Indianapolis: The City Without Neigborhoods

Research by Chicago-based urban planner Aaron Renn and a host of Indianapolitans results in a comprehensive neighborhood map of the city. Now they’ll have to see if it sticks.

I’ve lived in two big cities: Chicago and Havana (long story). Both are cities of neighborhoods. Natives, or at least people who’ve lived there awhile, can usually tell you a lot about the different neighborhoods, or at least some of them, and it’s extremely helpful for purposes of navigation, or reading the news, or figuring out where to live. They’re a way of orienting yourself, not just physically but culturally and historically.

That wasn’t the case with the city I grew up in, or at least grew up outside and attended school and inevitably did business in. Roanoke, Virginia (“The Star City of the South") does have neighborhoods, 49 of them, but I’ve only heard of 10, and I may be confusing them with the parks or landmarks they surround. I’d probably have heard of a handful more had I actually lived in the city, but I swear I never knew that “Roundhill” was the area around the mall (“the mall” being Valley View Mall, as opposed to Tanglewood Mall). Growing up, that never struck me as weird or problematic.

Aaron Renn, the local urban planner who blogs as the Urbanophile, spent a couple years working on a neighborhood map for a bigger and more august city which has even less defined neighborhoods: Indianapolis. It never occurred to me that the capital of Indiana didn’t have neighborhoods, and it only sort of does, thanks in part to the legacy of the Orwellian-sounding Unigov consolidation.

Renn, Indy-based graphic designer Matt Hale, and a host of others poured through documents, asked around, and neighborhooded the whole place: “what I believe is the first comprehensive neighborhood map of the city of Indianapolis ever created.”

Obviously someone had to do that for Chicago, too; in the ’20s, we had the Social Science Research Committee of the University of Chicago to demarcate the city’s 77 community areas (as opposed to the 200+ neighborhoods). This is a bit different: citizen cartography.

Kevin Kastner of Urban Indy talked with two members of Naplab, the design collective that produced the map: Hale and landscape architect Josh Anderson, a veteran of Chicago’s Hayden Bulin Larson (now DLK Civic Design). The part that jumped out at me, having gone from a city without neighborhoods to one defined by them was this:

In one unexpected turn, Chuck Lofton from Channel 13 bought one last month. If we get people in the news organizations interested, it could have a huge impact on how neighborhoods are labeled in the city. Instead of always saying “a murder happened on the east side,” which is often blatantly false or misleading location-wise, a more specific area of the city can be specified.

Bonus: Ameriplex is a great name for a neighborhood.

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