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Why It's An Uphill Battle To Make Indianapolis A More Pedestrian Friendly City


The American College of Sports Medicine is based in Indianapolis and each year, the sports professionals there do a fitness ranking for the 50 biggest American cities. The least fit city this year -Indianapolis. That city is trying to get healthier by becoming more walkable. Andrea Muraskin of member station WFYI reports.

BRENT ALDRICH: If you want to cross the street, it's going to be tough.

ANDREA MURASKIN, BYLINE: Brent Aldrich is standing on Washington Street, a main east-west artery that runs through Indianapolis. We're in the Englewood neighborhood where Brent lives and works as a community planner. His parents grew up around here and, back then, the street was lined with local businesses that you could walk to. But today, most people just pass through, driving at 40 miles an hour.

ALDRICH: When we do this, we're going to probably have to run or kind of Frogger it across. Just - you stand in one lane, you wait for the car to go past, and you hope it's not game over, right?

MURASKIN: There's a clear connection between this pedestrian-unfriendly street and health. Nicole Keith is an exercise specialist at Indiana University. She says walking is key.

NICOLE KEITH: The healthiest communities are those that are most walkable because they're connected. So, if you have sidewalks and, hopefully, you're able to go to the grocery store, get fresh fruits and vegetables, you can access health care and a walkable community.

MURASKIN: Architect Bruce Race now teaches at the University of Houston, but was on the faculty of Ball State University's urban planning program in Indianapolis. He says transforming Indianapolis back into a walkable city will require reversing suburban sprawl.

BRUCE RACE: A lot of these areas were built without any sidewalks at all, so they really don't have the type of walking infrastructure that you might see in a traditional community.

MURASKIN: Race says inner-city neighborhoods like Englewood also suffered because when the middle class left, businesses closed and neighborhoods fell into disrepair.

RACE: It's a national problem, not just an Indianapolis problem.

MURASKIN: He says there's hope because millennials are returning in droves to live in cities. Indianapolis now plans to widen sidewalks and build more crosswalks in long-neglected inner city neighborhoods. But like many cities, money is always a problem. And commuters here pay their income taxes to their hometowns, not to Indianapolis, so the city is reaching out to some residents who have taken the initiative to make their neighborhoods more livable.

On a breezy night, eight women, most young, are playing floor hockey on the roof of an apartment building in the heart of Englewood. Jen May is on a team with her coworkers from the nearby daycare. She says her whole family plays here.

JEN MAY: My kids also play. My husband's on a team. I live right over on Oxford, so just a walk through the garden.

MURASKIN: The Englewood Community Development Corporation built the rooftop rink and recently finished work on a pocket park. Soon, it will break ground on a senior housing development. The hope is efforts like this can attract new residents and the city will see building more walkable streets as a worthwhile investment. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Muraskin in Indianapolis.

GREENE: Andrea's story was produced with Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative that's focused on public health. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Muraskin manages the social media and website for Sound Medicine News, and contributes web and radio reporting. Prior to joining the Sound Medicine News team, she was a freelance reporter and producer, notably creating the radio feature series’ The Neighborhood Project, The Life Stories Project, and Constitution Indiana at 90.1 WFYI. Andrea was a radio coach for the Indianapolis-based youth media organization Y-Press, where she had the privilege of working with some of the world’s best teen journalists.

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