Tactical Urbanism Leading To Long Term Changes In Indy

Article by Michael Field


The project centered on a combination of daily programming, temporary physical changes, and the introduction of new amenities to Monument Circle.

In 2010 the City of Indianapolis temporarily closed off Monument Circle to automobiles in the hopes of creating more pedestrian activity, with mixed results. That 2010 experiment made it clear that cars needed space to make Monument Circle an active destination. The long-term plan to renovate the circle, currently being considered by the City, needed a way to strike a balance between pedestrians and motorists. During Spark: Monument Circle, a plan to extend the pedestrian realm was tested by widening the sidewalks by 8 feet. This was accomplished simply by adding safety cones that effectively moved parking spaces away from the existing sidewalk curbs. Outdoor furniture, including tables and chairs, were introduced within this new space, while new on-street parking areas were marked by makeshift wayfaring signage that directed motorists to the new parking.

Daily programming from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. revolved around a different theme for each day of the week. Examples include Mellow Mondays, which focused on engaging users with relaxing experiences such as checking out a book from the Indianapolis Public Library’s Bookmobile or enjoying ambient music in the evening. Throwback Thursdays celebrated the history of Monument Circle as actors portraying historical figures staged performances throughout the day. Cycle Sundays was billed as a fun family day with a build-your-own playground as well as opportunities for bike riders.

Amenities introduced to Monument Circle included a variety of games to play such as over-sized Jenga, ping pong tables, chess, checkers, and foosball tables. Additionally, a trailer was brought in to serve as a mini museum that included a variety of interactive art projects that softened the space. To test the viability of increasing al fresco dining, outdoor dining spaces were added through the use of parklets.

“The idea of testing your planning in the real world, getting people involved — both planners and designers and regular citizens — is such a refreshing approach,” notes Walker. “People, other than maybe planners, have been growing tired of the planning process. It’s so much better to get out on the streets, get your hands dirty, and try the ideas out for a while. What better way to plan something than to actually do it for 11 weeks? Sometimes when I was out there working, I looked around and thought ‘I’m standing in the middle of a plan — but this one has real people and real cars instead of digital ones.’ And that was possible because we could mock it up with temporary things on the street. And it worked pretty much the way it might when more permanent changes happen. You can’t really test plans like that with building architecture.”