Teaching Spotlight: Indianapolis Urban Design

During the summer of 2016 I worked with a handful of graduate students in Ball State University’s Master of Urban Design program advising their graduate theses.  Taken together, they all tackled different sites in the Indianapolis-area that could better capitalize on existing yet underutilized waterways to accomplish the following tasks: drive job development, provide housing and social services, improve hydrological function, and create new, environmentally-sustainable urban green spaces.

Mud 2016 cover_image

From our first week to the last, these urban designers improved immensely in communicating and organizing their ideas. These projects are organized with the flow of the White River and its tributaries:

Mud 2016 table of contents_image

Each project begins by addressing the plethora of current problems plaguing the Indianapolis area, including vacancy, pollution, demand for housing, green-area development, and more. Each urban designer offers a cohesive, sourced, and detailed argument as to why their project is the best fit for their chosen site, providing expertly-crafted visuals to demonstrate how their designs will be experienced by Hoosiers on the ground.

2016 Ball State University alums of the Masters in Urban Design program are (left to right): Mohammad Alabbasi, Loaei Thabet, Ellen Forthofer, Sara Weber, Taylor Firestine, Jacob Sanders, Austin Roy, and Kevin Sweetland.

I am so proud – so excited – to share their final works collected in this text and hope to work with them on publishing in academic and professional journals in the near future! Join me in congratulating these urban design professionals on graduating!  Well done, team!

It’s a hefty file (linked below), so here are a few snapshots with their authors and abstracts.

An excerpt of Jacob Sanders’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Jacob Sanders, “The Exchange at Keystone: A Holistic Approach to Economically Successful Malls”

Abstract: “The mall has long been a key suburban destination and economic driver due to its historic consideration as a place you can hang out, shop for a variety of goods and services, and attend movies. Their stability has wavered in the last 15-20 years as malls have begun losing their customer base due to online shopping increase, cultural and social changes, and an overall feeling that malls do not offer an exciting experience. This study uses Indianapolis’s Fashion Mall at Keystone as a case study for redeveloping malls using a holistically sustainable framework. By redesigning and transforming malls to be environmentally sustainable, economically successful, and socially integrative, these sites will be protected from future downfall.”

An excerpt of Loaei Thabet’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Loaei Thabet, “Beyond GM Stamping Plant: A Conceptual Masterplan to Redevelop Post-Industrial Waterfronts on the White River”

Abstract: “As many American cities, Indianapolis has turned its back to its waterways. Along with the disengagement and privatization, heavy industrial activities have contaminated the waterfronts while the combined Sewer overflow (CSO) have remarkably degraded the water quality of the White River. In addition to that, current levees capacity fails to contain frequent flooding conditions from reaching to brownfields which factor in degrading quality of water by increasing toxic pollutants levels in the White River. The loss of industry created an opportunity for Indianapolis to rethink its waterfronts by focusing its resources on creating catalyst sites for resilient and successful waterfronts. New sites will include new water-infrastructure to adapt with flooding as well as to build a basis for a unique community and new models of the economy. This multi-layer strategy would not only contribute to improving the water quality of the White River but would transform the future of waterways in Indianapolis.”

An excerpt of Mohammad Alabbasi’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016)

Mohammad Alabbasi, “Smart Indy: Using a Net Zero Energy Approach to minimize carbon footprint at the Indianapolis GM Stamping Plant”

Abstract Excerpt: “In today’s world, questions abound about how to generate energy and how to use energy…To combat [the damage of climate change] and alleviate systemic problems in Indianapolis’s post-industrial neighborhoods, this creative project seeks to develop the General Motors Stamping Plant into a net zero energy district called “Smart Indy.” This site would make a smooth transition between downtown Indianapolis and the West Indianapolis community, and between the site and the White River, by activating the water edge. As part of the current smart city movement, as defined by the use of technologies to improve the efficiency of services and creating cities that produce energy rather than just consume energy, Smart Indy seeks to minimize Indianapolis’s carbon footprint through an urban design perspective, which includes a focus on architecture, infrastructure, and the use of renewable energy productions. The goals of Smart Indy are: 1) To provide technologies that make the development area a local and global destination, 2) To reduce the annual consumption of fossil fuels by using green energy production, and 3) To make the development area a smarter place for people to visit, live, work, and play. The implications of being smarter will include utilizing new concepts of sharing, such as Airbnb and Uber, using prototypes like the Google self-driving car, and recycling, in addition to the main concept of taking advantage of green energy productions. This site will be close to downtown Indianapolis, as well as accessible, via monorail (to be constructed as part of Smart Indy’s development)….”

An excerpt of Ellen Forthofer’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Ellen Forthofer, “The River South District: Building Identity by Daylighting Pogue’s Run”

Abstract: “The area just south of the Wholesale District in downtown Indianapolis has been under-performing for decades. What was once home to the strong Babe Denny neighborhood (a neighborhood named for a Parks Department employee and longtime resident of that area) and a vital piece of the White River watershed now contains rampant vacancy, inaccessible public space, decades of housing and job loss, and a fractured water system. This proposal to transform this site into the River South District aims to create a new and lasting identity for downtown Indianapolis through the daylighting of a currently buried stream, Pogue’s Run. Daylighting, a relatively new practice, refers to the act of exposing a portion or the entirety of the flow of a previously covered waterway, usually in the form of removing a stream from an underground pipe and restoring the waterway to open air. Converting Indianapolis’ buried stream into an above-ground promenade and restored habitat will incorporate a correctly scaled community design focused on ecologically sensitive practices, balanced with housing, employment, and activities to attract a diverse range of users to the site. This River South District proposal accommodates a range of activities and uses through its gradient of destinations: an entertainment district, a revived Pogue’s Run habitat, and a vibrant residential neighborhood. By creating places to live, work, and play around Pogue’s Run, the River South District will create a highly integrated and unique site protected from further disinvestment and disconnection.”

An excerpt of Sara Weber’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Sara Weber, “Breaching the River Edge: Connecting Indianapolis with the White River”

Abstract: “The White River is not accessible to downtown Indianapolis and not being utilized to its fullest potential. The proposed solution for this site is to address the current barriers preventing access, the lack of development on and around this site, and how this development could enhance downtown Indianapolis. The proposal will include both private and public space along the river edge. These public and private spaces will begin to overlap one another so that the private entity does not overshadow the public entity. There will be trails, light commercial space, and river activities for the public that coexist with privately owned space. This provides the amenities of being close to the river and downtown while still providing a private feel to the residential space. This proposal will help to extend the lively atmosphere of downtown into a developing district to the south.”

An excerpt of Austin Roy’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Austin Roy, “River Key: Re-Establishing Community Identity in West Indianapolis Through Education and Re-Connection with our Waterways”

Abstract: “Historically, the west Indianapolis neighborhood was developed as a residential community that benefited economically and socially from job opportunities that the surrounding industrial development provided for residents of the neighborhood. In the early half of the twentieth century, the residents of west Indianapolis lived in a community driven neighborhood that provided almost all goods and services to support virtually all human needs. The neighborhood provided a school for children as well as transportation opportunities into the downtown area of Indianapolis via horse and buggy, mule and trolley, and later on, street cars. However in the 1970s, construction of Interstate 70 resulted in dividing west Indianapolis into two different halves. The population of the neighborhood was split and the sense of community within the area was lost. This division not only tore the sense of community in two, it also resulted in less demand for products and services sold locally in the neighborhood, resulting in almost all neighborhood shops to leave for the inner city. As the twentieth century progressed, industry, which had for so long supported west Indianapolis, began to disappear, as industrial jobs moved overseas, property values as well as standard of living also began to diminish. In 2011, the retraction of industrial jobs reached its peak when the GM stamping plant, located directly north of the neighborhood closed its doors.”

An excerpt from Taylor Firestine’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Taylor Firestine, “Theater Blocks: An Urban Design Strategy Modeled on Economic, Social, and Environmental Sustainability”

Abstract: “The Twin Aire neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana has suffered decline over the last generation, resulting from years of waning land value, loss of skilled labor jobs, and stagnant or decreasing income. These issues are intrinsically linked to other problems facing depressed neighborhoods across the U.S., including transit inaccessibility and barriers to educational attainment. Given the availability of urban land ripe for redevelopment, the Theater Blocks will initiate a phased redevelopment plan of the Twin Aire Drive-In Theater site under two guiding objectives: 1: Stabilize the Neighborhood through Accessible Social Services; and 2: Facilitate Growth and Reinvestment for Future Success. While the first objective is a short-term endeavor, the second addresses long-term strategic planning for the community. Both objectives contain various goals addressing a host of issues facing the area, including land use, social services and education, parks and open space, and branding. These objectives and their subsequent goals are directed at bolstering the area’s quality of life through a model of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.”

An excerpt from Kevin Sweetland’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Kevin Sweetland, “The Burnside District: A New Approach to Post-Industrial Development on Indianapolis’s Eastside”

Abstract: “This creative project explores the practical application of urban design strategies to reverse the effects of deindustrialization on Indianapolis’ eastside. If the problem of de-industrialization is not properly addressed, large numbers of inner city people will remain unemployed and the industrial sites that are decomposing in their backyards will continue to destroy the health of the local environment. In lieu of a future defined by hazardous places for wildlife and people, the Burnside District sets a new vision for the eastside’s vacant industrial sites. This project reimagines these decrepit places as valuable community assets that allow people to live, work, and play in their own neighborhood.”

Read their projects in full here: MUD 2016 Final Book

Published by keralovell

American Studies scholar/historian at the University of Utah, Asia Campus and blogger of my research on urban studies, food, visuality, and social justice and the connections between them.

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