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Greenspaces subject of UIndy Symposium

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This year's Richard M. Fairbanks Symposium on Civic Leadership was parks and greenspaces. - MICHELE WHITEHAIR
  • Michele Whitehair
  • This year's Richard M. Fairbanks Symposium on Civic Leadership was parks and greenspaces.

A city is more than just the buildings and people within its boundaries. A city is also the trees and parks, both big and small, that break up the buildings and let people enjoy fresh air and nature.

Across Marion County, there are 210 parks covering over 11,000 acres, and that number is growing.

“People want to live in beautiful places,” David Forsell, the president of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, said. Parks and greenspaces, he added, are ways to make people feel connected and alive in their cities.


Students, faculty and community members packed the Schwitzer Student Center at the University of Indianapolis on Friday, March 3, to learn more about the importance of greenspaces through the Richard M. Fairbanks Symposium on Civic Leadership.
“I’m probably the one that was the most excited in the whole city that the subject of the Fairbanks Symposium was going to parks and greenspace,” Linda Broadfoot, the director of Indianapolis Parks and Recreation, said. She was prepared to lead a panel discussion on how Indianapolis’ parks and greenspaces got to be what they are today.

The five-hour symposium brought participants through the history the city’s parks and greenspaces and where the city is headed next.
Panel talks about 5 Big Ideas that Transformed Indianapolis during the The Richard H. Fairbanks Symposium on Civic Leadership was held at the UIndy Schwitzer Center on March 3, 2017.  - PHOTO BY D. TODD MOORE, UNIVERSITY OF INDIANAPOLIS
  • Photo by D. Todd Moore, University of Indianapolis
  • Panel talks about 5 Big Ideas that Transformed Indianapolis during the The Richard H. Fairbanks Symposium on Civic Leadership was held at the UIndy Schwitzer Center on March 3, 2017.
Representatives from Indianapolis Parks and Recreation, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, the Mounds River Greenway and other organizations in the area greeted and talked to participants as they gathered and waited for the symposium to start.

The day started with lunch. As people finished eating, one of Indiana Humanities’ INconversations featured Justin Garrett Moore, an urban designer and executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission and Neelay Bhatt, the vice president of PROS talking about their experiences with greenspaces and developing them. The room -was packed and tickets were sold out for the symposium.

“We had a lot of interest in this event,” Leah Nahmias, the director of programming at Indiana Humanities, said. “We had 240 [people signed up] and we had a wait list of at least 50 [people] at one point.”
After lunch came the first of two panel discussions, on the five big reasons how Indianapolis’ parks and greenspaces came to be what they are today.

This according to Broadfoot, who led the discussion, includes the Kessler system, the cultural trail, the Indianapolis Clean City Committee (which later became Keep Indianapolis Beautiful), the Monon trail and White River State Park.

After a video and a break came a conversation on what is next for Indianapolis’ greenspaces and parks.

Forsell points to a collective of non-profits and government organizations that Keep Indianapolis Beautiful founded called “Reconnecting with our Waterways,” that is working to enhance the vitality of neighborhoods within a half mile of the city’s waterways. Citizens Energy Group, he added is investing over $1 billion to fix the city’s water system. In six to seven years, he said, the city’s storm drains and sewer system will no longer be the same.
People at the symposium got to place Post-It notes at the location of their favorite park. - MICHELE WHITEHAIR
  • Michele Whitehair
  • People at the symposium got to place Post-It notes at the location of their favorite park.

“Our waterways are going to be incredible assets within 10 years,” he said. He also points to Indianapolis’ tree canopy coverage, which is 33 percent. This is much better than many Midwestern cities, he said.

Though there are places for improvement, Indianapolis’ greenspaces are doing well in providing many benefits for residents.

“I’m encouraged,” Forsell said. “We’re not without our challenges… There’s always gaps and there’s always places to improve.”

Nahmias said she wanted people to leave the symposium knowing the history of parks and greenspaces in Indianapolis and how the city used them to make Indianapolis a great city.

Forsell said, “I think that the power and the profundity of parks and greenspaces in cities is really either not understood or is perhaps surprising to people.”

Broadfoot agreed, saying, “I think [parks and greenspaces] are something that is often overlooked.”

Yet there are many benefits people enjoy each day because of parks and greenspaces.
Forsell mentioned the environmental benefits, where, for example, bees and butterflies can find habitat and air and water quality is increased. There’s also the social benefits, he said.

“Every green place in a city is full of potential,” Forsell said. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, he added, pays young people to plant trees and tend them. They also hire college science students to restore habitat.
Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission (right) and Neelay Bhatt, VP of PROS Consulting and Board Member, NRPA (left) hold a lunchtime discussion. - PHOTO BY D. TODD MOORE, UNIVERSITY OF INDIANAPOLIS
  • Photo by D. Todd Moore, University of Indianapolis
  • Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission (right) and Neelay Bhatt, VP of PROS Consulting and Board Member, NRPA (left) hold a lunchtime discussion.

Greenspaces also benefit cities economically. One of the ways to make people really enjoy where they are living is to put a greenspace near them, Forsell said.

“For me personally parks and greenspaces are democratic spaces. They are spaces that you don’t have to pay to play and they are a place where you see all different kinds of people,” Nahmias said. “When we think about, what does a great city need, you need great public institutions. You need great public spaces, and parks are a big piece of the puzzle.”

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