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Edgy in Indy

by Louis on April 24, 2012

I was recently welcomed to Indianapolis for a program we called “Inside, Outside, All Around the Town“. The day long workshop was part of the ten year anniversary celebration of the Center for Aging and Community at the University of Indianapolis. Firecracker director Ellen Miller invited me to co-present with Zachary Benedict, of the Petula Clark Postulate. I was thrilled just to meet this innovative architect, urban planner, thinker, let alone prepare and spend the day with him. What an honor!

The 75 participants came from all walks of passionate concern for community and older citizens. It was a great and energetic mix. Some folks drove 3 hours to learn and share.

Zachary spoke first. We called his view ‘Macro’. Zachary has lots of charette experience, so he knows how to get a crowd thinking. He works for Fort Wayne design firm, Morrison Kattman Menze, Inc. with a concentration in senior facilities as well as hospitals, and a huge presence throughout an 8 hour driving range from their headquarters. Zach says they welcomed him as a designer but also to think out of the box. It is pretty clear he has no problem with that. I hope my summary below does his ideas justice.

Zach told us there are 31 cities in Indiana with population between 10,000 and 25,000. He focuses on this size because they typically have a full time mayor so things can get done, one school district so there is cohesion AND a beautiful downtown about three blocks long. The population is aging rapidly because older folks are staying. But there is a brain drain, too. Kids leave for college and don’t come back exacerbating the aging balance problem.

Zachary is a native of rural Indiana. He see beyond loss and nostalgia. He sees a smart future growing from the physical infrastructure and community he recognizes. Zach sees value. Zach described these downtowns as individual, unique, walkable. Some have fantastic architecture. All have a mix typical of organic development over time.

He also said you can’t buy toilet paper in these towns. You have to drive 4 miles to the Walmart. In some of these towns retail lease rates are very low. Spaces are boarded up. Yet, they are what developers on both costs are trying so hard to create with new urban town center developments. Typically there is a senior housing and care campus a few miles out of town on forty random acres. The operator has to subsidize a beauty parlor, sundry shop and weekend movie on campus. This place is often the 2nd largest employer in town, after the schools. Employees eat subsidized meals in the cafeteria. Visiting family eat there too. And visit in the common areas. Zach showed us that these campuses are actually about the same size as whole towns that have parks, beaches, homes, schools etc. They are just not set up for walking, retail, community.

Many of these campuses developed over about 30 years have added new residences or levels of care in a hodgepodge fashion. Much of it is ready for updating AND increased populations.

Sounds like an opportunity, right? Zachary thinks it is a great opportunity to think a bit more holistically. Why not bring the senior housing down to main street? It will result in increased business for the main street cafe, beauty parlor drug store and movie theater. Walkable places for visitors are already there. It will mean activity and revenue on main street that can revive the whole town! Beautiful and vibrant towns like this may attract new residents!

And the people who drove in for our workshop? Proof that people love and care for their towns throughout the state.

I followed Zach, speaking on the ‘micro’ level about homes, Universal Design and Aging in Place 2.0. Sharon Baggett of the Center for Aging and Community faculty tied things together very well and helped facilitate the discussions that followed.

I look forward to more contact with Zachary Benedict, Ellen Miller and Sharon Baggett as well as the implementation of good ideas for aging in community that make lots of sense.





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