Mapleton-Fall Creek’s Urban Anthropology

photo by Linda Evans

by Marion Simon Garmel

For the second time since 2015, students of Dr. Susan Hyatt, chair of the anthropology department in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, have collaborated with the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation to conduct anthropological studies in Midtown neighborhoods.

Hyatt said students working on the projects ranged from undergraduates to PhD candidates. “We feel like we are part of the neighborhood now, we spend so much time here,” she said. She expects the projects to continue because “I want the students to see that the methods they learn in class are not abstract, but have an impact in real life.”

At a reception for the students May 1 in the café at Tarkington Park, Tom Davis, dean of the School of Liberal Arts, said, “This is the best part of the project, being able to display the work in the neighborhood it impacts.”

In their research, students ask residents across the area for their perceptions of how the neighborhood is doing and what more is needed. The students then documented their findings in posters, videos, digital apps, and data charts. The first such survey was unveiled in May 2016 and covered access to food, public art, greenspaces, senior citizen amenities, and physical activity.

Since those findings, the City has installed a new playground at Tarkington Park, and a discount food market recently opened at the corner of 38th and Illinois streets. While such accomplishments are not directly due to the 2015–16 study, the IUPUI project did help to publicize the need for these developments.

This new series repeats only one of the old topics: access to food. Teams of three or four students also explored the impact of school choice, attitudes toward transit, and “good bones” (the neighborhood spaces that foster feelings of security and belonging).

The project on transit uncovered that, despite all the public meetings and advertising, most of the residents of Mapleton-Fall Creek rental properties didn’t even know the Red Line was coming through.

The “good bones” project explored how residents of Dove Recovery House for Women perceive the neighborhood as a place for recovery. Dove House, Marion County’s largest substance recovery center for women, recently moved to a new location at 3351 N. Meridian St. As part of their recovery program, residents walked a route in the neighborhood that took them up to 38th Street and down to The Children’s Museum at 30th Street. The IUPUI students interviewed them about the neighborhood’s suitability as a place for recovery. Dove House residents said they need more safe places and activities for teens.

The access to food group could point to improvements in the area, such as the new discount store, Under the Sun, in the Concord Building at 38th and Illinois streets, but the Great Places neighborhood is still largely a fresh-food desert. Farm share boxes at the Fresh Stop at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, 418 E. 34th St., and the Central Avenue Gardens (3003 N. Central Ave.), where community garden plots can be rented for $25 a season, definitely help, but residents really want more access to fresh foods and vegetables. One thing they were not interested in: co-ops.

The food access group also produced a Mid-North Cookbook, featuring recipes from residents of the Mapleton-Fall Creek and Crown Hill neighborhoods. From Cuban to Slovenian, the recipes testify to Midtown’s culinary diversity. The cookbook and all of the study’s findings are on display in the Mapleton-Fall Creek CDC offices, 3190 N. Meridian St.

Marion Simon Garmel is a retired arts journalist and serves as secretary of the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana. A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of the magazine.