DESTINATION FALL CREEK: Rejuvenating an Emerald Asset

by Thomas P. Healy

Fall Creek serves as Midtown’s southern edge, a green and brown buffer that was once enhanced by the adjacent parkway and greenspace as part of George Kessler’s early 20th century Parks and Boulevards plan.

Over time, deferred maintenance has affected the bridges, and high-speed automobile traffic is a barrier to reconnecting to a waterway choked by invasive exotic vegetation and degraded water quality.

That dire picture of decay, devolution, and disinvestment is changing because of Destination Fall Creek, an initiative to transform nearly 4 miles and 700 acres of adjacent land.

The group spearheaded completion of the Fall Creek Trail in 2014. At nearly 13 miles, it’s the City’s longest trail, stretching from 25th and Meridian streets to the Village at Fort Harrison. In 2014, construction of the $1.6 million extension from Central Avenue to the Monon Trail along Fall Creek connected pre-existing portions of the Fall Creek Trail west of Central and east of the Monon. Several design innovations were installed, including an underpass at 30th Street, an interchange at the Monon Trail, bioswales to handle runoff, benches, and native landscaping.

In addition to constructing the Fall Creek Trail, the City of Indianapolis Department of Public Works has addressed water quality issues in the area with a green infrastructure pilot project. Located on the creek side between Broadway Street and College Avenue, the project uses native plants, soil, stone, and other natural elements to filter pollutants from storm water before releasing it into Fall Creek. The project serves as a model for future green infrastructure projects in Indianapolis. Image courtesy DPW. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

The successes of projects along the Fall Creek corridor are growing because of a range of partnerships and alliances that have generated a collective impact far beyond the ability of any one organization to achieve on its own.

A committed group of neighborhoods known as Mid-North worked with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to create a Quality of Life plan. In a series of public planning sessions groups of neighbors, volunteers, and professionals analyzed the area’s strengths and weaknesses; assessed opportunities for increased bike, pedestrian, and transit enhancements; and strategized on ways to rejuvenate former commercial corridors. The plan serves as a guiding document for strategic investment in the urban neighborhoods around Fall Creek.

Destination Fall Creek, the initiative to increase access to greenspace and recreation, including community gardens, parks, and rain gardens, was a key element of the Mid-North Quality of Life Plan. In 2012 volunteers worked with Ivy Tech students and staff along the Fall Creek corridor to remove invasive plant material and install outdoor learning spaces. Last year, 2,700 Lilly employees and Ivy Tech students and faculty removed additional invasive plant material and planted more than 40,000 trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, and bulbs along Fall Creek and on the Ivy Tech campus.  An urban orchard was established for the Ivy Tech culinary program.

In June 2014, the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation (MFCDC) received a grant from Reconnecting to Our Waterways (ROW), the grassroots place-making initiative with the goal of providing Indy residents easy access to art, nature, and beauty. Fall Creek is one of seven designated ROW waterways. Using funds from a Kresge Foundation grant, ROW allocated $90,450 for a transformative plan and design of the “Spider” intersection at Delaware Street and Fall Creek Parkway. This intersection is a vestige of the George Kessler Plan but over time it has become a confusing jumble of streets, signs, and disconnected green spaces that is anything but inviting.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Mapleton Fall Creek CDC hopes to change that. Working with Green3, an Indianapolis-based environmental planning and design company, the “Spider” will be transformed into the Delaware Gateway—a bike and pedestrian-friendly park with public art, native landscaping, and amenities that calm traffic, improve multi-modal access, and encourage residents to linger.

Temporary public art input stations and other activities will be centered on the “Spider” during Celebration Fall Creek, to solicit feedback on how the space could be used in the future.

With additional ROW funding, MFCDC is seeking proposals from artists or artist teams who are interested in creating a permanent outdoor public artwork for the Delaware Gateway. The budget for this artwork is $136,000.

An additional boost to redevelopment efforts came with conditional approval of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Neighborhood Development designation of a 27-acre focus area in the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood. LEED for Neighborhood Development provides independent, third-party verification that a development’s location and design meet accepted high levels of environmentally responsible green building practices and look beyond the scale of buildings to inspire and help create better, more sustainable communities. dfcindy.org

A version of this article appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of the magazine.

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