In a fitting turn of events, the decision to pedestrianize Monument Circle has come full circle with the announcement that Indianapolis’s premiere public space will be closed off to auto travel during the week-long run-up to the Super Bowl next February. According to Super Bowl Host Committee CEO Allison Melangton, the Committee is trying to raise money for a major entertainment endeavor on Monument Circle prior to the Super Bowl that would close the space to vehicular traffic, turning the Circle into a pedestrian mall. According to Melangton, the Circle would be used for music activities and other major venues that would be a part of overall Super Bowl festivities.
The idea of pedestrianizing Monument Circle first arose during the early summer of 2010 when the City floated the idea of closing the Circle to cars for the month of August to effectively ‘see what happens.’ Following this announcement, considerable controversy and uproar arose and in no time the City backed away from the idea, stating that other options would instead be looked at to improve and upgrade Monument Circle. But seven months later and here we are again discussing the space’s pedestrianization, but this time, with a program of activities included to ensure the space is constantly activated.
From a city marketing perspective, a pedestrianized Monument Circle, the new and improved Georgia Street and the world-class Cultural Trail will provide Super Bowl attendees a compact, pedestrian oriented experience that will separate Indianapolis from other host cities like Dallas and Miami. From an urban design standpoint, the Circle overhaul builds on the pedestrianization acceleration movement occurring in cities like San Francisco and their Pavement to Parks initiative and New York’s Times Square redesign. With its fair share of place pedestrianization occurring, Indianapolis will soon have a strong case for having the Midwest’s best downtown public spaces.
It is encouraging that the idea to ban cars from the Circle, even if just for a week, has not been entirely shelved as it is a step in a positive direction for the City’s public realm. Hopefully this announcement will refuel the interest behind pedestrianizing the Circle, forcing the City to get serious about making it permanent, something that could be a major boon for downtown Indianapolis’s future image. And if done correctly, pedestrianizing Monument Circle on a full-term basis would perhaps be the most innovative idea ever implemented in Indianapolis. Where else in the Midwest can you find a piazza-esque pedestrian only public plaza in the heart of downtown? This would set the city apart from its counterparts and set the bar for quality public spaces in the Midwest. But as it stands today, the Circle is not ready for such a drastic change. The following points briefly outline improvements that must take place in order for a long-term pedestrianization of the Circle to be successful:
The Super Bowl is a culmination of a long and extremely successful effort to define Indianapolis as a sports town. But as the City grows beyond this identity and matures into a bigger and better version of its current self, more improvements need to be made to make the City more urban, more compact, more cosmopolitan, more mature. Pedestrianizing Monument Circle, implementing a public space plan, and creating a legacy of premiere public spaces would go a long way towards helping Indianapolis achieve such goals.