Chatham Arch, Part I: Density in 2017 ain’t what it used to be…in 1917.

My latest article is now on Urban Indy–Part I of what will be a two-parter.  It looks at a development proposal in Indy’s old Chatham Arch neighborhood that has generated a huge amount of controversy.  It’s a largely fully gentrified neighborhood just a mile from downtown Indy that has, thanks to its prime location, become the hot spot for redevelopment.  While the proposal in question mostly contains townhomes, single-family detached, and some open space, it also features a five story apartment/retail combo that the local neighborhood association is complaining will “overwhelm” the surrounding homes, which look like this:Chatham Arch densityBut, since Chatham Arch grew and evolved over time, the homes reflect a variety of architectural styles, sizes, and materials.  The more recent revival over the last thirty years has brought some interesting contemporary infill.img_6747

The developer is taking the site of a shuttered charter school that now serves as a community dog park, a large parcel at 9th and East Streets, right at the boundary of Chatham Arch and a large redevelopment community called Renaissance Place.  This developer is no fool; he argues that Chatham Arch’s density (approximately 6,000 persons per square mile) is still a far cry from when the neighborhood was at its peak in the early 1900s and 1910s–when it had a whopping 20,000 people per square mile.  Such density probably does not exist in a single neighborhood in Indiana today.

A Sanborn map from the late 19th century shows how packed in the homes were back then.


Only a few blocks today feature that same density, while many of the surviving homes have bought vacant adjacent parcels to serve as side yards.

Bearing this in mind, what does it mean to be historic, when “historic” also is (by virtue of the infrastructure and parcel configuration) synonymous with “high density”–a phrase that is anathema to much of the Chatham Arch community today?  How do we reconcile these two aesthetic ambitions?  It’s a matter of Indianapolis politics, but the issues raised could take place (and have taken place) in any city in the country.  Please read: comments as always are welcome, but bear in mind the rest of my analysis will continue with part II in early 2017.  At least on Urban Indy, the topic is controversial, so it’s likely to generate some spicy discussion.

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