Twenty years ago, when my family moved to Indianapolis, my new boss, a guy named Ken Gladish, suggested we look for housing in a couple of neighborhoods: Irvington and Broad Ripple.
It tells you something about the pace of change in this town that were we making that move today, the same advice still holds.
Anyway, my wife and I set aside a weekend toward the end of February to find a place to rent. The weather was like it usually is at that time of year: dank and just this side of icy. I remember bare branches, wet streets and the sense that the sky was just a little higher than the rooftops of the doubles we were looking at.
It's funny how things can happen. The first place we were supposed to see was in Irvington. It looked great, but the landlord never showed up. So we drove across town to Broad Ripple, which, as far as we were concerned, was just a name on a map. The landlord was waiting for us. We wrote him a check and we've been in the same neighborhood ever since.
I am sure there are things I take for granted about living in Broad Ripple, but what impresses me most about the place is the modest way it has of refreshing itself, reminding me time and time again how much I enjoy it. Not long ago, my wife and I attended a neighborhood meeting at the Indianapolis Art Center and were reminded of another heartening thing: We are not alone.
A group of active citizens has been holding a series of meetings under the title "Envision Broad Ripple." Their intention has been to try and articulate what it is about Broad Ripple that makes it special in their eyes and then come up with ideas and plans to help keep it that way, or, better yet, actually improve on what's already here.
There's a longstanding stereotype about people who live in Broad Ripple - that getting them to agree about something is like herding cats. That's because Broad Ripple contains not only a wide variety of residents, but business people and merchants, too. Yet what I saw at the Art Center suggested that a critical mass has finally begun to form around an understanding of the elements necessary to both preserve and enhance Broad Ripple's distinctive character.
This isn't just an academic exercise. Broad Ripple has always been vulnerable to the whims of over-eager developers. The lack of design standards has made it too easy for ill-conceived projects to be built simply because someone had the money to do what they wanted. Hard economic times have exacerbated this situation. The recent closure of Scholar's Inn's Bakehouse at the gateway corner of Broad Ripple and College sent a shiver through the community, raising questions about how long that significant space might remain vacant - and who will have the wherewithal to take its place.
Will major franchise businesses be the only ones able to afford leases in the Village?
At issue at the Envision Broad Ripple meeting we attended was how a stretch of Broad Ripple Avenue running through the heart of the Village should be revamped. This spring, the city is planning on reconfiguring the street to slow traffic flow and prevent the sorts of sideswipe accidents that have proliferated there. It has become clear that this presents an opportunity to re-imagine the look and feel of the strip. Better still, the city, which in the past has been all too happy to collect revenue generated by Broad Ripple parking meters and other, assorted streams for downtown projects, appears willing to facilitate qualitative improvements.
At issue, as usual in Broad Ripple, is parking availability. Where businesses are involved, parking is a legitimate concern. But more and more people are also beginning to realize that Broad Ripple's pedestrian-friendly nature has made it ahead of its time, providing residents and visitors with a quality experience that other, car-dependent communities can only dream about trying to replicate. Broad Ripple was a New Urbanist community before there was such a thing as New Urbanism.
At the Art Center meeting, Tom Healy, owner of Apple Press, served ably as MC. He began by projecting a picture of the Broad Ripple Post Office mural, painted in 1942. He pointed out the mix of generations in the street scene, a woman doing business with a local merchant, the emphasis on biking and neighborly conversation, shade trees and even the presence of a guy availing himself of a cheap, portable and recyclable information access device: a newspaper.
It would be easy to dismiss the mural's content as merely nostalgic. But Healy's point was that, in fact, it was visionary - an encapsulation of the visual elements that make Broad Ripple distinctive, a trusty key to a fresh way of thinking about Broad Ripple's future.
To find out more about Envision Broad Ripple, go to www.discoverbroadripplevillage.com/ImageUploads/File/Envision_Broad_Ripple_5.pdf.