"I've gotta tell you, Timmy - you've always lived on the fringe . . . and I like that." My friend looked out the window of my 22nd Street apartment as the Sunday morning light started to creep across MLK Park and the old church across the street. He had suffered a particularly rough night; the kind that comes when a young man comes to a somewhat familiar town on business and resolves to have a good time or meet a nice girl. "It seems like you pick these places that are two years away from being yuppie central and leave before they jack up the rent. Not a bad idea." I'm not sure why he decided to single out that factor. I'd graduated from college in 2006, and moved back home to Indianapolis to pursue a career in museums. My first apartment had been on the lower edge of the Old Northside neighborhood, and while I had moved a couple of times since then, I continued to enjoy the neighborhoods in that area. I liked the people, their dedication to their community, and the smell of the trees in the fall. That's not flowery gobbledegook, by the way . . . in the fall the thick crop of trees produce so much foliage that leaves along the streets often start to decay before they're taken care of. It's a slightly musty smell, and I love it. I also like the smell of old barns, but that's neither here nor there. This side of town has a personality, and yes, the homes are certainly being taken care of and improved to a great degree. Still, there's enough original flavor and history that shines through the restored houses and kept streets to give you the understanding that this is not a place that's shiny and new. Our neighborhoods are places with a past, and their heritage is something worth carrying.
My buddy is not alien to that. He grew up on the northwest side of Chicago, the son of a cop who owned five small buildings. He's seen the rush back to the urban centers by members of our generation, be it for business purposes or a desire to rekindle a history we didn't get to experience. The generalized call for gentrification seems to be popular in most American cities, and there's a reason for that. But in Indianapolis, I've noticed something different at "the fringe" that seems to be unique to us.
Our neighborhoods have been the bedrock of our community for decades, and the generation of Circle Citizens that's now making its way in society seems to understand that. Instead of a raze and rebuild mentality, there seems to be a sincere desire to restore and renew. Fountain Square, Irvington, Lockerbie, and King Park are all examples of communities that are revisiting tradition, restoring history, and fostering growth from within. The Irvington Halloween festival is still a priority to its residents. The Fountain Square Theater is still a gathering place for that community. MLK Park is being held to the standard of the two men for whom the area is known. This is a special thing for me as a native Hoosier. Look at pictures of our city from 20 years ago, and it seems like a different place. The Hudnut era led to a new downtown that has been changing ever since, but we continue to hold to our roots that define us, our neighborhoods, even if it isn't the part of our city that visitors often see.
My pal went home later that morning with a pounding headache and a pair of sunglasses, and I poured myself a large bowl of cereal that my mother forbade in my childhood. A little later, I walked a few blocks down the street to a large outdoor sculpture depicting two men: one who would have been president, and another who might have been our greatest leader. They are depicted reaching out of dark slabs to cross a divide between them in the pavement below. Neither is connected, not yet, but they're reaching in defiance of elements that separate. That's how we live out here on the fringe. And yeah, I like it too.