The Dwindling Green Fields of Marion County

Marion County is approaching full development. Sure, there will be pockets of empty fields and wooded lots here and there, but the large swaths of this type of land are basically relegated to Warren, Decatur and Franklin townships. Here’s a look at the wooded lots and crop fields that have been mapped in 2015:


I combined these 2 layers into one layer here:


Then, I placed the parks layer on top of the newly combined layer and whited it out, as the parks will most likely stay as green spaces for the next decade at least. I also removed the data that was sitting outside of Marion County:


That green space is basically all we have left to build on outside of the urbanized area of Marion County. Almost without fail, the same type of development that has happened on the fringes in 2015 is similar to the development seen in 1955: Car-dominated suburbia. One notable new exception is solar panels:


There have been quite a few solar panels placed in fields in the past 2 years. This layer is not quite complete, but it shows that they can cover a pretty decent chunk of land if the investment is there.

But, far more commonly, these areas fall prey to subdivisions, strip malls, and parking lots. It is indistinguishable from much of the development in the surrounding counties, even though the land sits technically within Indianapolis.

Indy Rezone may mean positive changes for infill development in the urban core, but there will be less changes that affect green field construction. It would not surprise me to see many of these spaces gone in the next 10-15 years. Here’s a visualization of the new buildings (as well as building additions) in and near Marion County since 2010:



The deepest clusters of red are almost always in new subdivisions in the outlying area. People are drawn to these areas for many of the same reasons they are drawn to frontiers anywhere: new infrastructure, a promise of better schools, and a perceived increase of public safety. However, once the city’s green fields fill up, Indy is in great danger of starting a population decline from which it will be tough to recover.

The urban core will need to invest in its traditional neighborhoods. Perhaps we can’t compete with the suburbs (and even the suburbs within our own city) on their terms, so we need to be the best city that we can be. Promote and improve the city’s walkability, bicycling, and transit infrastructure. Familiar themes, but important ones as well. Stay tuned for more of what Indy can do, coming soon in a follow-up post.

Comments 8

  • Solar panels should NOT take up fields any more than subdivisions or strip malls should.

    They should either cover parking lots or be placed on roofs. We already have plenty of both of those.

    • Fair. I think I agree. But, just as an example, wouldn’t there be less surface water runoff from a solar field than a subdivision? The space underneath the raised panels is mostly dirt. I don’t have the time to research this issue, though.

      More to your point, there have also been a great deal of solar panels built upon roofs in the past 2 years.

      • I agree with Chris that solar panels should be used in lieu of other non-permeable surfaces. And do your point about the dirt under – dirt can only hold a limited amount of water. It is the plants in the dirt that allow increased amounts of water. Also, bare dirt is likely to erode where grasslands would not.

        I do think that uses like the solar fields around the airport where other uses are unlikely is probably fine. How about the interstate medians and interchange wasted space?

      • I will point out, my above comment is just my thoughts and I have no technical expertise on dirt, runoff, etc.

        • Plants need sunlight to grow. Solar panels block the sun.

          Again…a simplistic explanation, but I think it’s better to find a technology that allows solar panels to BE a roofing material.

  • There’s actually even less green space than before, there’s a pretty big chunk at southeastern and 465 that is being turned into some development by browning. probably single family homes but idk. They’ve already cleared it and put in their retention pond locations. the big field behind the nearby gas station is also being developed into a super huge gas station (for trucks my guess?)

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