Census Reveals Hoosiers Increasingly Desire Walkable Neighborhoods

As many Urban Indy readers are well aware by now, the 2010 Census information for Indiana was released, giving the general public a statistical snapshot of the state’s economic and demographic standing.  Indiana is one of the first states to have their 2010 numbers released, with many other states coming online throughout the duration of 2011.  Certainly, this is an exciting time for urban planners, geographers, economists, and any other data junkie who gets as excited to study and sift through new Census data as others do the Super Bowl.  The reason for excitement surrounding new Census information lies behind the significance and political ramifications the ‘event’ brings.  As an added bonus, the Census shows us micro and macroeconomic trends, migration shifts and gives us insight into population growers and showers.

For Indiana, the 2010 Census information delivers on excitement, teaching us a number of lessons that are sure to have political and monetary ramifications for the next ten years.  One lesson that planners in particular are sure to be excited about is the revelation that people increasingly desire walkable urban neighborhoods.

When you begin to analyze the population trends in Indiana and zero in on the Indianapolis Metropolitan region, you can’t help but notice a sea of red census tracts in the center of the region surrounded by a sea of blue tracts.  This color pattern indicates the region’s urban core continues to bleed population out to suburban and exurban areas in the form of sprawl.  But look a little closer and two glimmers of hope, census tracts 354200 and 351600, prove that all is not lost in the fight against suburban sprawl.    Tract 354200 encompasses the Northeast Quadrant of downtown Indianapolis, an area centralized around Mass Ave, a mixed-use corridor known for its art scene, restaurants, and walkable neighborhoods.  The other glimmer of hope, Census tract 351600 includes the Fall Creek Place neighborhood, an area that has seen dramatic gentrification, investment and densification in recent years.

Interestingly, these two census tracts make up arguably the city’s most walkable, densely populated neighborhoods and offer quality of life characteristics not found elsewhere.  Amidst a sea of red, these two neighborhoods have managed to buck the trend and grow (quite substantially) in population over the past ten years.  So why are these areas growing while the rest of Indianapolis’s urban core loses population?  The answers seem to be characteristics that Mass Ave and Fall Creek Place have in common (of course) which are: walkability, access to cultural institutions, unique sense of place and the ability to offer a truly urban way of life.  When looking at other census releases across the country similar trends have been identified, indicating that Indianapolis is seeing what the rest of the nation is seeing: the continued rise in popularity of walkable areas that offer urban lifestyle opportunities.

Marion County as a whole (the central core county of Indianapolis) has grown over the past ten years, most of which occurring on the County fringe areas outside of the urban core.  And when compared to the region’s collar, suburban counties, Marion County is a growth laggard, seeing an increase less than 5% while growth leader Hamilton County saw a greater than 50% population increase.  With suburban sprawl continuing unabated and Marion County lacking the greenfields necessary for suburban expansion, central Indiana’s core county has to start taking proactive measures to curb the outward population growth trends in Central Indiana.

Since suburban development is not a substantial or legitimate option in Marion County, a differing product has to be offered that is a proven competitor with the suburban model.  This is where the 2010 Census and its associated ‘exciting’ lessons come into play.  The Indiana Census has revealed that walkable, urban neighborhoods like Mass Ave and Fall Creek Place are the product that people increasingly desire.  This is the urban form that needs to be replicated if Marion County wants to stand a chance at curbing the current population trends that favor collar counties.

A more ‘urban product’ features an improved mass transit system, urban land use planning, increased density, heightened urban design regulations, and neighborhood identity.  Pushing these types of initiatives will prove difficult, as dramatic change is almost always met with hesitation and fear.  But to do nothing will prove detrimental in the long run and the urban core’s population will continue to hemorrhage.  Excitement aside, we must learn from the Census, see the successes around Mass Ave and Fall Creek Place and begin developing and offering similar quality of life characteristics Countywide.

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Comments 28

  • A simple way to look at it is that people follow investment. The city’s more forgotten neighborhoods will continue to bleed people without investment. Even my very solid neighborhood in Meridian-Kessler lost a small percentage of residents. Since the area is already built-up and new homes are few and far between, we’re probably going to need to see more mixed-use projects such as the Uptown to replace single family homes or duplexes on urban corridors.

  • The great thing about Indianapolis is that there is a desire for more housing and entertainment. I believe the demand is there. The other model is Carmel where the demand may or may not be there but the Mayor is pursuing a more Urban city design and creating an area geared towards “Arts and Design” and building a brand new downtown anchored by The Palladium. It will be interesting to see if this development will be successful given its creation was forced and not organic. Mass Ave and other downtown hotspots did happen organically. Demand pushed development in Carmel I guess the mayor is hoping development will push demand.

  • David, Downtown Indy’s revitalization was anything but “organic”. It followed massive public investment, and if anything, Carmel is just following the Downtown concept (if with higher costs and nicer finishes). In the 80’s no one wanted to live downtown except in Lockerbie; Woodruff Place, ONS and Herron Morton were starting to stir, too. Then came the Symphony to the Circle, Convention Center expansion, Dome, Mall, O’Malia’s downtown, the Vic, hotels, the lower canal project, and finally the old factories started becoming condos from the 90’s onward. Private investment followed public.
    Interestingly, 3516 isn’t really dense urban. It’s “streetcar suburban”, mostly freestanding single-family and two-family houses on narrow lots with alleys and sidewalks, with the Illinois-Meridian-Penn corridor creating a hundred-yard-wide commercial/surface parking gash between the residential streets east and west. And while it is physically walkable, it lacks the kind of neighborhood shopping (at least until the grocery goes in at 24th & Meridian) and dining that exists in Meridian Kessler.
    If anywhere, 3516 and the tracts to its north are the place where densification like Uptown needs to start. The condo project in the 2200 blocks of Penn and Scioto is a good start, except that the Wendy’s parking lot creates an unsightly vista (besides being ugly in its own right). The live-work condos at 25th & Delaware are another good example, as are the Axia Urban projects in the area. But there’s a lot more in that area and the Near North, King Park and Mapleton Fall Creek areas (north of 21st and south of 38th on the College, Central, Meridian, Illinois, and Capitol corridors) that can be filled in with more dense development before Uptown is really “necessary”.
    And, of course, a light-rail/streetcar line should run north from downtown to Broad Ripple to really make these things stick. Private investment would follow that public investment too.

  • Note to above post: of course, I’m biased. I work there, and redevelopment is the focus of my work.

  • Maybe organic is not the right term. If we go back to pre Circle Centre era then yes public investment was necessary to show any potential private investment that the city cared about having a vibrant downtown. I am looking at current development and potential future development. We have seen several condo and high rise projects go to the wayside due to a lack of demand and we have seen several new housing options pop up by the canal and on Mass Ave because the demand was there. Building Condo’s and Highrise development in Indianapolis where the market is not yet saturated is definitely following an obvious demand. I guess my point is in Carmel that demand is not as obvious to me. The public before private investment model is working in Indy but will it work in the Burbs? Can you create a demand for the “Arts” in a Suburb or should the development of the Arts follow an obvious demand.

  • Totally agree with public investment stimulating private investment, especially when considering the light rail/street car line connecting Downtown with Broad Ripple. This is the only thing that will bring back the old commercial nodes and walkable neighborhoods.

  • What I find exciting is that it is possible to make [“forced” as David stated above] neighborhoods and streets walkable. Previously, I had always believed the process had to be organic. However, development agencies in Pasadena, CA and Santa Monica, CA proved that premise wrong. They turned commercial streets pretty devoid of predestrians into very successful walking streets by seeding the street with restaurants and movie theaters. Increasing residential densities adjoining a street also can help the process. Success begats success and I suspect we will see a lot more American cities with walkable neighborhoods.

  • Agree that people desire walkable neighborhoods, although I disagree that Fall Creek Place’s growth in population is due primarily to the pedestrian-friendly nature of the neighborhood. Certainly the stores on Delaware are nice, but otherwise there is very little to get to on foot without making the trip downtown.

    If not Mass Ave, the most walkable neighborhoods are easily those in the NE section of Meridian-Kessler and around Broad Ripple, including Warfleigh and the neighborhood between Westfield & College, north of Kessler.

    My wife and I bought a home just south of Forest Hills last spring and LOVE walking/riding everywhere we go during the warmer months. We can walk to Fresh Market for occasional grocery needs, although we mostly utilize the Marsh @ Keystone & 62nd, walk to the commercial nodes at 49th, 52nd and 54th, and walk/ride up to Broad Ripple on the Monon. It’s absolutely perfect for us to get out to enjoy the neighborhood and leave the cars in the garage.

  • Adam, Fall Creek Place is a true example of the most in-organic development in downtown. I would argue that it’s almost just as suburban as Fishers (well, you know what I mean). The city poured in money just to clean it up with mostly single family dwellings. Although that is a start (or a quick fix), it’s far from being a walkable neighborhood. Not only does it lack commercial spaces but the density is very low for being so close to downtown. Indianapolis needs to encourage a more urban demographic and it just takes time. Not sure how long but at least we all have URBAN INDY.

  • Micah, I would wager an argument that the investment in FCP was a worthwhile effort. I did not live in Indy at the time, but from what I have been told this took a bombed out neighborhood and redeveloped it. Perhaps it is not as dense as it could be, but its not populated by cul de sacs and sprawling properties. Furthermore, I ride through the area on my bike on my way home from school when the weather is nice. They are some of the calmest streets on my 6 mile ride and I choose them for that reason. Sure, Delaware should have had some work done to make it more narrow, but on the whole, its a nice looking area that I wouldnt feel the least bit out of place living in. That says a lot and when the census figures back it up, that tells me there is a winning combination. The fact that more Goose Market type of intersections havent sprung up, is an indictment of the economic environment.

  • I have to partly agree with Micah that density is still lacking in FCP and the area (mostly Herron-Morton) just to the south. There is still a lot of vacant parcels between 16th St., Fall Creek Pkwy, Meridian St., and Central Ave. Curt Ailes is correct that the area is quiet and very attractive, but I add stands to benefit from increased density without losing charm. If anything perceptions of safety and prestige will come with more residents.

    Office space may be an option not yet explored. It makes this less of a ‘bedroom community’ and brings revenue to businesses during morning and afternoon hours on weekdays. Equally important apartment buidlings of 2 to 3 stories will of course increase density better than single family homes. More retail would follow.

    With FCP now a decade old, reevaluating goals and methods may be in order.

    • Curt, I totally agree with you about the attractive and good components in Fall Creek Place. I live near the area and can’t wait for the area to be densified and commercialized for all of the near north residents. I also agree with you on the way Fall Creek Place having to develop like it did, unnaturally because of it’s time: one when people were just starting to invest in living downtown, no doubt. I just wish this city could do something to fight the NIMBY SYNDROME which plagues this city in general. Not only does there need to be more live work units like the successful Goose the Market, but people need to be shown that well designed mixed used dwellings with some density can be affordable. ONLY these types of infill projects will balance out the single family dwellings and make Indy neighborhoods more livable and walkable. Luckily, FCP and downtown in general have the vacant lots to fill in for the future. My only concern? How much longer do we need to wait for proper, community oriented development? Is Indy restricted with zoning regulations or are the issues all cultural? I don’t know. I hope the Trailside can help change people’s mind about affordable housing.

    • While I love some density and mixed-use is lovely, we need to consider our existing built environment as we plan for the older areas of Marion County. I live in a neighborhood of single-family homes, built mostly in the 20s, and it could be walkable; it obviously once was. I don’t think you need non-single family housing to makes areas walkable.

      From my perspective, the biggest issue for a lot of older neighborhoods in Indy is the loss of businesses over time. Very few neighborhoods have walk-able access to groceries or other regular-visit sorts of commercial outlets. I’m fine with walking five to six blocks to get my groceries; that’s what I did when I lived in Hyde Park in Chicago. However, I can’t regularly walk the 20+ blocks it would take for me to get to a grocery where I currently live. And there are few walk-able job prospects for me where I live.

      I wish that planners would look more at commercial development in its redevelopment efforts. Maybe they are and I just haven’t seen it, but the results don’t seem to indicate that that’s happening all that much. In FCP, Goose happened, from what I can tell, more by mistake (from the city’s perspective) than by design. I’d like to see housing redevelopment coupled with stronger commercial redevelopment efforts, too.

  • NIMBY does reign supreme in Indy – look no further than the recent Patachou project at 49th & Penn. That was fought tooth and nail by many Meridian-Kessler residents for truly inexplicable reasons. The contractor even indicated that he faced harassment and increased scrutiny from the city because of the NIMBYites in M-K. If a restaurant like Patachou cannot successfully avoid NIMBY, I’m not sure if anything can – at least in Meridian-Kessler.

    I would argue that NIMBY influences aren’t nearly as strong in FCP. Not to generalize – but M-K residents are likely wealthier, older, and more established than their FCP counterparts and thus a bit more susceptible to NIMBYism overall. Many residents simply want no change whatsoever, regardless if it is adding value to the neighborhood – as Patachou does. Because FCP is new, its residents deliberately moved there desiring an urban (or at least quasi-urban) lifestyle. Couple that with HOAs and a CDC (King Park) that is more open to commercial development and mixed uses and NIMBY isn’t as pronounced. There is some commercial activity around 25th and Central right now for instance.

    It does need to be noted that FCP would likely only be less susceptible to NIMBY for the ‘right’ kinds of development. FCP residents might not cause a fuss about a new Patachou opening, but commercial uses that serve the less wealthy folks east of Central I’m not so sure about. We yuppies on urbanism blogs rant and rave about Goose :), but let’s be honest – Goose is only serving a small chunk of relatively wealthy people. Not to open a gentrification debate with this comment, but equity issues need to be considered when thinking about this stuff. This is why I agree with Adam that the pedestrian/walkability component is vastly overrated in explaining why it hasn’t lost population. Places all over the city have the same urban form and density (residential and commercial), yet they are ‘bleeding’ population. Walkability helps to be sure, but I think we all can concede that the reason that the FCP census tract is blue on the map is far more complex than walkability.

    • Word – that NIMBY nonsense is part of why I got out of Meridian Kessler. I lived in the lower-income area, where we would have done backward tucks for a Napolese. But some people in much more stable parts of the “neighborhood” aren’t cool with an artisan pizza place with a two-way license?

      I wish there were a grocery upstart that would do a good job of serving our urban core, mixing the not-all-that-disparate needs of all local communities. I mean, hipsters and urban grandmas both love mustard greens. My dream is that Double 8 foods could transform into that. It’s already in town, they’re in a lot of older neighborhoods. One is walk-able from my house. Tofu, chitterlings, carrots and sriracha can all live in the same stores!

  • Totally agree with both Michael and Kirsten. My whole point about the Patachou vs M-K Nimby’s last year is this: are they still worried about crime and any other fear-driven excuses now that the new Patachou and Napolese is there? Of course not! And I doubt cars and parking are an issue up there also. It’s just amazing how people become trapped in the past while never realizing that they are their own worst enemies, for the most part. But perception is reality, right?

    • I actually talked to some of the neighbors and their concerns were honest and very pedestrian: the outdoor deck at Napolese would narrow the sidewalk along 49th and remove street tree plantings; the higher-cost, long-term nature of the dining experience there would require more patrons to come from further away, creating a parking shortage not unlike the one that is clear every day at 52nd & College, which pushes parking into the neighborhood and denies residents the weekend street spaces necessary to have their own social gatherings; the increased foot and vehicle traffic near their homes late into the evening would be a clear imposition; outdoor dining and sound systems likewise. Finally, there will be a certain number of drunks coming out of any place with a liquor license, but that was pretty far down the list behind the more mundane concerns.
      They didn’t buy in a neighborhood that features any of that stuff, so it’s not possible to say that they knew what they were getting. They had a right to object to the features of the development listed above that required zoning variances, and to hold the developer accountable to mitigate the effects in some way.
      Ignoring the fact that some neighbors had honest and well-thought-out concerns is just as bad as reactionary NIMBY-ism (which I admit is where some of the neighbors ended up, and which I don’t support).
      The Napolese case wasn’t an increase in DENSITY (nothing new was built). It was an increase in INTENSITY of use, which has its own impacts…some of which the neighbors correctly identified and which I listed above.

  • Overall, people here always talk about the city’s problem with crtime but will never want to admit that density and actual people fight crime more than police officers. All I’m saying.

  • ….Micah….really…you are a world traveler now aren’t you. Density is not a crime fighter..if that were the case Mother Theresa would not have chosen Calcutta.

    • Micah is correct, properly designed neighborhoods inhibit crime through natural surveillance (eyes on the street) which is a pretty basic theory of urban design. Density is not linked to crime, but poverty and poor governance are, which Calcutta had in abundance.

  • Graeme and Micah are correct: For a neighborhood not plagued by poverty, well-designed density is a disincentive for crime. Associating increasing density in an area like FCP to what exists in Calcutta is rather absurd, but it does high-light that the word “density” can be taken to mean something it is not.

  • Crownhilldigger: Not sure why you refer me to a world traveler? It seems you have the mentality that most people in Indianapolis have when it comes to density and a sense of security. I’m thinking you have this vision of Carmel, Indiana: A CLASSIST REVISITING TO GEORGIAN ARCHITECTURE. This to me is a very utopian view toward density/urbanism, because it’s not really. When I talk developing density for Downtown Indianapolis, I’m thinking in terms of infrastructure and affordable mixed used development to spur economic growth and livability…a true sense of community. This may sound just as utopian or idyllic, but it’s not…it’s just having to go back to the basics when it comes to community development while giving a certain demographic incentives TO ACTUALLY INVEST WHILE LIVING DOWNTOWN INDY. Maybe we could start talking about which neighborhoods you feel most comfortable in…those desolate, low dense ones??? Seriously? Maybe you should do some traveling with your eyes open for once…LOCALLY.

    • Thanks for your objective offerings Micah and all.

      Having lived in a few different urban environments over my years I have learned a number of things that included living in areas where socio-economic issues were varied and growth/livability were enhanced by density. That being said those were very mature cities that had a historic jump on urban living over my current community. My investment in living downtown and in the urban center of Indianapolis have left me wanting/needing more. Traveling outside my neighborhood (eyes open) as I must, reminds me of the things that I require that are not available w/o using a vehicle (as opposed to public trans) which is a huge pain.

      Given that I have had some of these opportunities Micah I am sorry that I judged your geographical limitations but I am not sorry for addressing the rubbish that would think that density/people are a deterant to crime. Calcutta/Caprini Green/Bed-Stuyvesant would all be great examples of an arguement to that statement. I won’t bore either of us w/crime statistics but I am sure they would also be supportive of a position that defines density as having similar negatives.
      Now the comment of poverty vs poor government are certainly entertaining conversations to have. That we would discuss controlling either-let alone influencing these issues at the neighborhood level would be of great interest to me. The church in north america has been addressing poverty for my entire life w/gusto and unwavering faith yet it continues to exist….I will forego the pontification relative to local government.
      I truly enjoy reading the thoughts of others on these topics but I can’t find myself in agreement simply because I share similar ideas.
      Density will not make things safer-similar to guns don’t kill people.

  • Fair enough. I’m definitely no urban planning, architect or socio-economic expert, trust me. I can safely say that if Indianapolis wants to grow it needs to do things to attract the younger population which would rather play it safe and invest in the suburbs (as the culture is currently and has been since the 60’s. I assume). But how much longer can Indy just focus on the suburbs? How long can we widen 69, Allisonville, 465…ect? I’m assuming gas will continue to go up? There comes a point when Indy will have to start developing a more urban environment, not with density like a large, developed city, but more than our traditional single family homes…because it’s not sustainable these days. Let’s face it sprawl is Indy’s worst enemy. There needs to be a push for community oriented development that promotes diversity and affordability. I’m sure that’s a huge challenge but I think there are many people who would rather live downtown but do not have all of the necessities, although many have claimed that this statement is a myth to some degree. I’m only arguing for density because of the NIMBY mindset that puts certain priorities on the back burner on a daily basis here. Any thoughts on adding density or a mixed used development in an area and people here are always up in arms because of all of the crime and parking issues…ect. No doubt the market here is challenging but I would think investing in a LRT line could spur the right sort of development while giving people reason to invest in living, working and/or playing downtown. There’s got to be more reason to just talk about these ‘future’ developments.
    All I can say is I feel much more secure in an active, diverse area with people. Opposed to a desolate, sleepy homogenous area where nothing happens. Right now, I would say M-K has the highest density for a traditional neighborhood in Indy. Not the most diverse maybe but the highest density. I would feel more secure living in M-K than anywhere downtown to this day. But like you say…actual safety and security are 2 different things. Downtown needs to get there sometime, some how.

    • MK density is lower than neighborhoods further south and east (Fall Creek Place, Herron Morton, Old Northside, Chatham Arch, Near East Side, Fountain Square, Christian Park, Irvington).
      Again, I think folks are confusing density and intensity. Density is measured by the number of people or housing units per square mile; it’s a physical attribute. Intensity is measured by the number of people visiting a certain place or some other measure of the level of activity (such as sales per square foot). Intensity is related to the specific commercial activity in a space. A restaurant is a more intense use than a flower shop, even though it might utilize the same amount of space.
      Just as there’s “good” density (Riley Towers) and “bad” density (Caravelle Commons), there’s also “good” intensity (grocery, restaurant, etc.) and “bad” intensity (drug dealing, prostitution, pea shake/illegal gambling, etc.).

  • Thanks for accepting the olive branch. At the core I beleive we have similar interest. I am certainly in your corner relative to the sprawl conversation. Searching thru the history of this city I have found Indianapolis to have fallen victim, as did other major US cities, of student busing to diverisfy and equalify schools. The resultant reaction led Indianapolis to be the city that it is today. The true balance of equality/diversity would be that residents choose to live in the city as opposed to fleeing due to educational limits for their children.

  • Keep in mind that regardless of existing density in downtown Indianaplis, the urban infastructure permits affordable adaptation to changing market demands… I’m not sure how twisting roads, cul-des-sacs, and strip centers can adapt to these changes.

    • You’re right with regards to the inner and outer ring suburbs. Land use policy changes are the first building block to improving transit in both the city and the suburbs. It won’t be easy to save many of these places.

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