Unused Turf Will Soon Be A Community Gateway
When Albert Carter donated the land for Alice Carter Park back in 1922, it probably made all the sense in the world. As parks go, it wasn’t much – just a sliver of grass on what was then the city’s far northside. But Carter wanted to remember his beloved wife, Alice. And tucked between Westfield Avenue and Meridian Street, the park was a bucolic spot bordering the Broad Ripple Canal whose serenity was disrupted only by puttering Model T’s and other motorcars of the day as they traveled along the city’s “Main Stem.”
An additional gift of land from the Winters family expanded the park’s size in 1999. But Meridian Street grew ever busier with cars and trucks, and the speed at which they traveled. Even though pedestrian use of the bordering Canal Towpath increased, outside of a bench and stone marker, the park remained amenity-free. And if passersby noticed the little park at all, they likely noticed a little park that wasn’t.
But after 12 years of planning, that’s all about to change.
By Fall, 2012, Alice Carter Place Park and the pedestrian pathways that lead to it will be transformed, with leadership from Midtown Indianapolis and the Meridian Street Foundation, and support from the Federal Department of Transportation, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, The Indianapolis Foundation, Central Indiana Community Foundation, and neighborhood groups and residents.
|Improved pathways aim to enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety. Construction in process on Westfield, just east of Meridian Street. Proposed park includes wide walkways, access for walkers and cyclists, and additional landscaping.|
Long-term plans call for pathways, landscaping, seating areas, a children’s play area, and spaces for contemplation and conversation. But Cindy Zweber-Free, Vice President of Midtown Indianapolis and a neighborhood resident, says it will become much more than that. It will become the type of urban park that can reconnect neighborhoods, serve diverse residents, improve property values, and attract more homeowners to the area.
Planning for More than a Park
While Alice Carter Place Park was founded on philanthropic donations, its upcoming transformation is rooted in engagement. The current planning began in the early 2000s, with Indy Parks working in partnership with the Meridian Street Foundation, an organization of residents of Historic Meridian Street and adjacent streets, to identify improvements and increase the usability of the park. The groups recognized that the park was a community asset that had become disconnected from the neighborhood and essentially unused.
Those planning efforts gained new momentum when Kathy Shorter and Zweber-Free began to collaborate in the HARMONI initiative, a neighborhood group which sought to slow traffic on Meridian Street while making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists, which later transformed into Midtown Indianapolis. Shorter volunteers as President of the Midtown organization. Midtown Indianapolis has a mission to “connect and rejuvenate” four neighborhoods: Butler-Tarkington, Broad Ripple, Meridian-Kessler, and the Meridian Street area. Because Alice Carter Place Park straddles three of those communities, its redevelopment is a natural project for the group. With support from the Meridian Street Foundation and The Indianapolis Foundation, Midtown began making an even bigger plan.
“We thought, ‘Maybe [the project] should be bigger than the park,’” says Zweber-Free. “We could develop a larger impact with sidewalks, safe crossings, traffic calming and even support business corners. We could make the whole area better for everyone.”
Current efforts focus on providing amenities and services in the park, but also on developing Alice Carter Place Park into a gateway for the North Meridian Street Historic District and as a trail-head for users of the Indy Parks Greenways' Canal Towpath.
Travels through the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood have involved a detour this spring, as construction on the first phase of improvements to the Meridian-Westfield intersection that borders Alice Carter Place Park have begun. Chunks of pavement, traffic-blocking orange cylinders and constructions signs are more commonplace than cars on Westfield between Meridian and Kessler and likely will be throughout much of the summer. But Zweber-Free says the temporary inconvenience will be worth it.
“Ninety people cross Meridian and Westfield each hour,” says Cindy Zweber-Free. “We need a protected crossing to make sure they’re safe.” Those pedestrians compete with up to 30,000 motor vehicles daily which can travel in excess of 50 miles per hour, according to a 2010 traffic study.
This first phase of work will improve pedestrian and cyclist access to and within Alice Carter Place Park and the nearby Canal Towpath. For community organizers, safe connections are a key part of planning for a new and useful park space.
Combined with sidewalk improvements in 2011, the intention of this first phase is to restore the area’s original pedestrian-friendly feel and add paved pathways, a “point gateway” paved entrance, and basic landscaping to the park itself.
More Than Just Green Space
Phase 1 of the construction may be focused on connecting the park to the neighborhood, but Phase 2, which has not yet been fully financed, will be about helping the park better serve the neighborhood.
Today, the park is essentially a span of grass turf with a line of trees along its southern edge. A bench and stone marker recognize the Winters’ and Carter’s contributions to the park. While the park provides an open green space, it does not have programmed spaces to support activities. Phase 2 includes tentative plans for a children’s play area, rain gardens and a canal overlook across Westfield and will begin when funding is secured. These new additions aim to serve a diverse neighborhood, with a variety of family types, ages, races and interests and, potentially, to attract and retain new residents.
“Connectivity is one of the most important elements of community development in the 21st century,” says Brian Payne, President and CEO of CICF and The Indianapolis Foundation. The foundation's definition of an “Inspiring Place” includes places that afford passive recreation, quiet reflection and community gathering while providing walking and bicycling connectivity to and from the surrounding neighborhoods. It's also a definition of what Alice Carter Place Park aspires to be.
Now that construction has begun and with the first park improvements scheduled for completion by fall 2012, the group is seeing the impact of work that began nearly a decade ago.
“It’s kind of like, wow, things can really happen!” says Zweber-Free. “If you’re willing to stay the course, to put in your own time, and to get others involved, you can make a difference.”
You can make a difference!
Our mission at Central Indiana Community Foundation is to inspire, support, and practice philanthropy, leadership and service in the community. We do that by: identifying community-wide issues; working with effective not-for-profits to address those needs; and serving as a philanthropic partner to individuals, family foundations and businesses who are interested in making central Indiana a better place for everyone.
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