Urban Impressions: Fountain Square (Indianapolis Part 2)

Continued from Part One.

The other urban neighborhood in Indianapolis proper that I had chance to explore during my brief visit was Fountain Square. Like Broad Ripple, it is another newly thriving urban fragment firmly lodged in a predominantly suburban city. Unlike its northern sibling, however, it is, in typological terms, a far more traditionally urban-looking place—and given the neighborhood's location and history, perhaps that should not be surprising. Fountain Square is an inner-ring urban neighborhood that lies a mere mile and half southeast of the city's center. One of the earliest satellite neighborhoods of downtown, it sits at the end of Virginia Avenue, a major commercial street that carves a straight line across the city's grid and into its core. That link has defined Fountain Square, for better or for worse, for its entire history. Indeed, this urban fragment is a fascinating place, as it seems to have embodied the entire Midwestern urban experience of the last 150 years.

It is almost impossible to discuss today's neighborhood without discussing how it came to be. The history of Fountain Square as an urban place essentially begins in 1864, when a horse-drawn street railway line out of downtown opened along Virginia Avenue. As was so often the case in 19th Century American cities, new transportation infrastructure enabled physical expansion, pushing the city's built up area southwards. All along its path, the railway spurred commercial and residential development, and nowhere was this more true than at its terminus, a loop built into the irregular intersection at the very end of Virginia Avenue. The terminal made the area an early transportation node, and locals soon found a fitting nickname for the nascent neighborhood: "The End." The name would stick around for decades—at least until a fountain opened at the foot of Virginia Avenue in 1889.

InstaBlog: Flatbush Malls

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 Flatbush Malls of Victorian, well... Flatbush, a circa 1900-1910 real estate development.

InstaBlog: The Miller Elevated Highway

Author's note: Trying something new! Welcome to my InstaBlog, a chance for me to feature some of my more in-depth Instagram posts on the site. Be warned: this is a blog-style post based on a social media post, so beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

At the north edge of Riverside Park South, you find the last remaining section of the old West Side Highway, aka the Miller Elevated Highway.

Instagram: Myrtle Avenue El

The End of the Line: the remains of the Myrtle Avenue el. Up through 1969, wooden trains rumbled along above Myrtle Avenue and into Downtown Brooklyn, along one of the borough's oldest elevated transit lines. In earlier eras, it carried people into the heart of Brooklyn, to the various industries and firms along the waterfront, to shopping districts, schools, and friends' houses, and even—through 1944—over the Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan. Regular riders included both my father and grandfather, who, in their youth, rode it every day to Brooklyn Tech. The line originally connected with the (Brooklyn) Broadway line, today's J train, and carried out past Broadway (nee Manhattan) Junction to Brooklyn's (then) city line. In 1915, the line was extended northward—the route of today's M train. However, while this northern section was built strong enough to handle heavy, all-steel subway cars, the original southern portion could only carry wooden cars, generally banned from subways for safety reasons. Unlike some other elevated lines, the southern part of the Myrtle Avenue el was never rebuilt for heavier cars, so until the end, only saw wooden cars shuttling back and forth between Metropolitan Avenue and Bridge Street in Downtown Brooklyn. At the height of the American suburban era—and near the nadir of American urbanism—the line was closed and demolished due to a lack of ridership. Today, this is all that remains of this original line: a two block section flying over the J train's Myrtle Avenue station, running one block north and one block south of the station, without tracks, signals, or trains. It is a strange experience to walk underneath an abandoned el, and for the life of me, I'm not sure why these stub ends were not demolished—especially the one heading south. However, I'm glad they weren't: they are a connection to the past, a symbol of both Brooklyn's height, driven by elevated railroads, and its nadir of abandonment, grime, and darkness. Of course, that's easy for me to say: I don't have to live next to it More below...

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Stolzenbach, Jacobs, JFK, and the (Re)Emergence of American Urbanity

Cover of The Washington Metro and the Fall and Rise of American Urbanity
The following is an excerpt from the Master's thesis, The Washington Metro and the Fall and Rise of American Urbanity, presented and © 2014. It is part of Chapter 4: Stolzenbach, Jacobs, JFK, and the (Re)Emergence of American Urbanity. Enjoy!
No urban critic was more effective than Jane Jacobs. Her book ... became an immediate bestseller. ... Jacob's manifesto found a sympathetic audience in many urban residents at a key time in American history.
-Frederick Gutheim, official historian of the National Capital Planning Commission. [1]

Rosalyn Deutsche, an art historian, critic, and urbanist, has written at length on the problematic nature of public art and public space. All too often, in Deutsche's opinion, art and space are neutered of their individual discursive qualities by existing power structures, a desire to serve the lowest common denominator, or both. For her, if space, art, or to extend her work to the case in hand, infrastructure, is to be truly democratic, truly public, it must embody ongoing contestation. Unlike Habermas, Deutsche has no preconceptions of a singular popular opinion that can be reached through rational dialogue. The ideas at hand are too powerful, the splits in opinion too great, and the balance of power too unequal for that ever to be the case. To this point, the story of Metro has encompassed a few contestations: Should transportation planning work to (re)concentrate urban life, or should it push towards dispersal? Is the automobile the way of the future, or does rail still have a role to play? What is the role of the 'expert' vis-à-vis the role of the public at large? What is the role of the government? These issues were highly contested by planners, politicians, and academics. But in becoming reality, they would by necessity affect far more than the select few in positions of relative power[2].

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