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Redefining Placemaking on Indy’s Near Eastside

Placemaking has been a hot term over the last several years, as people move back to cities around the country. This shift in population has led to increased demand for more usable streets, parks, buildings, public spaces, and neighborhoods. After decades of disinvestment in many urban areas, artists, architects, city planners, and community activists are finding creative ways to transform cities.

And there have been some truly awe-inspiring and revolutionary projects in recent years that have had profound impacts on their respective cities. From massive permanent transformations like turning Times Square into a public plaza to temporary guerilla tactics like Park(ing) Day, from international examples like Hong Kong’s waterfront park to local examples like Big Car’s SPARK project on Monument Circle, we are truly in the golden age of placemaking.

Redefining Placemaking: Times Square Plaza at Night

The Brilliant Simplicity of New York’s New Times Square. Courtesy of Wired.

Because of its increase in prevalence and popularity, it has also become a misunderstood term. Too often, placemaking is limited to a perception of superficial beautification. While beautification is important to making a great place, placemaking projects run the risk of underinvestment and under-appreciation by not properly communicating its full and deep impact.

For us, placemaking is about engaging our neighbors to understand what the needs of the community truly are. If a splash pad is not going to be an asset or solve a community’s problems, what’s the point of building a splash pad? (Let’s be honest: splash pads are pretty much always a good idea. But, you get the idea.) This engagement is key to building truly great places that generate community vitality for all. It also gives us a chance to involve a place’s great asset: its people.

NEAR has always always been focused on placemaking. It’s at the core of our mission: developing community as we create places for neighbors. Developing community is really about building connections—connections between neighbors and to neighborhoods.  This manifests itself in a number of ways, and our goal in 2018 is to bring that to the forefront and redefine (or at least broaden) the term and its perceptions.

Placemaking is the Educators’ Village: our project to retain our city’s best teachers and embed them in the community in which they work.Redefining Placemaking: The Educators' VillagePartial map of the Educators’ Village

Placemaking is intentionally bringing the youngest and eldest members of our community together at the Minnie Hartmann Center: our adaptive reuse project that combines senior housing with a daycare.

And yes, placemaking is about beautification. Beautification that has deep impacts. Like our IndyEast Art Peace project in partnership with the Arts Council of Indianapolis and IMPD. This project convenes artists and police officers to create place-based art along Rural Street that reduces crime and blight.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. From rehabbing historic structures to streetscaping projects along East 10th Street, we approach all of our projects with placemaking in mind. Want to learn more? Join us at our annual community luncheon on Thursday, April 26, at the Boner Fitness + Learning Center to learn about all our placemaking initiatives and the latest progress on the Near Eastside.