The Future of Parks in Indianapolis

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The Future of Parks in Indianapolis

As the dust settles on one of the most contentious election seasons in U.S. history, many Americans are finding themselves deeply unsettled about the trajectory of our country and its communities. In addition to concerns regarding national security, economic stability, and unity shared by many, I also find myself both concerned – and more importantly – optimistic about the future of parks and public spaces in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis has a large and uniquely historic city park system, which includes 210 parks and 11,254 total acres, 125 playgrounds, 155 sports fields, and 130 miles of trails . The number of parks, acreage, programs, and facilities in Indianapolis is encouraging, however, how we as a city choose to financially support them is not. According to the newly released 2016 City Park Facts report by The Trust for Public Land, Indianapolis continues to underperform when compared to our peers, especially when it comes to funding. In fact, of 100 largest cities in the United States, Indianapolis – which is the 14th largest by population – ranks 91st with regard to investment in parks. ¬¬

Our city’s investment in parks – both existing and new – is critically important because there is now, as parks advocates have long preached anecdotally, a quantifiable correlation between a community’s park system (in both size and quality), and its overall quality of life, sustainability, and economic capacity. Parks are critical infrastructure; just as much as quality roads, schools, and utilities.

The old model of parks – with regard to both service delivery and funding – IS DEAD. Parks today are immeasurably more complex, and are being asked by their leaders and constituents to do more than merely provide places for play and recreation, as critically important as those things are. Today’s parks are also being asked to DIRECTLY and QUANTITATIVELY impact community health, social equity, sustainability, and economic development (to name only a few), and are often being delivered and managed through the use of both public and “private” funds.

Reason for optimism however, does exist. For the first time in many years, Indianapolis has the leadership in place – both public and private – who appear poised to fully embrace the importance of parks in a city that sings the praises of a high quality of life, yet struggles to fund improvements necessary to sustain it. We have a newly appointed, progressive parks director (Linda Broadfoot), an active and supported parks foundation that is able to solicit and invest “private” dollars (, and a mayor who is choosing outright to be a champion of parks.

Parks are the very heart of the public realm, and therefore, also the gatekeeper to quality of life in our city. I would encourage each and every resident, business owner, and elected official who desires a genuinely high quality of life in Indianapolis to stand alongside our foundation (, the Indy Parks and Recreation Department, and our city, and become an advocate for parks, regardless of how often you may each individually “touch” a park space or participate in a program. If we as a city, stand up for and support parks the way that we historically have for our treasured sports teams and venues, we will ensure that Indianapolis will be of the best places to live, work, and play!

If you would like to learn more, please read Ryan’s full White Paper for his view on the future of parks in Indianapolis.


About the Author – Ryan P. Cambridge, PLA ASLA APA, is a practicing registered landscape architect who serves as the director of Parks + Open Space Planning at Browning Day; a multi-disciplinary planning and design firm in Indianapolis ( Since 2008, Ryan has helped lead the development of more than 15 parks system planning efforts for municipal governments across the United States, representing nearly $750 million in future “public realm” investment. Ryan is a self-professed “parks geek” and seeks to further the awareness of, and investment in, the public realm though his leadership on the Board of Directors for the Indiana Parks and Recreation Association, the Advocacy Committee of the Indianapolis Parks Foundation (Ryan is also the event chair for the 2017 IPL Mayor’s Lunch for Parks), and the Programming Committee for the Indiana Chapter of the Urban Land Institute. Ryan is also privileged to be one of only a handful of professionals in Indiana currently serving on the Project for Public Spaces Placemaking Leadership Council (

City of Indianapolis. 2016. Welcome to Indy Parks and Recreation. Retrieved 10/14/2016 from:
The U.S. Census Bureau. 2016. The 15 Most Populous Cities on July 1, 2015. Retrieved 10/18/2016 from www.census,gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-81.html.

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