Balancing new urbanist ideas with the context and historic precedent in a derelict Indianapolis neighborhood

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Schoenfeldt, Wendi M.
Spangler, Ronald L.
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Thesis (B.L.A.)
College of Architecture and Planning
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Several decades of suburban sprawl and white flight have disrupted the historical economy of city life, and have destroyed valuable farmland, wetlands, and natural forests. There is an overwhelming need to help our cities regain their character and lure people back into the cities. Landscape architects, urban planners, and architects have developed many design theories in response to the needs of the city and its inhabitants. The principles and ideas stem from a movement more commonly known as new urbanism (DPZ 2000). This new way of thinking attempts to redirect sprawl back into the creative infill of downtown city spaces.This study looked to several model projects, such as Kentlands, Maryland and Laguna West, California, which offered examples and applications of relevant theories and design principles of new urbanism. Kentlands featured a traditional neighborhood design with a very strong emphasis on walkability. Laguna West offered a different approach to new urbanist thinking and emphasized a transit-oriented development. These two designs included other principles such as mixed-use neighborhoods, a town center, and educational and health facilities. Unfortunately, these new towns were tested in a suburban environment, and did not show applications in an urban context. Hayward and Los Angeles, inCalifornia were examples of urban designs that dealt with the existing urban contexts and historic precedent. These two cities, like Indianapolis, lost many of their historical buildings during the 1960's urban renewal movement. However, the new plans for each of these cities maintained traces of their historic fabric, patterns, and materials. These case studies served as models for my study.Many of these principles, theories, and concepts throughout my exploration of new urbanism were preserved, and other views of urban design were researched. Jane Jacobs' (1961) reverence for the gritty context of urban life and Peter Calthorpe's (1993) vision for efficient urban circulation were important ideas in my project. David Sucher's (1995) theories about city comforts, such as narrow streets and hidden parking lots provided other examples of urban design.The development of my study was located on nine blocks in a derelict northwest area of downtown Indianapolis. It focused on the contextual fabric, history, and patterns of surrounding areas. It was an attempt to test the applicability of some of the new urbanist principles, theories, and concepts in order to create an ideal urban setting that had the potential to promote social and economic vitality. It was intended to become a case study that can be used as an armature for other "new urbanist" design ideas for urban settings.