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The New Georgia Street: An Urban Design Crit.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis is currently getting an extreme makeover and turning large portions of its right-of way over to the pedestrian.  Announced in early May of this year, this project has been touted as the latest example of Indianapolis taking positive steps in turning their downtown into a more pedestrian friendly environment.  Taken together, the Cultural Trail and the Georgia Street makeover prove that Indianapolis is on the forefront of the pedestrianization acceleration movement sweeping across the United States.  New York has their Times Square, San Francisco has their Pavement to Parks initiative, and Indianapolis too has a collection of projects that rival what’s happening on the Coast’s.

I have to say, I am a huge fan of the Georgia Street design.  Click here to see the design details, completed by the local firm Ratio.  The idea isn’t something I had ever thought of or heard anyone talk about, so when the news broke in early May, I was pleasantly surprised.  And when the renderings came out later that night, I became excited and doubly surprised at the City’s continued bold moves to ready themselves for the 2012 Super Bowl.  Below are the reasons why I ultimately love this idea and the design:

  • Creates significantly more space for pedestrians;
  • The new driving lanes are narrow (9.5 feet) forcing slow traffic;
  • The design is unique for Indianapolis, raising the bar for future urban designs;
  • The design creates much-needed public space on the south side of downtown;
  • Connects two important nodes – the Convention Center and Conseco Fieldhouse;
  • Unique (and expensive) materials are being utilized, namely Ipe Wood;
  • On-street parking is located on the inside of the travel lanes.  This is a unique design feature while still protecting the pedestrian from car travel;
  • Modern, appropriately designed signage – the new signs look like an iPod which is a cool feature;
  • The use of the Meridian Street mast arms is great and the installation of overhead wires strung across the pedestrian plazas will provide great ambiance; and
  • The graphic presentation is effective, easy to read for the most part, and visually striking.  Well done Ratio.

There is really only one feature, or lack thereof, that bothers me about this project.  As the design currently stands, there is no connection to Pan Am Plaza, which directly abuts Georgia Street.  I am sure this is intentional; as the word on the street is that the City wants to develop the Plaza into an office tower or two.  I think this is a mistake and a missed opportunity, as the Pan Am Plaza could be incorporated nicely into the Georgia Street makeover, providing much-needed public space for the south side of downtown.  For this to happen, the ice skating rink and associated building have got to go.  Also, the building along Capitol Street needs reworked so retail and restaurants can locate there and spill out onto the new Plaza.  Finally, the entire Plaza needs to be lowered so it is flush with the sidewalks of Illinois and Georgia, visually and spatially connecting the space to the new and improved Georgia Street.  If these designs ideas are implemented in accordance with the Georgia Street makeover, a truly great public space could be created.  But considering construction has already started, it looks like this is a bit of a missed opportunity for the City.

I’m definitely not complaining though, as I think the concept, policy, and implementation of this project is right on and I am excited to see what it eventually looks like.  But I think the true headline here is the fact that Indianapolis is positioning itself on the forefront of the pedestrianization acceleration taking over the country.  In fact, I think the City is presently doing more in this regard than anywhere else in the Midwest.  So they deserve to be commended in my opinion.  Cities like Cincinnati and Columbus need to be paying attention to what Indianapolis and others are doing, notice the trends, and act quickly to ensure they aren’t once again left behind in the next wave of progressive urban policy.  In this instance, Indianapolis won’t.

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10 Responses to “ “The New Georgia Street: An Urban Design Crit.”

  1. Joe H. says:

    First, I like the intention behind this project, but beside use during the superbowl and any random events that closes Georgia down…. this space will never get used.

    They would have been better off shifting the additional pedestrian space to one side or the other and giving the adjacent businesses an opportunity to enjoin the additional foot traffic and potentially open up sidewalk cafe space.

    As currently planned…. why would anyone cross the street to walk down a path that exists in between lanes of traffic?

    Again, good intention… poor execution.

    • Andrew Troemner says:

      I for one intend to hang around there more often. I hang around Monument Circle quite a bit because of the sights and sounds of people milling about, as well as it being a pretty convenient place to grab a bite to eat. As Georgia Street offers more venues than even Monument Circle to that effect, I fully intend to mill around there. The main problem with that vicinity as of right now to me is (1) too heavy of traffic, and (2) not enough public places for sitting down and milling about. This project resolve both for me.
      .
      Especially considering it’s right adjacent to Conseco Fieldhouse, this can quite easily become an anchor for the entire southern part of downtown. I foresee it becoming even busier once the North of South development project comes to fruition.

    • David says:

      “As currently planned…. why would anyone cross the street to walk down a path that exists in between lanes of traffic? ”

      Hey Joe – Check out Las Ramblas in Spain. It’s a wildly successful pedestrian space with vehicular traffic on both sides. I definitely seems like an odd idea, especially since it isn’t a typically done in the Midwest. But, that’s what makes it so amazing. Projects like Georgia St, and the Cultural Trail are (finally) putting Indianapolis and the Midwest at the forefront of U.S. urban design.

  2. Curt says:

    I feel that this is great intention, great delivery. There will be storm water managment, pedestrianization and traffic calming all going on in one space. I also think that there will be PLENTY of people that use it. Ever seen a Saturday or Sunday downtown with mall shopers? This runs adjacent to circle center and bisects Meridian and all the restaurants and bars along that corridor. To say that this will not be utilized, is I feel, not seeing the bigger picture of the area.

    Big win for Indy

  3. IndyIndie says:

    I am all for improving the streetscape in a pedestrian friendly manner but this design is out of context for the space around, the high density, historic warehouse district.

    • Andrew Troemner says:

      Just a quick question, and not to be rude: what do you mean by this project being “out of context”t? It seems to me that the area heavily services pedestrians as-is, and increasing the amenities for pedestrians serves to increase business potential for services already located there. Are you referring to traffic flow problems?

  4. Great concept, well designed, and built on an accelerated schedule. A+ in my opinion. Thanks to indy leaders for taking on this vision.

  5. IndyUrBen says:

    Well written, Greg and I agree with you on almost all counts. Overall a well conceived concept and decent design details. The one thing I can’t get over is the parking on the inside of the street. It fails for two reasons: 1 – on street parking is not generally used by those who intend to spend a while milling around or walking long distances, so the anti-intuitiveness of it’s location will lead to a drop off in car-related run-in business – this maybe not an awful thing unless it’s during the 70% of the time there won’t be an event or major conference. 2 – Having cars on either side of the walking area serves to an ‘enclosed’ feeling that does not engage the architecture or storefronts on the street. Visually, the most prominent items will be on the walkway – not cool, engaging, attractive storefronts. This could have been thought through a little better.

  6. Micah says:

    I think it’s safe to say this just needs to be done and is a good design overall for downtown Indianapolis. These projects will feel unnatural at certain times during the day because of the existing architecture. But we need to look at the larger picture. Residential population in the core will just continue to grow. But most importantly, the architecture ‘culture’ will grow as well and follow suit with better design and a street presence. Pan Am Plaza is the PERFECT PLACE TO START OVER (I feel very awkward when I’m within a block of that site!). I would vote it as the worst public space in all of downtown Indy. The site would be a great urban design competition some day!

  7. Cityguy says:

    As for the Georgia Street corridor not being that busy — they are opening the new main entrance to the doubled in size convention center – right at the west end of this corridor. The convention center has been very busy as a 300,000 sq. ft facility (400,000 sq ft including the former RCA Dome) – now, after doubling in size, it will be 750,000 sq. feet (including the linked space in Lucas Oil Stadium). There will be many more people using it as well. This will be one of the main corridors people will use for getting from the CC to the restaurants and bars in the heart of the southern end of downtown.

    I agree, there will be plenty of times when it will not be very busy – due to the lack of offices near this area — however – this is a good start to that possibly changing. A few more office facilities and some new residential would help plenty. Of course, when the Super Bowl, Final Four, Big Ten Championships, FFA Conv, Colts games, Pacers games, Fever games, Concerts at Conseco, CEDIA convention, Drum Corps Intl Championship, etc, etc. are going on — this place will be very busy. And, as mentioned above, it’ll probably do fine on the typical Friday / Saturday nights as well – and some Thursdays, Wednesdays and Sundays. Its a good start.

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