Newscasters don’t usually refer to particular Indy neighborhoods by name when they talk about the incidents and events that happen within their boundaries. Instead, they use designations like “Indy’s Near Eastside” that tend to be overly broad.
Josh Anderson, an urban designer with Eden Collaborative, is attempting to change such designations with a map entitled “The Neighborhoods of Indianapolis 2011.” Anderson is the co-founder of the Naptown Design Laboratory, or Naplab.
This organization dates back to 2008, when Anderson was looking for like-minded people with whom to form an urban discussion group. Soon enough he ran into graphic designer Matt Hale.
“I had just gotten out of grad school,” says Anderson. “I was asking around town — people who I knew who were involved in urbanism and urban development — who would be good people to meet with... And I kept hearing Matt’s name over and over.”
They started, in Anderson’s words, “thinking about interesting projects all over the city that wouldn’t otherwise happen…focused on improving the design culture in the city.”
Matt Hale happened to have a friend by the name of Aaron Renn, a.k.a. The Urbanophile, who writes a blog on city design and architecture; Renn was living in Indy’s Fountain Square neighborhood at the time.
“Aaron was really interested at the time in these neighborhood maps that were sort of historic and old fashioned ones of the city of Chicago,” says Anderson. “People would have old neighborhood maps from early 1900s and then there’s also a person making neighborhood maps for the city which a lot of people have seen. But we talked about how we can do something like that for Indianapolis because it’s a city that’s not as well known for its neighborhoods as it is for having a strong downtown.”
Coming up with the map was a two-year-long process for Naplab's Anderson and Hale. “Basically we started with just a regular old street map you could find in any store or gas station and a sharpie marker and we would just go to meetings and start trying to decipher what neighborhood was where,” says Anderson. They also met with community leaders. Once they had the required information on paper, they digitized it. Matt Hale then developed a distinct visual design for the map.
By coming up with the Naplab map, Hale and Anderson are attempting to develop a certain pride of place that is necessary in order to build and sustain urban communities (a goal shared by the Harrison Center for the Arts’ City Gallery, where the naplab neighborhood map has been on display and for sale and will be again in coming months.)
Their goal — trying to change the perceptions of Indy residents — is somewhat intangible. But it's nevertheless an important one and it relates back to the topic of the news media.
“It would be nice to get some of the news media to incorporate neighborhood names when they do their stories so whenever anything negative happens you’re not branding an entire quarter or half of the entire city as unsafe,” says Anderson.
He does, however, think perceptions are starting to change, and has one positive omen he can point to in this regard. “We actually sold a map to [WTHR Channel 13’s] Chuck Lofton,” he says.