Ch-ch-ch-changes: The evolution of neighborhoods

By Dale Ogden / Contributing editor

I moved to Indianapolis in 1983 and rented a studio apartment across the street from the Benjamin Harrison Home. That experience would be fodder for an entirely different article. There have been some changes since – with me and with downtown Indy.

By 2013, a long and winding road had led my wife, Karin, our two youngest children (both teens at the time) and me from a cottage near Glendale to a Fall Creek Place three-bedroom house with a loft. That transition took some getting used to.

Nearly a decade ago, the neighborhood between Meridian Street and College Avenue, south of Fall Creek Parkway to 22nd Street, provided some challenges for our family. Although nearly all the homes had front porches, we seldom saw our neighbors. The Millennial single professionals and a smattering of small families generally drove to their garages off alleys in the back or parked on the street and moved promptly across their porches and into well-secured homes. It was a few years before we knew the names of anyone in the area other than the couples who lived immediately to our north and south.

Although we weren’t the first family to move into Fall Creek Place, we almost never saw anyone younger than 20. Our daughter and son eventually enrolled in Herron and Shortridge high schools respectively. Each of those schools was located a mile or less from our home, yet neither of the kids had friends who lived in the vicinity. The student bodies of Herron and Shortridge largely consisted of youths who lived north of 36th Street and other areas even more remote from Downtown.

The reason we didn’t get out and about much was that there wasn’t a great deal to do in the neighborhood. Aside from fast-food, there weren’t any restaurants within walking distance and even when the kids were otherwise occupied there weren’t any bars either. For a long time after we bragged to friends that we’d become urbanites, we continued to drive several miles northeast to eat, drink, shop and go to the movies.

Honestly, the main reason we stayed inside our house was more complicated than the proximity of amenities. There’s probably not a more complicated issue for urban America than how to deal with gentrification.

When I lived at 12th and Delaware streets in the ’80s, the area now called Fall Creek Place was infamously nick-named Dodge City. Few who weren’t looking for drugs or hookers hung around on the streets and as gossip among suburbanites had it, Dodge City was a place where you could get shot.

Around 2000, Indy’s movers and shakers decided the best way to deal with Dodge City was to bulldoze almost all of it and plant scores of newly built homes none of the former residents could begin to afford. And there’s the rub. The locals didn’t go away. Many didn’t have any place else to go. Some camped out in the run-down semi-abandoned buildings that surrounded the neighborhood and others became the street people that discouraged all of us brave urban pioneers from utilizing the beautiful front porches the developers had so kindly supplied.

In the summer of 2017, we began to notice a positive change, subtle at first and then accelerating. A few restaurants sprang up, along with a craft brewery and a tea house. Couples could be seen enjoying the pocket-parks that had begun to mature. Single millennials walking large dogs became a common sight and they were soon joined by young families pushing baby carriages with toddlers in tow. Neighbors began hanging out in their yards to catch up on local news. Fall Creek Place became a neighborhood more than a theory drafted by urban promoters.

Of course, the former denizens of Dodge City didn’t disappear. They just became peripheral. With more of “us” around, the random panhandlers got easier to ignore to the point where we joked about crossing their paths. We loved our home and enjoyed our neighbors so we got used to an occasional crime in the area. We got a new stop sign put up to slow traffic.

The question of gentrification isn’t about whether turning dangerous slums into beautiful neighborhoods is a good thing. It is. The issue is whether displacing an entire population to make way for the well-heeled without adequately providing for the former residents is an ethical way to build communities throughout the city.

Whether we’re talking affordable childcare, substance abuse and mental health treatment, public transportation (the Red Line is an exceptionally weak and belated stab at that issue) or the myriad other challenges facing the displaced, “What are we going to do with the people we’re pushing aside” should be the first question asked before redevelopment begins – not an afterthought 20 years later.

Anyway, our oldest now has a family of her own. Our second moved to California and our youngest matriculated at Indiana University this fall. Karin and I don’t need an eight-room house anymore. So, we gave up the responsibility of ownership for the joy of renting in the St. Joseph neighborhood: “Hey landlady, the tree out back needs pruning and the microwave is on the fritz. Please send an arborist and an appliance repairman. Thanks for taking care of the bill.”

We’ve got a funky two-bedroom in a brownstone we’ve been told was built in the 1890s as a series of apartments that catered to single professional women. Sadly, we’ve not yet sensed any ghostly vibes.

There’s a welcoming tavern next door and a boutique liquor store across the street. A charming coffee shop is a short walk east, a block from Bottleworks. I can take my bike to the Y at the Athenaeum and anyplace else on Mass Ave in less than five minutes. I walked home from the grocery store today.

Our neighbors tend to be a little more experienced, but no less friendly, than our pals in Fall Creek Place. The age demographic may be due to our building. It seems the younger crowd prefers the burgeoning new construction in the area.

There are more people milling about on the street than there were at the end of our stay in Fall Creek Place. They remind us of the people we shared the neighborhood with in 2013. Has the city considered where they’ll go after they’ve been thoroughly pushed aside? I don’t know. Maybe that’s not something we’re supposed to think about. It’s a great apartment.

PHOTO ABOVE: The St. Joseph neighborhood is the Ogdens’ current home.