Indianapolis ranks as the #4 least walkable major city in the U.S. by the standards of Walk Score, right behind Charlotte, NC and ahead of Oklahoma City, OK. Add that to the city’s famed, car-centric Indy 500, the nickname “Nap Town,” and a lackluster bus system, it probably comes at a bit of a surprise that I, car-less and bus-dependent, stopped over for three nights in the Hoosier’s state capitol.
Indianapolis has a lot going on–unfortunately it rained for most of my visit so I don’t have as many photographs as I would have liked (Indy actually gets more rainfall than Seattle)–but I was surprised by a lot of what I saw. In the very least, I wished I could’ve stayed two extra days so that I might’ve been able to enjoy more of it in fair weather.
I’ll start with this Google Satellite view of downtown Indianapolis layout: look at the red marker and you can see a city layout reminiscent of L’Enfant’s design for Washington, D.C–an unexpected, but intriguing surprise. After a bit of research, it turns out that the L’Enfant-esque city layout shouldn’t be a surprise at all since Alexander Ralston, who worked as an assistant for Pierre L’Enfant on the Washington, D.C. city plan, was one of the co-architects in charge of the design of Indianapolis. The similarities of Indianapolis to D.C. don’t stop there, however, Indianapolis is also filled with huge and beautiful limestone monuments.
Like many American cities, Indianapolis was sited near the geographic center of its state and near a major waterway, the White River, in 1820. Ralston, along with Elias Pyrn Fordham, placed a large 3-acre circular commons called the Governor’s Circle at the city center. After 1901, when the towering, neoclassical Indiana’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument was erected in that very center to honor veteran Hoosiers of the American Revolution, Governor’s Circle was renamed as Monument Circle.
The geographic center of Indianapolis and Indiana, Monument Circle also marks the spot where the diagonal streets of Meridian and Market converge, an intersection that inspired Indianapolis’ nickname “The Crossroads of America.”
And despite a flagging public transportation system–it works on a hub and spoke system, which is pretty terrible– Indianapolis is making great strides to become a more bike-friendly city. Along with the many miles of bicycle lanes being put in, the eight-mile, urban bike and pedestrian Indianapolis Cultural Trail is about to be completed at the end of this year and connects with the Sasaki-designed White River State Park. The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) and its many innovative exhibits, architecture, and landscape architecture are also of huge interest. Many Hoosiers are also passionate about cycling and running. The rain, which I saw much of during my visit, didn’t deter the many runners and cyclists I saw out on the Cultural Trail.