This Saturday, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is throwing a Grand Opening party like none other. Titled Get Down On It, the party features events for all ages to celebrate the completion of the trail. There have been many delays, frustrations, and even a time where people were wondering if there was enough funding for the trail to be completed. It took years of dedication, but it is finally complete*.
Here at Urban Indy, we thought it would be a good idea to offer some of our thoughts about the trail and place them in this post.
The Cultural Trail is a piece of infrastructure unparalleled in any major city anywhere. Indianapolis continues to show it can compete with big city projects elsewhere with this new world class bicycle and pedestrian trail. As a supporter of bicycle and pedestrian rights, it pains me when I see some of our biggest downtown names such as the Conrad turning their back on this project instead of embracing it for what it is and hopefully, as the community continues to grow support for the trail, popular sentiment will overturn what is a bad decision to allow cars to be valet parked along the hotel’s frontage. That said, the sum of the trail is a magnificent and unique achievement that everyone in Indianapolis should be proud of! I will continue to take advantage of this amenity and encourage others to as well.
At first, it was very possible that the Cultural Trail would be another pie-in-the sky idea, destined to be relegated to the dustbin of history like so many other plans. But the team behind the idea was committed to the mission of building a world class piece of pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure in downtown Indianapolis. The city now has its urban showpiece, which shows up as a template for other cities that want to see their own version of the trail. This weekend’s event, just like the trail itself, is about celebrating Indy’s citizens and its visitors. It’s a moment to be proud in all that has been accomplished, as well as looking forward to what is yet to come.
This trail is a big deal for us at Urban Indy. We have been ecstatic to see the city embrace this. It is hard to understate how rapidly and deeply this is changing the city.
But the Cultural Trail is more than a piece of infrastructure. It is also an invitation for people to participate in this experiment of participatory urban design. It is a common anthem we hear in Indianapolis that common people can do amazing things by getting involved, and nothing proves it better than the Cultural Trail (also see here and here). When we have a coffeeshop meeting with urbanists these days the discussion is no longer about what we’ve lost, but what is coming next. Eugene and Marilyn Glick are now just as famous as their sponsored piece of world-class infrastructure, and we are all excited to see how will others make their own mark on the city.
The celebration weekend will feature many great photos showing how awesome these new spaces are. And the Cultural Trail is truly awesome. But a quick look at what used to be here shows how much courage and vision it took to visualize the change that needed to happen. How many people really saw the potential to turn this ugly, unloved, and forgotten streetscape into a world-famous concept? Every city has these spaces, every city has potential. Many, many opportunities remain.
When we break it down, the Cultural Trail is essentially a sidewalk. It runs adjacent to local streets and is separated from our streets by curbs and gutters and occasionally trees, plants and lighting. It has signalized, at-grade crossings at intersections and connects people with places. So why do we care? We care because it was done right. We care because sidewalks aren’t national headlines (at least positively) and are certainly not substantial pieces of mainstream media coverage. No my friends, I am wrong. This is not essentially a sidewalk. The Cultural Trail is much more. What we have been gifted, is the Robert Moses parkway of our day, negating the completely opposite impacts on our built environment. Just as the parkways of New York spurred the imaginations of millions of residents about what was achievable, the Cultural Trail has provided Indy with a common thread weaving together the fabric of a city long thought to be disconnected and out of touch.
When asked to describe our investment, we hear about linear parks and greenways, art installations and connectors, dedicated infrastructure for pedestrians and a chance for recreation. So what do we have? The answer…..Yes. The Cultural Trail is yours to mold. Personally, I believe what we have before us, is a piece of infrastructure, so well thought out, that I can tell visitors and friends alike that their is a self-guided tour of the heart of the city, drawing together substantial aspects of culture and creating a community not seen for decades.
I can’t quote fact as I sit here and type, that the Cultural Trail has drawn an increase in population to the core of the city. What I can tell you, is that the CT has organized and improved the way people get around. We speak in great detail about the benefits of fixed guideway transit and its relation to development, business and density. Consider this a fair description of the impacts of the Trail. It is rare that we see substantial changes to a neighborhood in a lifetime, and certainly unheard of to see such drastic change within a decade, yet places like Fountain Square show the true power of the Trail. I recall not even five years ago spending time within Fountain Square, thinking about how great the area must have been. If only the streetcars hadn’t been removed and if only the interstate hadn’t effectively removed Fountain Square’s connection to the revitalized core. Now, the investment, spurred in strong part because of the Trail, has not only injected a vitality into Fountain Square similar to Mass Ave, but the Trail has established a connection to Downtown long thought lost. Development that, as a rule, arranged their buildings to front parking lots, now actively engages the street and the trail.
People often say Indy has no major natural features. We have little river access or availability, we have no mountains and we certainly lack beach front property. To those, I say we have innovators, collaborators and community-driven minds that work to make change happen. You can keep your big rocks and water filled holes, I’ve got something much more substantial. Go enjoy your Trail and ‘Get Down On It’.