which even 2 years ago was still a decrepit old factory and large surface parking lots for commuters. Now it's turning into a fantastic place to work, to live and to socialize. The Artistry apartments along with the second phase called Mentor/Muse are great apartment communities with nice amenities like an outdoor infinity pool, outdoor kitchen, bocce ball, putting green, community garden, fantastic pair of workout rooms, etc. They accommodate bikes well, they have wide sidewalks around them and they've even done car parking well with a very well hidden two-level garage.

What does this have to do with urban experiment? Market East is a poster-child for what happens when all elements of what humans need start to present themselves. It's a walkable/bikeable area thanks to sidewalks, mostly reasonable streets that aren't super wide highway-like stroads, it has easy access thanks to its proximity to shops, restaurants and green spaces, and this has hardly needed much prodding from the city. The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is largely responsible for a resurgence of many parts of downtown because it brought pedestrians who pop into shops and restaurants much more frequently than commuters or people passing through by car. When you walk or bike next to things which are both at humans speeds instead of speeding through locked in a car, you tend to much more easily involve yourself in the built environment of areas as well as care for/about these areas. As someone who just moved from a much more car-centric part of Indianapolis, I can attest to this.

To sum this all up, a place becomes very desirable and very valuable once it is built to accommodate humans first. This is a lesson that Market East clearly demonstrates as a new 28 story apartment building with Whole Foods gets built and a very nicely integrated 10 story Cummins office building with retail space gets built in this area. These will make Market East even more desirable because both projects focus on people living and working, not just commuting by car. They are not a small leap, but it was the small improvements like the Cultural Trail and more residents that made these projects natural larger steps to take to evolve an exciting part of downtown Indy.

Check out the Market East experiment page for more pictures of Market East.

Moving Downtown Indianapolis by Jim Hodapp

I officially sold my house in the area of Indianapolis called Broad Ripple and now I'll be moving downtown Indy. I'm very excited for this move as it'll be the first time that I will have lived in a more walkable environment with many great restaurants and shops all around me. It'll also make it much easier for me to fully get in to the purpose of this blog by taking photos of places in the more urban parts of Indy for proper in-depth urban experiment posts.

Merry Christmas! by Jim Hodapp

We'll be heading out on vacation for the rest of the year and wanted to let everyone know to join us in the New Year for some great experiments in 2015. Thanks for helping us launch Little Urban Experiments in 2014 and for your loyal following! Merry Christmas and happy 2015!