Spotlight on Sustainability: Indianapolis, Indiana

It’s not a place where you might expect to see smart growth: the “Crossroads of America”, the home of one of the most significant motorsport races in the world, and a big city with some of the lowest ridership in the country.

But, a smart growth redevelopment district is looking to show Indianapolis residents how much the city can benefit from smart growth. With the help of a Brownfield Pilot Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Indianapolis is on the verge of making big changes to a once-neglected neighborhood.

Photo Courtesy of King Park Development Corporation

“The city is looking to a number of programs, like the EPA and HUD grants, as a way to focus limited resources on an area that has a lot of need,” said Ryan Hunt, a senior project manager for the City of Indianapolis, who is working on the redevelopment project. “As a near downtown neighborhood, there’s a real opportunity here to take advantage of what’s out there. These programs give us the opportunity to see a lot of change.”

In 2008, the city designated a circular area within a ¾ mile radius, centered on a near downtown neighborhood, as a pilot smart growth redevelopment district. Even though the area is near the city center, it has the largest concentration of brownfields in the city. It’s been a slow but steady sell, but the community is starting to see improvements with new development in the area, and that support is helping to move the project forward.

“It’s been a long process of convincing people that smart growth can happen in Indianapolis, but people are seeing it as a way to rejuvenate several of our near downtown neighborhoods,” said Steven Meyer, the City of Indianapolis’ Department of Metropolitan Development, Brownfields Redevelopment Coordinator.

City officials who are working on the project admit that it will only be able to reach its highest potential with more transit connectivity. Which is something that the city seriously lacks. For now, residents who want to use transportation other than a vehicle do have access to a popular 8-mile greenway that connects to downtown and the city’s northern suburbs. However, a regional transit plan has been drafted that includes stronger bus connectivity to the area and a light rail station.

Those plans ultimately lie in the hands of the state legislature who must approve the referendum and allow voters to decide if they want an increase in income tax to help pay for improved transit. But when the day comes where transit is vastly improved in Indy, the smart growth district and the transit lines will able to complement each other and attract more people who are interested in a more walkable, connected community.

“Along 16th Street, our main east/west corridor, we’re looking to create a hub for those professionals who want to live closer to where they work,” said Chelsea Humble, program director of the Smart Growth District. “The sustainable communities pilot has brought us a lot of opportunities. It has sparked the interest of the community and it has sparked interest in funding.”