Imagine if humans could travel through space to another inhabitable planet. There’s a lot we could and would do differently, right? It’s unlikely that if a group of 100 people landed on another planet that one or two would immediately head off and say, “Bye guys!” and go live alone.
It’s also unlikely that we’d say, “Okay, let’s figure out how to make some cars and build an Applebee’s.”
But that’s what we do now every time a new suburb starts or someone goes to a small rural town. It’s a horrible use of resources and we don’t think about it because, simply, most people just don’t think about it.
Indy’s suburbs are starting to rethink what it means to be a suburb, and there are a lot of options right now.
Carmel’s mayor Jim Brainard has shown an obvious desire to increase the quality of life for Carmelites. Knowing that Indiana can never compete with sunny warm-weather places like Florida and the Southwest, Carmel is focusing on building things that are aesthetically pleasing and visually interesting to make up for it. This is expensive, however, and Carmel has about a billion dollars in debt to prove it. For comparison, the entire city of Indianapolis runs on a budget of $1.1 billion.
Greenwood is debating how to use its original Old Town Greenwood space, something they can learn a lot about from Fishers and Brownsburg. Fishers has practically destroyed what tiny sliver of their history they had in favor of me-too mixed-use construction. So if you want to live above a Chipotle and an ice cream stand, Fishers’ is soon to be your place.
Brownsburg is still something of a blank slate, but they’ve already set the tone with how they built their downtown to facilitate auto traffic. People in cars are by their very nature on their way someplace else.
And then there’s Avon and Plainfield. I feel like Plainfield has established itself as “the thing next to the airport”, and they have the industry and warehousing development to prove it. But Avon is different.
Avon seems to be quietly sitting there and growing rapidly, but with no central plan. At least not a structured one. Without the government offices and historic structures of Hendricks County’s nearby seat of Danville, Avon has no significant draw like the other suburbs. It doesn’t even have a highway. And that’s where Avon is more interesting.
Avon sits in a strip along US 36 and between Interstates 70 and 74, and west of I-465. Avon, if its leaders wanted to, could be the place where we’d do things completely different. Avon could be the place we’d build if we setup shop an alien planet.
Avon doesn’t have the noise pollution or divisive highways of other suburbs (Greenwood, Carmel, and Fishers have all picked distinct sides of their highways for most of their development). Avon has access to money and plenty of land for development.
It also doesn’t have as much already-aging infrastructure as places like Fishers. At some point, all of that aging water and sewer infrastructure in Fishers is going to come home to roost. If you lay it all down in a span of 10 years, you’re going to have a problem all at once decades later. We see this with places like Lawrence, Beech Grove, and Speedway today.
Imagine how Avon could build a city that was more bike and pedestrian friendly than car-centric. It could avoid building costly and unhealthy cul-de-sacs in favor of gridded, tree-lined streets. If built densely, it could have affordable and easily implemented transit straight along US36 into Indianapolis.
What an amazing opportunity Avon has to create its own history and be an example for a new way of thinking in urban development. It could be the Disneyland of Indy’s suburbs. Dense, purposeful, familial, efficient, and sustainable.