A recent development that has lurked under the radar in central Indianapolis is the planned relocation of the R & A Bloch Cancer Survivor Park.Â Over the next year, the Park will move from its current home at the edge of the Ransom Place neighborhood to Mapleton-Fall Creek, a few miles away, all as part of a cost-saving measure for Indy Parks.
If this gesture causes heads to turn (â€œwhy move a park?â€), an Indy Parks representative offers a explanation: another neighborhood has embraced the prospect of accommodating the park, and the installation at the park is so deteriorated that repairs at its existing site would cost more than a complete redesign.Â However, that doesnâ€™t explain why relocation is necessary.Â Canâ€™t they just pull up the old material and rebuild on site?Â The absence of controversy to this proposal may correlate well to the scarcity of news coverage, but it also hints at a broader issue: the evolution of the Cancer Survivor Park has kept a low profile because many people donâ€™t even know that it exists.Â A visit to the site near the IUPUI campus provides some added perspective to the conditions of the current location at Ransom Place:
It sits at a wedge-shaped parcel at the intersection of West 10th Street, Indiana Avenue, and University Boulevard.Â As evidenced by the photos, the surrounding parcels include restaurants housed in strip-mall and outparcel structures, the eastern edge of Wishard Hospitalâ€™s campus, and a relatively new mixed-use apartment building largely catering to IUPUI students.
The site benefits from a heavy traffic volume from all three streets, though 10th Street, serving as one of the longest east-west arterials in the city, is the most significant, demonstrated by this view, looking into the Plaza from the north side of 10th Street:
Driving past, the installation at the park undoubtedly endows the intersection with a prominence it otherwise wouldnâ€™t have: an intriguing sculpture in the foreground, with a columned arcade presiding over it.Â However, a recent afternoon visit would suggest that the surrounding community has not exactly embraced it:
The columned arcade shows evidence of deterioration that belie its 18-year life span up to this point.Â Notice the rust in the above picture.Â And the teal paint of the arches is only chipping in a few places, but letâ€™s face it: itâ€™s teal.Â It evokes the early 1990s when this plaza was first constructed.Â Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that, but it does show its age.
The columns themselves are looking particularly shabby, with huge portions of decorative surface missing.
Meanwhile, the placards with inspirational messages are streaking rust onto their concrete pedestals.
Landscaping looks okay, given the extreme drought conditions that have befallen the entire region, but almost all evidence suggests the whole plaza has been left unmaintained.Â The one section that looks pretty good is the primary sculpture and the brickwork around it.
What conclusion can a person draw about the Bloch Cancer Survivor Plaza at its current location?
It looks greatâ€”from a distance, or when speeding past it on 10th Street at 30 miles per hour.Â A visit by foot isnâ€™t so easy, and the visitor is unlikely to feel very rewarded.
An interview with Jen Pittman, Deputy Director of Indy Parks, provides some insight on how the Plaza came to be, and why it looks the way it does today.Â Apparently the benefactors, the Bloch family, provided a grant for similar plazas in 25 cities across the country, using essentially identical compositional material, in terms of columns, arches, and the sculpture.Â They requested that all plazas should appear in highly visible locations, along streets with high traffic volumes.Â The benefactors included an annual fund for the upkeep of the plaza.Â However, the materials they selected were not versatile across the countryâ€™s diverse array of climates. The columns feature fiberglass sleeves wrapped around I-beams, each coated with a stucco shell; it all started decompose quickly, concomitant with Midwestern freeze-thaw cycles, and the Blochâ€™s maintenance fund was never great enough to meet the installationâ€™s needsâ€”a cost burden exacerbated by the fact that maintenance crews would seriously impede traffic flow on at least one of the three busy streets.
Jen Pittman notes that the visibility of the site at Ransom Place never equated to accessibility.Â Most of the streets are quite busy throughout the day, only some of the surrounding buildings nearby are designed for pedestrians, and the crossing times at crosswalks (particularly along the less prominent University Boulevard) allow barely enough time for even an able-bodied person to shuffle across in time.Â Few people would ever find the park a respite, and its low curb appeal resulted in an amusing twist.Â Pittman noted that, after the Wishard Hopsital campus went completely smoke-free a few years ago, the employees/patients who needed a nicotine fix ended up coming to this plaza.Â Yes, thatâ€™s right, the Cancer Survivor Plaza was filled with cigarette smokers.
Restoring the columns to their original appearance, repainting, treating the trustâ€”all of this would cost over $600,000.Â Meanwhile, Indy Parks researched the prospect of relocating the plaza to a more accessible site that would require less intervention.Â The Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association stepped up, seeing how they had some unused open space that had formerly housed a playground.Â Â The two institutions soon forged an agreement, resulting in the recent development of a master plan for the park at the intersection of Delaware Street and Fall Creek Parkway, just west of the Julia Carson Government Center, at the site below:
The sculpture remains in good shape and will get relocated.Â The columns may have to face the dumpster, but a new site plan will integrate more environmentally appropriate materials that require lower maintenance and significantly less for the initial installation.Â Estimated cost is $250,000â€”about 40% of the price of returning the existing plaza to its original state on site.Â Meanwhile, Indy Parks promises to work with the Ransom Place neighborhood to help devise a new â€œgatewayâ€ appearance for the triangle parcel once the Cancer Survivor Park is relocated.
The new location and its proposed master plan is worthy of a review:
If the new site for the Cancer Survivor Park strives for a balance between visibility and accessibility, an initial assessment of the master plan would suggest that it succeeds. Anyone familiar with this part of town knows that it abuts at least one arterial in the form of Fall Creek Parkway North Drive to the southâ€”probably the most heavily-used connector from the northeastern suburbs to the Near Northside, visible in the photo below:
Lots of motorists will pass by this park, just as they have at the one around Ransom Place.
Meanwhile, the other roads and this relocated site are nowhere near as busy.Â Delaware Street (at least north of Fall Creek Parkway) tapers into southbound one-way local road and will not abut the park, while a spur of North Washington Boulevard forms the northwestern boundary of the triangular shaped parcel.Â At the far northeastern tip of the park, East 28th Street forms a tiny border, while the Carson Government Center sits directly to the east.Â None of these other streets currently support thick, high-speed traffic; 28th Street allows for easy on-street parking within clear sight of the park, visibly running on the left side of the photo below:
While it may not be the most high profile intersection in the cityâ€™s Near Northside, by most metrics it improves upon the original goal of this national network of pocket parks.Â The heavy vehicular traffic on its southern border offers the visibility that the Bloch Foundation has always sought, while the northern edge is essentially residential and far more approachable by foot.Â Although high density institutional, commercial, and residential uses do not surround the site in all directions at the Fall Creek location like they do at Ransom Place, the presence of the Carson Government Center will ensure, at the very least, that the buildingâ€™s workers and many visitors will soon learn about the relocated park.
The site plan for the new site could benefit from some minor improving tweaks.Â Notice that none of the boundaries along Washington Boulevard or Fall Creek Parkway North Drive show evidence of perimeter sidewalks.Â This pre-existing deficiency no doubt dates over 20 years, when the public works investments that upgraded the Delaware/Fall Creek Parkway intersection did not place pedestrian accessibility at as high of a priority.Â The inclusion of sidewalks through the development of the Cancer Survivor Park at this location would understandably improve upon the site, but the site plan suggests that it is not currently under consideration.Â If this were a private-sector project, the cityâ€™s sidewalks ordinance would mandate the inclusion at the boundaries of the parcel, but because it is an Indy Parks project (and the private sector isnâ€™t in the habit of building freestanding parks unless linked to a larger development), it most likely falls vaguely as a shared responsibility between Parks and Public Works.Â My second criticism with this site planâ€”more of a disappointment reallyâ€”is that the large cul-de-sac (indicated by the Number 7) will survive, leaving almost one-third of the parkâ€™s dedicated area to an impervious surface.Â Since the cul-de-sac already exists, my suspicion is that it serves the Carson Center to the immediate east and will continue to do so.Â But I hope that the designers of this park have at least considered negotiations with management at the Carson Center to determine if this pavement is essential, when the primary parking lot and entrance all sit directly to the structureâ€™s east.Â The retention of this Drop Off/Parking Circle only serves to estrange the Carson Centerâ€™s workers from the park itself.
Ultimately this relocation will spur renewed creative discussion over the old site for the Cancer Survivor Park as wellâ€”at its current location in Ransom Place.
Understandably, the residents of Ransom Place do not want this park to fall into further neglect once the Cancer Survivor sculpture is removed and the arcade disassembled.Â With student-oriented apartments and restaurants on one side and the sprawling Wishard campus on another, the site could function as both a gateway and neighborhood node, given more sensitive treatment to the pedestrian environment.Â The streets around it are usually teeming with traffic, the crosswalks force people to hustle across, and the Clarian People Mover that threads above (but with no egress point nearby) currently seem like missed opportunities.Â However, the culminating opportunity to improve this gateway to Ransom Place lies to the east, in the series of strip mall and outparcel fast-food restaurants across University Boulevard, visible in the distance near the stop lights in the photo below:
More plainly visible in this Google Streetview, this may constitute the single most unabashedly suburban, auto-oriented large parcel in the entire downtown area.Â Built at around 1990, when the idea of a revitalized and walkable downtown was a pipe dream, it surely seemed like a practical development at the time.Â After all, it chiefly serves IUPUI, which has historically been a commuter-based university.Â And it is unquestionably successful to this day: rarely does a storefront stay vacant for long.Â Virtually all of the tenants are fast-food restaurants; most of them national chains.Â The land would no doubt cost a pretty penny, but an enterprising and creative developer could easily devise a better mixture of uses that deploys an urban form, conceals the parking shrewdly, injects a high density of residences or offices, and retains the successful convenience-oriented restaurant culture, all while integrating with the soon-to-relocate Cancer Survivor Park.
Nothing is wrong in particular with the decisions Indy Parks faces with this unusual relocationâ€”in fact, most of the process seems to be going quite well.Â I just hope that the principal decision makers continue to recognize the magnitude of opportunities afforded at both sitesâ€¦and that they make sure that, whatever the location, those smokers recognize what the plaza commemorates before they decide to light up.