Lafayette Square livability

As part its annual A Monumental Affair program, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful hosted a charette on Nov. 5 with the goal of cooking up innovative ideas for improving the Lafayette Square area. Local architects, designers, engineers, planners and artists teamed up to create a variety of big ideas presented at the end of that day and as part of the A Monumental Affair awards ceremony on Nov. 11, at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. You can see the teams’ presentations and notes from the day at KIB’s website. I was a facilitator at the charette, by the way, for Team 4. You can also see a list of the A Monumental Affair winners here.

In advance of the Lafayette Square area charette and the awards event, I wrote a column for Metromix about the area, KIB and its president, David Forsell. I’m posting the full interview here as a way to keep the conversation about this important area of the city going.

Please give me a little background on the Monumental Affair program, its goals and connection to KIB’s mission and programming.

DF: A Monumental Affair is in its 33rd year. It, along with many other civic and professional achievements, was born during an important time in Indianapolis, when civic and public leadership re-imagined the downtown area. This era’s thought leaders resulted in the restoration of Monument Circle; invigoration of IUPUI; Circle Center Mall; Market Square Arena, and more. Then, AMA was called The Awards of Excellence, and organized by the Department of Metropolitan Development as one more way to lift up and celebrate development downtown. In the spirit of public-private partnership, Indianapolis Downtown Inc. shepherded the program, then KIB began taking its turn in the late 1990s, working with the support of city government. Since then, the event’s focus has moved countywide, and has gone beyond the traditional architectural and construction areas to interior design, public art, innovative reuse, and sustainability.

KIB was born the same year as The Awards for Excellence, and began managing the awards program more than ten years ago. KIB unites people to build community and transform public spaces through aesthetic and environmental improvement. While much of our work is at the grass-roots level, the spirit is the same: pushing for continuous improvement and inspiration in the realm of the built and natural environment. We’ve enjoyed this role, and, it has helped us raise some money for projects, too!

What was the thought behind this charette as part of A Monumental Affair?

DF: KIB, and our managing partner, the Society of Marketing Professional Services, have been recognized nationally for putting together a terrific, integrated awards ceremony where all the talented people and disciplines that impact the built and natural environments are in the same room, competing, and celebrating achievement. About three years ago, we thought it’d be a solid idea to harness the energy and talent of these sectors for the good of the community. Over the past couple of years, we’ve brought together thought leaders and professionals around the topics of mass transit and economic redevelopment, and sustainability policy. This year, we wanted to tie in with CEOs for Cities, which is a national organization organizing around five ambitions for American cities, including livability. They define this ambition as access to beauty, including art, nature and good design, everyday, for everyone. Pretty inspiring… Also inspiring is the new energy, the international communities, and substantial challenges to quality of life and economic vitality that animate the Lafayette Square Area. This place rose to the top for KIB for A Monumental Affair, in terms of applying the skills of artists, engineers, landscape architects and others for transformative change for this community within our city.

Why Lafayette Square? And why now? What are you most excited about when it comes to this area? What do you see as its biggest challenges?

DF: Where do I begin? KIB is in the business of transforming communities, both on the physical and human landscapes. We’ve been working closely with the Lafayette Square Area for a while now, and this past spring had about 400 folks out cleaning up and creating community murals there. We are constantly inspired by the idea of community leaders banding together in common purpose for the common good, particularly when the motivations are in the area of beauty and environmental restoration. When I find out that livability would be a focus of a CEOs for Cities national conversation here in Indy, and that KIB would be able to help shape that conversation, I advocated for this area.

While much of our work is in the heart of the county, more and more often, we find ourselves working with first and second generation areas of suburban development struggling with disinvestment. I took a drive through the area with a livability lens on, and felt art, nature and beauty, while crucial everywhere, could particularly help this area, where asphalt, signage and power lines basically define the aesthetic experience. Even more exciting about addressing this area is the collaborative decision by businesses and residents to use the incredible diversity of international cultures in the area as a point of leverage for community improvement. As far as its challenges are concerned, the place is just a sea of asphalt, and, I’d bet, much more than needed for parking and travel. How can we eat that asphalt, and create beauty, pride, cleaner water and air, a more vibrant business climate, and connectivity for biking, fitness and the like? We’re going to find out! The other piece is that as a casual observer, from a built environment standpoint, there is no “there” there. There is no built and obvious center of distinction, a gathering place, a defining spot in the public realm. Seems like one needs to be imagined, and created to help this place continue to build on its strengths.

Why are you so personally interested in making Indianapolis a better place ?

DF: I love Indianapolis because if you truly wish to do it, you can make your mark. There may be no better place to be if you have an unquenchable thirst to make things better for your home town, and consequently, in this world. Personally, I’m extremely motivated, broadly speaking, in life flourishing. And I’m intrinsically a creative person. So, I’m lucky I get to spend my time with an organization that helps thousands of volunteers plant acres of native trees on an interstate, or helps others achieve their dreams to create beauty in forgotten places, whether they be vacant lots, school grounds, or bleak parts of town others may never consider, write off as hopeless, or as too far gone.

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