Enhancing the quality of life at the University of Indianapolis’ host city took center stage during the annual Fairbanks Symposium in UIndy Hall. The annual event, held this year on March 3, was a collaborative effort sponsored by organizations such as the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and the University of Indianapolis Institute for Civic Leadership and Mayoral Archives in partnership with Indiana Humanities, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and Indy Parks. The gathering focused on the importance of building vibrant, attractive modern cities and the role of greenspaces and parks in this process throughout Indianapolis.
The one-day event featured in-depth conversations with a multitude of local and national community leaders. Beginning the day was a luncheon featuring Justin Garrett Moore of the NYC Public Design Commission and Neelay Bhatt of the National Recreation and Parks Association. Another session involved a panel with Indy Parks Principal Park Planner and Greenways Manager Andre Denman, who spoke about the importance of Indianapolis’ Monon Trail, and President and CEO of Central Indiana Community Foundation Brian Payne, who discussed a similar project known as the cultural trail. Payne said he feels that Indianapolis must lead other cities in environmental projects.
“We need to be innovators. We need to prove the concept. We need to take the risk, because coming with the risk comes the reward,” Payne said. “It’s time for Indianapolis to step up on quality of life, on progressive quality of life issues, on urban issues and be the innovator.”
Meg Storrow, president and co-founder of Storrow Kinsella, also participated in the panel, educating the audience about Indianapolis’ history in environmental affairs. Additionally, Operations and Event Manager for White River State Park Alex Umlauf also contributed to the panel.
Interim Executive Vice President and Provost of UIndy David Wantz also made an appearance at the second session, during which he discussed the importance of organizations such as Keep Indianapolis Beautiful in fostering new ideas about how to improve the Indianapolis community.
“I want to give you the idea of an idea greenhouse,” Wantz said. “When you have an idea, you have to put it into a nurturing environment. When you’re trying to put your tomato plants out this year, you’ve already put that little seed in that peat moss cup. And you’ve already spritzed it with water. And only after a couple of weeks, when it gets its first true leaves, will you dare to put it outside, and only during the day. And then after a while, you’ll harden it off, and then after a while, you might put it in a cold frame, and then finally, you’ll put it in the ground. And that’s the same way it is with ideas.”
As for UIndy’s own environmental reputation, Director of the Institute for Civic Leadership and Mayoral Archives and Professor of History and Political Science Ted Frantz said that although the university has made great progress in becoming more green, further efforts must be made.
“It is a lot better now than when I came here,” Frantz said. “…. There is a lot of room for improvement, and if that change is going to happen, then it will come from passionate individuals who are your peers [and] students demanding change.”
Following a brief intermission, the third session of the day ushered in new speakers to engage the audience and answer questions concerning the role of environmental awareness in caring for the greater public good. This panel featured guests from two neighboring states and an Indiana native. The speakers shared their own experiences and perspectives on the issues at hand, from social to environmental good.
Dale Heydlauff, president of the American Electric Power Foundation, discussed how the renovation of the Scioto Mile in his residential city of Columbus, Ohio, contributed to the city’s economic growth and repaid its own cost many times over.
“This was an area that no one ever visited, no one,” Heydlauff said. “Now millions of people go there. It’s the venue for our summer festivals or sponsored nonprofits races or walks every weekend from April through October. It’s really animated it. And then there is the economic bottom line: this has stimulated $400 million in private sector investments, predominantly in housing and downtown.”
As for the social aspect of environmentalism in the city, the panel of three included Lionel Bradford, President of the Greening of Detroit. The Greening of Detroit is an organization originally devoted to replanting trees throughout the city. Bradford, however, discussed how what began as an environmental effort became a force for social change in the city with the inclusion of youth.
“We planted … close to 100 thousand trees. Now we have to take care of the trees, and so that’s how we started our youth employment program,” Bradford said. “We employ about 200 high schoolers—and these are Detroit high schoolers—every year. [They] come out, maintain our trees, water the trees, prune them—you name it. The program has also turned into an enrichment program as well, in that…we do ACT prep, college tours, camping trips, you name it. We really, really try to introduce these people to natural resource-related fields. So that’s a big push for us. And we know that that’s a part of creating that next generation of environmental stewards.”
The third speaker of the symposium’s final panel was Emily Wood, director of greenspace for Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. As an environmental scholar, Wood stressed the importance of encouraging Indiana’s native wildlife in addition to simply creating greenspaces.
“In my opinion, we can talk so much about planning and engagement, the social and economic effects of everything, but if we fail to put native plants into our green spaces, it’s like building a Cadillac without dropping a battery into it. I have a beautiful vehicle, but it’s not going to go anywhere,” Wood said.