Late last month, on a picture perfect, cooler than usual Sunday afternoon, the Village of Broad Ripple celebrated the official opening of the Canal Esplanade – a dream that neighborhood advocate Tom Healy says began nearly 30 years ago. The desire for improvements and enhancements to the Central Canal began in the late 80s, and countless studies and designs have been considered during that time.
A 2010 study by Browning Day was built on past studies and work by the late Eric Fulford. It explored high level designs and ideas of how the north and south sides of the Canal could be designed, and how inviting, vibrant public spaces could be created between College and Guilford avenues. These conceptual studies led to a project being developed by the Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development and Department of Public Works, to be designed in concert with, and adjacent to, the newly-opened Coil Apartments and Fresh Thyme grocery.
As a part of the Central Canal Towpath and Art2Art Trail, the Canal Esplanade creates unique spaces along the canal, includes subtle grade changes along the pathways, gathering spaces and pedestrian traffic zones at designated nodes along the trail. The grade change allows the esplanade to solve several complex structural challenges associated with the embankments along the canal. By creating this separation, it allows for large areas of landscape plantings and locally sourced sandstone retaining walls to stabilize the slopes. Pedestrian scale lighting, precast concrete benches, sandstone accent seating stones and cable railing all serve to enhance the aesthetic along this primary path.
As with any project, there were several challenges undertaken by the design and construction teams. Existing underground and overhead utilities, sandy soils, narrow project limits, connections to adjacent properties, and accommodations for a Citizens Energy canal maintenance boat, a booming construction market and anticipation of future developments all provided unique challenges and opportunities for the project team.
- Coordination with the utility providers helped clean up some of the visual distraction on the north bank.
- Sandy soils and narrow project limits led to creative design conversations and solutions to enable the construction of the sandstone retaining walls – a signature design feature of the entire project.
- An additional constraint being that the construction project needed to stay out of the water, to avoid triggering a longer permitting approval process – a timeline the project could not afford.
- Coordination with Citizens Energy Group on their access requirements for maintenance equipment at the end of Ferguson Street, led to the creation of a large pedestrian plaza as well as a unique pedestrian access to the water.
- The existing pedestrian bridge, and consideration for the future Red Line stations on College Avenue influenced the design of certain pathways and planting areas, so as to encourage clear, safe access points across and along the Canal.
The public plaza spaces designed at each end of The Coil development create flexible spaces, which allow for festivals, live music, casual conversation or lunch along the Canal. Current fundraising efforts are underway by the Broad Ripple Village Association, and will help fill the space with additional amenities such as catenary lighting, landscape lighting, a shade structure, local art display opportunities and more seating options.
Following the festivities of the ribbon cutting and grand opening of the project, the Fourth Annual Broad Ripple (Rubber) Duck Race took place between the Monon Trail bridge and the College Avenue pedestrian bridge. Earlier in the afternoon, hundreds of people enjoyed live music, food and activities for children, and at 4:30 p.m., the north side of the newly opened Canal Esplanade was jam packed with spectators enjoying the natural stone seating along the water, shade of the new canopy trees, and cheering their ducks on to the finish.
The event served as the perfect example of what has been envisioned for this space for decades; people walking, biking, pushing strollers, and being outdoors enjoying what Broad Ripple and Indianapolis have to offer.
Next up… the south side of the Canal….
Drew Braley PLA ASLA is a landscape architect and project manager with professional experience in Florida, Hawaii and the Midwest. Drew is constantly ensuring that project deadlines and client needs are being met in a timely fashion and has his finger on the pulse of nearly all projects currently flowing through the studio. Drew’s leadership internally and throughout the course of projects, coupled with his technical design focus adds tremendous value to the firm’s projects and long-standing client relationships. Current and recent project experience includes the Conrad Prebys Outdoor Amphitheater, Jordan Avenue Streestscape Improvements, and the Global and International Studies Building at Indiana University, as well as the Broad Ripple Canal Esplanade, Pulliam Square Phases 1 and 2, and the Irsay Family YMCA at CityWay in downtown Indianapolis.