I live within walking distance of Monument Circle, the Canal and downtown–it’s a huge reason I picked where I live. I sometimes feel like the city activates and promotes these spaces for visitors, seeing them as amenities to attract conventions or out-of-towners, rather than thinking about the everyday ways that nearby residents use these places to relax, to exercise, to meet up with friends, and generally enjoy a third space and improve our quality of life. The “Back Downtown” marketing after the pandemic bothered me a lot for this reason: one, it felt premature given everything we knew about preventing the spread of covid, and two, some of us never left downtown–we’re always here. That framing really captured the mindset that downtown is for visitors. (I also think that framing reinforced the idea that downtown was somehow unsafe or unclean, and had been “fixed” for white suburban visitors: we have to do better, civic leaders!)
I’d love to see more investments in things like seating, native plant landscaping (I hate how treeless downtown is), and cleanliness to make sure these places are welcoming every day, not just when some big event is coming through. I think there are many ways to make this equitable, especially the opportunity to create employment opportunities around the needs I outlined: Local artists and artisans can design seating. Hire people (in permanent, full-time, better-minimum-wage jobs) to clean downtown public spaces. I used to live in New York and the crews who cleaned public spaces had good public sector jobs and the cleaning/maintenance of these spaces was visible–you saw the effort being made to make the spaces welcoming. Don’t just rely on a few big photo op volunteer projects; think about how to create jobs (and what kinds of career pathways might help the formerly incarcerated or other folks who have a hard time finding work).