A couple of months ago, one of the current and most oft quoted Hoosiers I’m aware of, “The Urbanophile” directed his attention to a banal new parking garage soon to be foisted upon the people of our fair metropolis in his article/manifesto “Why I don’t live in Indianapolis.” I, too, am perplexed at how far the city has fallen from grace when it comes to design standards for contemporary construction here, nor do I understand how some of this new/ upcoming architectural schlock gets approved. Whatever the case, it may be time for a change.
If you’ve gotten anything out of this website, surely it’s that Indianapolis once overflowed with world class architecture. Go spend an hour at “Destination Indiana” at the Indiana Historical Society and wander Washington Street and Monument Circle through the years–you will be blown away, and probably a little disgusted. H.I. also showcases what treasures remain of that vintage building stock. Being well acquainted with Indianapolis of a century ago makes cruising our streets today infinitely more insulting: for the most part, crap current design replaces real estate once home to craftsmanship and quality.
Even gas stations of yesteryear were composed with more aesthetic appeal than the average business building of today…or as with today’s favorite: a parking garage.
The “Indiana Parking Garage” at 143-151 East Market Street is so unobtrusive, that if you aren’t paying close attention, or filter out the signage, you might not recognize it IS a parking garage. This one was constructed in 1930 by the A.V. Stackhouse Company with 115,000 square feet of parking (estimated capacity of 600 cars) and Bedford limestone cloaking the front façade. An article of the time refers to this garage as being one of the first few in the city designed with the “d’Humy ramp system.” (Get a quick tutorial on the evolution of parking in this Washington Post piece: “Sacking the Decks: How Parking Garages Got Ugly”)
Measure this parking structure against the ubiquitous open concrete trough looking pieces of junk littering our city today. Why no visual interest whatsoever? Have we become allergic to anything with personality? It calls to mind that William Morris quote–and I’m paraphrasing: “Let everything be useful and beautiful.” Have you ever noticed the small details in 100+ year old homes or buildings? Check out doorknobs and door hinges– artistically embellished. Something utilitarian–and presumably, not something that a person would study or contemplate for hours–yet they were created to be useful, and happened to also be beautiful. As the world ‘progressed’–through time, if nothing else, most manufacturers (and designers & consumers?) no longer demanded such embellishments. Why bother when perfunctory and plain were acceptable and eventually, the norm.
Is that the world you want to inhabit? Should we settle for ‘blah,’ in a world brimming with opportunity for ‘outstanding’?
Last week, on an acquaintance’s facebook thread, the aforementioned Urbanophile reiterated his “Why I don’t live in Indy stance,” asserting “Indy has grossly mismanaged its efforts” in the redevelopment department. I don’t disagree, but thought it interesting that he ignored my query: “what is the answer?” It’s easy for Aaron Renn, you or me to point with a vague, sweeping assertion at some general faceless, nameless monolith, but far as I know, merely kvetching isn’t going to change anything. Admitting you’re powerless may be where to start in a 12-step, but that wont do squat for you here, friends.
So, I’ll ask you: what will make a difference and what is the first step? Is there a secret handshake? A long-lost School House Rock song that can clear this up? Shall we circulate petitions? Must we be related to at least three people at City Hall? Or commit the ultimate sacrifice of running for an office? I was under the impression we lived in some kind of democracy. But nooooo, we plebeians must accept whatever ill conceived swill has been determined for us by the indeterminate “them.”
We deserve better, but it would seem that unless we band together and demand better, it’s gonna stay status quo. So let me go ahead and make a prediction…follow the signs, there will be more blah ahead.