Urban Impressions: Indianapolis Part 1—Broad Ripple Village

Author's note: This is a blog-style post, and as such—even though I do my best to avoid it—it may have research gaps, a lack of citations, and even (gasp!) typos. If you are looking for something a bit meaty more to sink your teeth into, you may consider a full article.

Indianapolis had, for quite some time, been one of those cities which stuck in the back of my mind: a place I had an interest in exploring, but could never quite pin a reason on why—a feeling I think may be very familiar to those who study cities. Over this past summer, thanks to a new local friend, I finally had the opportunity to indulge that interest, and visit parts of the city and its environs. My timing was far from perfect: not only was my trip brief, but it came only a little more than a month before the opening of the city's new bus rapid transit Red Line. Still, the city has a lot going for it, and hopefully someday soon I will have to opportunity to return and do some more in-depth study.

In physical terms, Indianapolis is a predominantly suburban, auto-focused city—even more so than many of its similar Midwestern siblings. Of course, like almost every older American city, it did once have a large, thriving streetcar network, but much of the region's physical growth seems to have come at the tail end of the streetcar era and at the dawn of the age of auto-dominance. As such, outside of the downtown—most of which I sadly did not have time to explore on this trip—there is sadly little traditional urban fabric. Worse still, outside of downtown's famous Mile Square, much of what once did exist has been razed, either for urban expressways or in the name of progress. Even in outlying neighborhoods that developed before the car, the rigid separation of commercial and residential buildings and the reification of the detached, single family home are paramount. As you research the city, you are told that, thanks to the absence of natural boundaries and ethnic enclaves, most neighborhoods have fuzzy boundaries—if they exist in more than name, at all. The city can seem a uniform tapestry of large roads and suburban houses, sprawling in every direction.

Still, like most any city with roots in the streetcar era, Indianapolis does have a handful of urban fragments: pockets of urbanity which now float disconnectedly in that seemingly endless sea of residential suburbs. In part, one can thank the city’s transportation history for their existence. If one mode of infrastructure defined the urban form of greater Indianapolis prior to the automobile, it was the interurban. The city and its surroundings were laced with these small, electric railways, which ran like a traditional passenger train between cities and villages, and then like a streetcar within them. As a result, the landscape is dotted with shards of urban life left where these systems deigned to stop, many of which were once towns and villages in their own right.

Insta(Photo)Blog: Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint, Brooklyn is—location to the contrary—well named, indeed.

One of the great pieces of whimsy (not to mention of psychological interest) that an urban environment can give a denizen is a stunning, unexpected view.

I may not be a huge fan of 432 Park Ave (the huge tower in the far distance), but I'll be damned if it isn't impressive—it makes the Citicorp Center in front of it look tiny—and this is doubly true when lined up with a traditional urban Brooklyn street. There is also something to be said here about the stunning contrast here: between low-rise north Brooklyn—the city of Churches—and the grand towers in the distance. When it lines up, it is something special, indeed.

Apropos of nothing, this picture was a challenge to develop right: so much light and dark! But I think it came out well!

Enjoy!

Based on an Instagram post.
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Insta(Photo)Blog: Brooklyn

Brooklyn.


The City of Churches.
A Working Port.
Part of New York.

And gorgeous, even in the rain.

All in one shot, how could I resist?

Based on an Instagram post.
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InstaBlog: Borough Park 2

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

The long-delayed second part of my walk exploring the urbanism of Brooklyn's Borough Park (see the first part here!).

Mostly, here you see more images of the small, independent clothing & other retail shops, primarily Jewish, that define so much of the neighborhood—including some decidedly unique ones. Tucked in amongst them is the Thirteenth Avenue Retail Market. Built during by the administration of Fiorello LaGuardia in the late 1930s, it was part of his effort to "modernize" the city (read: making the streets less "chaotic" and more available for cars). Similar markets were built all over the city to get small, pushcart vendors off the streets.

You can also seem some of the relatively unique urban scenery created by a New York elevated train. It is dramatic, even if the streets below are loud and shrouded in perpetual darkness. You may may remember New Utrecht Avenue here from 1971's The French Connection, where Popeye Doyle raced an el train in a car below.

But although the el can make the city look as gritty as it did in the 70s, it's important not to make the classic mistake: just because a neighborhood is poor, gritty, or less-maintained does not mean it isn't a thriving urban center. While there is always a lot to improve, these streets are a thriving social, cultural, and economic resource for a decidedly unique community. And for that, they are amazing.

Based on an Instagram post.
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InstaBlog: Boro Park

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Last month, I took a trip out to central Brooklyn to explore the urbanism of Boro Park, a neighborhood primarily centered along 13th & New Utrecht Avenues.

InstaBlog: Hunter's Point Park South

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

As the weather has been getting nicer, and the days longer, I've finally been finding time to get out and explore more, and last week, I finally got to Hunter's Point Park South, in Long Island City, Queens.

Part of the ongoing redevelopment of Long Island City's formerly industrial waterfront, the beautiful northern part of the park had opened in 2013, bringing with it a spate of new luxury apartment buildings and a ferry service to serve them. The southern extension, nearer to the Midtown Tunnel entrance and further from the existing residential neighborhood, opened last year.

Insta(Photo)Blog: Harlem is Changing

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Harlem is changing.

I rarely post just single photos, but this juxtaposition of old and new Harlem couldn't be better. The classic community insititution of one community—the barbershop—sits right next door to the social institution of another, the relatively new Harlelm Coffee Co coffeeshop.

See more Blog or Social Media posts. Based on an Instagram post.

InstaBlog: A Humble Rock

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Seen while walking on New York's Lower East Side: a rock.

All too often, we can get lost in the complexities of urbanism: inequality, over- (and under-) investment, aging infrastructure, the climate, the complex interplay of urban design and human behavior, the list goes on and on and on.

Upcoming Excerpts: Suburbanism & How Transit Shapes Experience

As is often the case, I've bitten off something probably far too involved and long to write. But it is progressing nicely, and to paraphrase Apocalypse Now, someday, it's gonna be done. But for now, two excerpts for the new year.

In the broadest of strokes, this was a worldview which fundamentally conceived of the city as a dirty, congested, and miasmic place—a site of both physical and moral decay. By the postwar era of urban renewal, the 19th Century industrial city had come to be seen as a particularly harmful relic: outdated, decaying, and in dire need of replacement. In fact, in the minds of many experts and political leaders, the combination of aging buildings, incompatible land uses, and "disreputable" people and their activities was seen as a literal form of cancer: an infectious, growing "blight" which threatened to kill the urban organism unless it was quickly excised. Undergirding these beliefs was the deep faith of early- to mid-Twentieth Century America in the necessary inevitability of progress. Technological innovation, it seemed obvious, when combined with rational, technocratic planning, would necessarily lead to ever more healthy and prosperous places.
Put simply, transportation facilities often lie at the experiential heart of everyday urban existence. They are some of the most important spaces through which we experience any given city. They shape not only how we interact with urban space, but also our psychological understandings of its shape, its size, and its character.
-Upcoming excerpts

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InstaBlog: "The Apartments"

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

These buildings, metonymically known as "The Apartments," are locally infamous to New York drivers. Located above the Trans Manhattan Expressway (I-95) on the approach to the George Washington Bridge, they are a perfect visual marker to mark the pace of the interminable traffic to and from New Jersey.

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