The New Urbanism

The New Urbanism

The New Urbanism

October 2004 - Business Magazine

By: Pat Pickett

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it 1,000 times. Successful economic development hinges on the quality of life. While the county is a standout with its affluence, highly regarded schools, relatively low taxes and growing parks and recreation system, many believe that when it comes down to being a contender for new businesses, site selection folks are looking for a hub; a definite synergistic center of activity.

If one looks around at new development or redevelopment in Hamilton County, it becomes quickly apparent that a number of developers are attempting to create just that under the heading of “new urbanism.”

The style perhaps is best characterized with an emphasis on the pedestrian; therefore, buildings are situated closer to the street, fronted by wide, welcoming sidewalks. More often than not, parking is in the rear of retail and residential, which are blended seamlessly creating a microcosm community.

In Carmel, “new urbanism” is easily identified from the city’s “old town” south to the City Center with Williamsburg-style buildings. Excitement exudes from Carmel City Hall in regard to a steady stream of announcements and groundbreakings – an arts center, the Veteran’s Memorial. Pedcor’s expanding office complex overlooking a picturesque reflecting pool.

The Carmel Redevelopment Commission has overseen the City Center project. Amli and Ryland added to the residential component with apartment and condo developments. The Arts and Design district announced at last year’s arts council fundraiser is equally exciting for the Old Downtown and is taking shape with restaurants and retail.

Meanwhile, an overlay plan from the Department of Community Development is making its way through the Carmel City Council. This plan encompasses a much larger area, with boundaries of Gradle Drive and Keystone, south to 116th Street and north to Carmel Drive.

To the north, encompassing acreage in both Noblesville’s and Fishers’ jurisdiction is a massive project by Republic Development called Saxony. Within that development is The Village Center, comprised of 80 acres of dining, entertaining, lodging and shopping, as well as “The Gathering Place,” described as a contemporary assortment of retail, professional offices and live-work suites. An eclectic architectural style exists in what is touted as a “live-work-play community.”

According to Rick Arnos, president of Republic Development, what seems a pretty simple concept is not as easy to build.

“Many times, the areas developed under the guise of ‘new urbanism’ feel very contrived and unnatural,” he says. “We’ve borrowed from the vernacular, but have deviated from what is typically envisioned. Saxony’s architectural elements are not necessarily traditional, but eclectic … much like Broad Ripple.”

One of the greatest challenges may well be the issue of transportation. In areas where new urbanism has been a success, they’ve had a pretty good model of “old urbanism,” including mass transit…or at least the public’s buy-in to riding a bus and walking a few blocks.

“The question remains,” assesses Paul Reis, an attorney with Drewry Summons Vornehm, LLP, “how does a suburban town become an urban center? And how do we plan it so it works for everyone?”

Meanwhile, in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, redevelopment activity has never been stronger. Both the MSA condominium project (The Residences of Market Square) and another luxury development on Massachusetts Avenue have created a great deal of interest and pre-construction deposits. Retail plans are following these “rooftops,” providing the downtown set with a hardware store, grocery stores, drug stores...all the conveniences of suburban life.

But that’s not what attracted one Hamilton County businessman to the hustle and bustle of downtown Indy.

John Mavris moved himself and his company (Service Realty, now re-named Mavris Urban Real Estate) from Hamilton County to a building originally used as a freight-receiving center on South East Street in 1999. He’s renovated the space, now known as the Mavris Cultural Arts Center, which is used not only for his home and office, but extended into an open even space as well.

“I was single. I had no children, and I felt left out in the suburbs,” says Mavris. “I was looking for culture, diversity, and new ways of seeing things.”

He reports his downtown relocation has been beneficial to his health as well as psyche, incorporating walking and biking into his everyday routine. “It rains; you put on a coat and grab an umbrella.” He says with a smile. “There is a tremendous energy here.

In the not-so distant future, according to Arnos, that energy will be duplicated in suburbia.

“A community is strengthened by the mosaic of people who live there,” says Arnos. “We’re striving for a synergistically linked community.”