Why Indianapolis is a test case for a fairer form of gentrification, by Cara Courage (The Guardian)
“I helped change one neighbourhood into a hipster place, and then we got priced out of there.” Artist Jim Walker is describing the shift in fortunes of the Fountain Square district of Indianapolis, where his Big Car arts collective was born a decade ago – and of the artists and residents who have been forced to move on by the neighbourhood’s gentrification.
Walker’s experience is an increasingly familiar story in cities around the world – a tale of urban pioneers who play a central role in the redevelopment of a downtown area, only to find themselves unable to afford to stay there. Is there a more equitable way? That’s just what Walker is trying to find out with his latest arts-led Indianapolis project.
The twist is a "land trust."
While some lower-rent properties are still available in Fountain Square, the change led Walker to look at other areas in the city that could offer the vacant space Big Car’s operation requires. But this time, Walker wanted to do it differently – pushing for a model of regeneration that places the arts in control of the development process; a model that keeps artists and locals at the centre of the change, and should prevent residents from getting priced out.
His Big Car collective is now busy in Garfield Park, a disinvested area on the south side of Indianapolis, having located a new home on one of the city’s arterial routes, Shelby Street, which is lined by a small parade of service stores, a secondhand bookshop and a cafe.
Thanks to city government and philanthropic help as well as its own funds, Big Car has bought a “land trust”, as Walker calls it, “for the artists working hard with neighbours to improve the area”. The development includes two former factories now repurposed as studios, exhibition and performance spaces, and the Listen Hear sound-art gallery and radio station – located in what used to be a laundromat. Vacant houses are being renovated into affordable homes for artists; Big Car is also a key partner in a community-led safer streets programme, and in talks to bring Indianapolis’s rapid transit to the area.