A New Vision for Downtown

I, like you, don’t often take time out of my busy day to look around and notice the changes building up all around me. What was once a quiet bedroom community has transformed through the last 5 years into something completely different. I was, and still remain supportive of this growth. It brings new opportunities. As the reality of this progress has become clear, we have to ask, are we as residents benefiting?

Through an opaque but nonetheless well executed plan the Mayor has delivered his vision for the future of Fishers. One that brings us an urban city center complete with corporate headquarters, massive mixed use developments, fancy hotels, and above all more tax income. Driving by at 30mph after a long day of work, thinking about dinner plans and our crazy world; seeing this growth brings some comfort. We all want to know we made good investment in where we chose to buy a home. This growth indicates stability and really, what more could you ask for?

I finally slowed down enough to realize, I want more than stability. I want livability. I moved to Fishers because I wanted to set up a home for my family and a home is more than one building that holds my wife and two rambunctious kids. A home is the place you live and all the people in it — my home is Fishers. A home should be the place you are dedicated to, where you spend your time. It like any other relationship takes effort to gain a connection and keep one. Our family though, has struggled with that connection. We find ourselves leaving town in search of people, because the one thing we lack in Fishers is something every other nearby city has; a town square.

Despite all the development that has gone on in our downtown. Despite the push to label the Nickel Plate a bonafide cultural district. Despite a decent amount of new retail spaces being made available; downtown isn’t drawing in people. Now, if you’ve come there for city events such as the farmer’s market and free concerts at the amphitheater you may disagree with me. You would be right that when the city pays we come out and play. What about a random Thursday night though? Go to the cultural districts in Indy, Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville and you will see a very different sight. In those areas, people are always out. Through thoughtful planning and the allowance of serendipity, these areas have blossomed into fun, inviting and always changing town squares that draw people own their own merits, without additional aid from the city.

So how do we get there with what we have now? There are two overarching ideas that guide my plan. Think small and involve the community.

Thinking small may seem counterproductive; who got anywhere by thinking small?! Don’t worry, I have grand visions of a future Fishers in my head and I can’t wait to share some of those ideas. Thinking small means something else though. With the cities current administration, the plan has been to push for large scale developments. Multistory buildings, taking up multiple blocks in some cases. While this approach packs in the tax base and reduces costs there are major downsides. One is practical. These types of buildings, especially when grouped together, become a huge burden when they inevitable fall out of favor. They are hard to renovate and reuse and typically require being torn down. The second issue is that they don’t allow for individual businesses, especially culturally significant local places to acquire a character all their own. All glass facades are fine for malls but they don’t have the character needed to form a great connection. Handel’s ice cream is a staple because of its location and nostalgic look, made all the better by the new mural. Thinking small means working with developers to create smaller spaces with more uniqueness among them that can organically change through the years. It also means using what we already have, renovating existing buildings.

Before all of that happens the more important step must take place. We need to involve the community from the very first discussion. When the city begins eying an area for redevelopment the first step should be to encourage feedback from the community to see what we need in that area. We should use all of the ample public relations avenues we’ve built up and paid into to reach as many community members as possible. Not to tell them what a good job we’ve done, but to ask them what job they would like us to do in the first place. My grand visions are just that, my own. There will soon be 100,000 other visions of Fishers that are just as important.

I’ve focused a lot of the downtown, because it is important in defining what we are as a city. We have a lot of room to grow though. Long term sustainable growth is found in creating a community that meets all the needs of its residents and provides them with ample avenues for recreation and relaxation and a strong sense of community identity. If we do that business large and small will be knocking on our doors and we will welcome them.