Tarkington Park redevelopment sparks reinvestment for neighborhood
There are no stairs at Tarkington Park, except one set that leads to the park’s biggest slide. But why bother with stairs when there’s also a climbing wall embedded into the side of the grassy hill? At the park’s core, on the highest hill, sits a gyroscope, a tall web of bouncy, stretchy material that looks as if it’s a climbable molecule. And good luck not cracking a smile while walking from one play area to another—even the paths bounce.
In 2012, a master plan was adopted to completely renovate and redesign Tarkington Park, a project estimated to cost $12 million in total. Phase 1, the most recently competed phase, cost $6 million. Included in Phase 1 is the play area built into the landscape, a spray plaza, comfort stations, basketball courts and, eventually, a performance stage and a local vendor to operate the café. The park is unlike anything Indianapolis has ever experienced.
The Butler-Tarkington neighborhood has a long history in Indianapolis. It was one of the first supportively desegregated neighborhoods in Midtown, but over the years, 38th street has caused a powerful divide in the neighborhood. “People historically just didn’t see themselves from the same universe,” Michael McKillip, executive director Midtown, Inc. said of the north-south divide. For 50 years, vacancies, crime and red-lining from insurance companies further exacerbated this divide. Through it all, there was, and is, Tarkington Park.
“This area of the city has been neglected for a very long time. Lack of investment, high crime, poor infrastructure,” said McKillip.
“We said, if we’re going to do something here, let’s create an amazing space. Both for the people who are here, and to generate, again, interest in this place as a destination and not a place you pass through.”
–Michael McKillip, executive director Midtown, Inc.
It’d be easy to think Indianapolis’ first $12 million park is a catalyst for gentrification, but Midtown, Inc., Indy Parks and Recreation and The Indianapolis Parks Foundation have held meetings and collected community input for over seven years to ensure this park is for everyone, especially those already living in the neighborhood.
Lori Hazlett, president of The Indianapolis Parks Foundation, a Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) partner says, “It’s not to push people out, it’s to bring people in.”
The lead project organizers are constantly engaging with local businesses and have already conducted multiple neighborhood meetings to find out what residents want out of their park. With a $200,000 incentive matching grant from CICF, it was neighborhood residents and businesses that rallied to close the gap in public and private funding—their dollars making this unique neighborhood park finally a reality.
Maple Crossing, where Tarkington Park sits, has a unique opportunity taking shape alongside the development of the park—Great Places 2020. This initiative aims to transform traditionally disinvested neighborhoods into places of culture, commerce and community by focusing on four outcomes: livability, opportunity, vitality and education (L.O.V.E). Tarkington Park is a complementary piece to this larger initiative.
“Great Places 2020 is trying to fix the housing crisis and make neighborhoods more walkable and culturally activated, but without community, people won’t want to live there,” said Ben Jones, community investment officer for CICF. “The Tarkington Park project aligns well with CICF’s Inspiring Places initiative because it doesn’t just create a more active space, it also spurs economic development in the area. It’s a signal that we are investing in a neighborhood where there has previously been disinvestment.”
Everything from the park’s unique design to the neighborhood meetings that preceded its development, positions Tarkington Park as a positive transformation tool meant to unify and activate the neighborhood. And the conversations haven’t stopped. Indy Parks Foundation is currently conducting an online survey about potential programming for the park and will hold its next public workshop for Tarkington Park from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 7 to discuss future events, programing, operations and maintenance.
“It’s not like we’re just going to overnight build a park and suddenly everybody gets along,” says McKillip. “It’s going to take tending to and care. It’s going to take ongoing commitment to preserve the community that’s here, as well as getting folks to accept newcomers.” McKillip notes passionately that the neighborhood needs development and increased livability, but that it doesn’t have to come at the cost of its current residents.
Urban parks, such as Tarkington Park, encourage neighbors to come together and escape the hustle of life. This past winter, McKillip says he watched hundreds of people visit Tarkington Park, even before it officially opened—a good indication that the park is working for the neighborhood it serves.