I was a little worried this week because it is the first time in the Contrarian’s history that I got to the end of the week and was drawing a complete blank for a topic about which to rant. How can that be? Is life really that good? Then I made the mistake of reading Erica Smith’s most recent column in the Indianapolis Scar, I mean, Star. The absence of rant-worthy ire was immediately resolved.
The column titled “Smith: Mass Ave parking is a pain that is about to get worse” is another truly awful column by Ms. Smith. The premise of the column is that businesses in the neighborhood around Mass Avenue need the commerce generated by suburbanites, and therefore need to cater to them by making convenient and affordable parking a priority. Wrong. Just wrong.
The downtown neighborhoods that are booming right now aren’t doing so because they are bringing suburbia to the city. They are booming and growing because people are actively choosing an urban lifestyle. This city doesn’t need to cater to people from the outskirts by trying to offer outskirts-like amenities. That is not who we are downtown, and it’s not who we want to be.
Ms. Smith implies that the Mass Ave businesses, at least in the short term, need to provide suburban features until we have a more established urban culture. She opines: “While I love dense, walkable neighborhoods as much as the next urbanite, we can’t think Mass Ave businesses can survive on Downtown residents alone. We don’t live in that kind of city–at least not yet.” Wow. And that may be what you think, but please don’t speak for the rest of us.
So, more parking will help us bridge this imaginary gap between the city we are and the city we hope to be? First of all, the most important part of the word “walkable” is “walk.” Is within five blocks close enough to park for the wonderful things available inside Pizzology? Yes. From my house, I walk fifteen minutes to Union 50 for their wings, and seventeen to Bru for the best burger in town. If I’m feeling really crazy, I will stroll an even twenty for a couple of short rib tacos at Bakersfield. Every single night of the year, I will pass a bundle of unused parking spaces along the way. Every. Single. Time.
And all of the above also applies to the Main Library, the Downtown Y, Fusek’s Hardware, two Marshes, and three yoga studios.
If that’s not enough parking, and those walks are too long for the people from suburbia, it’s not a flaw in the neighborhood. Getting people used to walking is what makes a neighborhood walkable. Note to suburbia: get some comfortable shoes. Or better yet, stay home and keep reading the Star for strip mall options with all of their awesome parking.
Ms. Smith couldn’t be more wrong about my neighborhood. And she has once again made me wonder why our local paper seems to be rooting against its ever shrinking readership. We really don’t need to keep sucking temporarily in hopes of not sucking later. The urban lifestyle is what is attracting people to Mass Ave. We don’t need to be less of what is attractive to all of us so that people from Carmel and Fishers might come here for the evening. We are in charge right now, and we need to act like it.
In this neighborhood, from the Old Northside all the way to Fountain Square, we walk, we own bikes, we even rent bikes. We are now renting electric cars for the occasional trip to the grocery or hardware store. We support transit options, instead of taking the heat off of politicians by finding ways not to just do it. We hate the parking ambassadors (as I wrote about last week). So what is it that we are not? Well we certainly are not here to cater to suburbia on the weekends. And we are not suffering for attention.
I just got home from a trip to a city and was visiting two 40-something friends who no longer own a car. They didn’t ditch car ownership because there wasn’t enough parking or because it wasn’t affordable. Owning a car just wasn’t how they wanted to live. In some future blog, I will list all of the reasons why their decision is awesome for them, their community, the economy, and the environment.
Urban planning that is designed to attract people who want to drive and park will result in an outcome that isn’t urban. Throw Ms. Smith’s suggestions in the trash, or better yet, in the curbside recycling bin that we have here downtown.