Canal Walk

Designers: Sasaki Associates | City: Indianapolis, IN | Project Type: waterfront, trail
Date Visited: 10.02.12

Location: 801 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204
Size: 9 miles
Official Opening Date: March 2004

Back in the early 1800s, a series of canals were constructed on the west side of Indianapolis to facilitate interstate commerce. These industrial canals were later abandoned and the riverfront landscape was left to decay. Just a few years ago, however, Sasaki Associates were hired on to refurbish and beautify the canals into the Canal Walk as part of the Indianapolis Waterfront Master Plan.

Indianapolis was rainy and overcast for most of my visit, including the time I spent along Central Canal. However, there were still a large number of runners and cyclists along the riverfront. Although it may be a testament to the strong running and cycling culture in Indianapolis, I think much of it has to do with the beauty of the canals. Riparian vegetation, memorials, murals, art sculptures, bridges, and mixed-use development layer over each other along the Canal Walk for a rich historical experience.


I walked down Canal Walk from the northern-most portion down to where it reconnected with the Cultural Trail at the southern bend. The most striking thing about the canal for me was how blue the water is. I also liked how the waterfront spaces changed, as if outdoor rooms in the landscape, as I passed from underpass to underpass. Most of the buildings that the canal did back up against, however, were residential rather than mixed-use; perhaps that is a lost opportunity for the Canal to bring more people to the walk.

From Sasaki’s project description:

The landing site was originally layered with remnants of roads, bridges, industrial and commercial buildings, utility corridors, and canals—evidence of 175 years of growth and change within the city. This land, abundant with potential, was also cut off from the river by levees and floodwalls. The park design radically rethinks the topography of the site and reinterprets the found site conditions using contemporary design forms.

The park was made by cutting and layering to create views of the river from as many points in the city as possible. The land was cut into a series of terraces of varied widths that step down to the river form the city, thus revealing the riparian landscape from the moment one enters the park. The urban walls created as part of this cutting and stepping process are arranged in several layers. Limestone cladding, metal trelliswork and pergolas, and vine plantings create textured living edges to spaces within the park.

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