January 12, 2014, Washington, DC: “It’s all cyclical, right?” Indianapolis resident Stuart Drake and I are talking about how our choices concerning where to live often mimic those faced by our parents. Stuart’s friends and family constantly ask him when he, his wife, toddler and dog will leave the city and move to the suburbs. And Stuart and his family very well might. But Stuart also feels a tremendous pull towards his urban neighborhood of Broad Ripple– the very same neighborhood in which Stuart’s parents asked themselves these questions decades ago before packing their bags.
In many ways, Broad Ripple, one of six cultural districts in Indianapolis, sounds like an idyllic place to stay put. Its tree-lined streets are full of bungalows built between the first and second World Wars. Its roots as a recreational escape from urban life have remained intact long after the amusement park and large swimming pool that attracted families in the early 1900s closed. Broad Ripple residents have access to water along the White River and a bike path running down an old streetcar line just twelve minutes beyond downtown.
And yet the neighborhood has changed since Stuart’s parents started a family.
“Between 1960 and 1970, the population dropped, I think 17 percent,” Stuart said. “From 1970 and 1980, it dropped another 17 percent. But the number of occupied homes stayed the same. It shifted from a place where you raise your family to an urban professional hotspot. We had a movie theater that turned into a nightclub.”
Photo Credit: LA Nolan
Reflective of the altered demographics, Stuart left Broad Ripple as he started elementary school and returned as soon as he completed college in Bloomington.
“When you graduate from school, if you are a creative type, anyone from 21-34, it’s kind of where you’re expected to go. There’s a thriving bar scene in Broad Ripple. It’s good for the college kids. It’s not real cutting edge, not real avant-garde, but for those who live in the suburbs, Broad Ripple is a pretty hip place to be.”
Among his favorite attractions are The Wellington Pub and Taste of Havana, artist Justin Vining and two cool sisters (see below). Friends within walking distance are also part of the allure, especially on winter days like those experienced in the last few weeks.
“We got maybe a foot of snow,” Stuart said. “All our power lines are above ground and wires behind our house caught fire. We’ve got a toddler and a dog and we walked over to stay at a friend’s house. To pay them back, we can walk over to a bar down the street. It’s a nice, warm community feel.”
Still, both Stuart’s young family and the neighborhood face growing pains, and the age-old question remains at the forefront: Is it sustainable? Tiny neighborhood stores that moved in when rents plummeted in the 60s around the time a mall opened nearby now struggle to pay far higher prices. A development corporation vying to replace an abandoned gas station with a Whole Foods and an apartment complex is getting pushback from the local shop owners fighting to keep Broad Ripple local. At the same time, Stuart is tempted to trade walkability and access for better schools and more living space in a family home not much farther outside of the city.
“While my family struggles with transition and growth, so does my neighborhood,” he said. “Other areas are growing and becoming the environ du jour, while Broad Ripple works through an identity crisis. I live about two blocks from where my parents bought their first home, and now my wife and I are facing the same questions my parents did 25 years ago.”
“We have a two bedroom house,” he said. “A lot of friends and family ask us, ‘So when are you guys gonna move out? When are you gonna make the jump? Most of my friends live in walking distance. All of us face the exact same question, do you stay or do you go? A lot of it seems to go back to schooling.”
Still, Stuart considers that a burgeoning Indianapolis public schools magnet program and home renovations could keep his family in Broad Ripple for years to come.
“If things pick up at work and money comes in, we’d be more than willing to remodel our house to have another child. If we could do it, then we’re all for it. But none of my friends agree with me.”
“Broad Ripple could be this tremendous area, but there are limitations in housing and we just can’t grow it enough to make it sustainable.”
Taste of Havana: “Urban Spoon does their best new restaurants of the year… we had four in Indianapolis and two were from Broad Ripple. One makes an incredible Cuban sandwich. They’re incredibly personable, the owners meet everyone who comes in.”
The Wellington Pub: “It’s in the basement of another bar. You have to know where the door is to get in. You have to watch your head because they have a dartboard. It’s large enough for maybe 30 really close friends, or they become close friends once they’re in there.”
Artists Justin Vining: “He does these awesome streetscapes. He’s got a studio set up in Broad Ripple. He’s also an attorney. He does these real surreal paintings and he’ll do custom work for individuals. He does some really, really great work.”
Just Pop In: “There are two sisters who live on neighboring streets about eight houses from each other and they own a little popcorn store. They are inseparable. They are amazing. Everybody recognizes them. They’re a pretty cool little pair. The store’s called Just Pop In.”
Cover photo credit: Justin Vining
Related Posts on Neighborhood Nomads:
- Phases of City Living (February 12, 2012)
- On Common Ground: Neighbors and Nomads of 2013 (December 30, 2013)