Tactical Urbanism Leading To Long Term Changes In Indy

March 9, 2016

Article by Michael Field


Oftentimes a friction occurs between nimble, private organizations and the slow pace of government entities. Walker described their experience, to give placemaking practitioners insight into their successful partnership with the City of Indianapolis:

“We had developed a good relationship with The City by working on some smaller projects, including supporting the celebration of The Indianapolis Cultural Trail, supporting a series of bike rides by former Mayor Greg Ballard and hosting public events at our art spaces for government officials, including public safety folks.

We learned that we could get a lot further and be more nimble by calling everything “a test” and “temporary.” Whatever we were doing could be moved if it didn’t work. And we are always open to input, suggestions and changes by City officials, stakeholders, and the public. That’s where tactical urbanism (or, in our case, it might be called strategic urbanism) is really such a great thing."

"We’ve had better success with some city departments than others. It’s really about the individual. When the people in the job are thinking YES! and they know you can help make that happen, then you are in a good spot. They know they have challenges within their system and there’s not a lot they can do about that. But they want to do the right thing and they want to make their city a better place. And that’s their motivation. Those are the people who work at cities that help make their cities great. And we have them in Indianapolis and we have been fortunate enough to work with them in the Department of Public Works and Department of Metropolitan Development. They get the value of our work and know we can help — in part because we are nimble and flexible and we have a very short chain of command. We can say YES! and then do YES! in a very short amount of time. For a while we called our placemaking division (which is really the same people as our other divisions) The Department of Yes. And we’ve found some great friends at The City who share our spirit."

"I’ve found that the people out there who do default to the answer NO are doing so out of the motivation of protecting their jobs, making life easier for themselves and watching out for No. 1. People who approach their work this way — pretty much in any job — fail, I think, because they lack the biggest motivation there is — loving who you are working for. Ultimately, people in City government and people in nonprofits like Big Car aren’t working for themselves, or their bosses, or anyone other than the public. And if you don’t love to do what’s best for the public and, instead, are worried most about what’s best for you — or what’s easiest for you (saying no) — then you aren’t doing your job and you aren’t having fun. Being a public servant — either in a municipal job or in a nonprofit — isn’t the most lucrative route you can take. But it can certainly be very rewarding to those who know they are making a difference and helping make life a little better for everyone, including themselves.

Ultimately, it boils down to this. People aren’t bureaucrats. They are people. And they can choose to do the right thing. I am hopeful that people are in it for the right reasons and they will. And that is very often the case in our city. I’m very excited about where things are going in Indianapolis. And our city government and the people who make the city staff are a big reason for my optimism."

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