Organizing for Plainfield

The recent lawsuit by Kroger Corporation has grabbed lots of attention and elicited strong reaction, most of it against the Cincinatti-based grocery giant.  Kroger’s proposed actions are but a small nuisence compared to other “developments.” Nevertheless, this is a battle certainly worth fighting, though it is not the only one in need of fighting if Plainfield is to make itself into a sustainable, livable place. The sprawl in Plainfield is not nearly as bad as Avon, yet Plainfield’s record on sprawl control is far from great.

Perhaps the greatest knock against Plainfield’s planners and town officials is the presence of three (yes, three) Wal-Marts, only one of which, is fully occupied. You see, in the mid-80s, Wal-Mart built a store along US 40. The store was pushed far off the road by an enormous parking lot and bracketed on each side by a strip-mall, whose tenants no doubt benefited from the proximity to America’s largest retailer. About ten years later, Wal-Mart decided to build a new store – which they did on a massive parcel of land adjacent to the original store. Again, this store was set far off the road, surrounded by oceans of asphalt and strip malls. The old strip malls soon folded, the old Wal-Mart remained largely abandoned save for the occasional use as a warehouse. Another ten years or so later, Wal-Mart again wants to build a new store.  Again, they want to build it on a massive parcel adjacent to the site of their other stores.  In the names of the false gods of Materialism and Development, town officials rolled over again. Absurdly huge parking lots and accompanying clingers-on stores also followed this third Plainfield incarnation of the retail giant. The second Wal-Mart store now stands empty, its surrounding strip malls largely abandoned. A small portion of the original Wal-Mart has been converted into a Value City Furniture yet the surrounding strip malls are literally falling apart; both the original and second parking lots have become race courses for drivers looking to avoid traffic on US40. The massive scale of abandoned buildings, loudly and crudely testifying to our disposable culture, seem to mock the tiny trees and large weeds which dot the oceans of asphalt.  James Howard Kunstler calls this attempt at landscaping  “nature band-aids” – an inadequate response to the hideous affront on our senses caused by the poorly designed and constructed buildings.

It’s quite stunning really to drive along that portion of highway (and one dare not walk given the speed and amount of traffic) and see what a mess it has become. Meanwhile, nearly every building in the town core remains empty. The Village Theater, which should be wonderful venue for local music acts, the Hendricks County Symphony, theatre troops and cheap family movies, has suffered (perhaps irrevocably) from nearly 10 years of mismanagement and gross neglect by its owner. Other businesses have suffered because the jewel of downtown Plainfield remained (and remains) in disrepair.

What Plainfield, especially the town core, needs is a dedicated movement – a group of concerned citizens – to advocate for sustainable, smart development guided by the principles of New Urbanism. Many residents of Plainfield realize this fundemental truth; we need to organize if we hope to see any progress. I truly believe the key to revitalizing the town core is the Village Theater. It was Hendricks County’s first movie house, built in 1927. The Royal Theater in Danville should serve as a model for how these old yet grand movie houses can compete with the local multi-plex. The Royal hosts eclectic musical acts, many featuring local talent, all to supplement a limited number of movie screenings. I know of at least one party interested in purchasing the Village; I will be contacting him. If you are interested in saving the Village Theater (and putting it to good use), or otherwise lobbying the Town Council and other parties to adopt New Urbanist principles, please contact me – stevenson[dot]matthew[at]gmail[dot]com.


4 thoughts on “Organizing for Plainfield

  1. New Urbanism = impractical, idealistic nonsense. Instead of wasting time and thought on impossible plans that would completely retard the American economy, lets focus on pragmatic ideas that might actually advance some of the more noble goals of New Urbanism (eg. slowing of climate change) without being dumbheaded (eg. moratorium on road expansion, anti-coal, anti-nuclear power, elimination of auto industry). Also, all the anti-sprawl rhetoric is really annoying. Is Avon a cluttered mess? Absolutely! But the answer is not to tear down old Walmarts and plant cornfields, as I know you would prefer. Redevelopment is key, with commerce that the public demands and will support – thankfully the Plainfield public majority does not share your tastes and preferences. Sometimes, road expansion is necessary. Can you imagine the traffic headaches at Metropolis if Perry and Stafford did not exist and were not expanded to four lanes (and don’t start with any anti-Metropolis rants)? You are not going to achieve elimination of automobiles, even in the long-term future. High-speed and local rail will take many, many years (if at all) to shift transporation patterns in central Indiana – and there is nothing that can be done to accelerate this. The money doesn’t exist. Road expansion and maintenance will always be necessary as long as this is true. While it is true that Plainfield definitely needs improvement in terms of future development (all of the empty strip malls and downtown buildings are unacceptable)…thank goodness your not in charge!

    I will credit it you with this – Village Theater could be used to great effect in the downtown region. My idea is a dinner and a movie venue with upgraded AV. But, really, that’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

    • New Urbanism is not about being anti-development. Nor is it about doing away with cars. Nobody wants to raze WalMart and plant corn (though I wouldn’t object if it ever comes to that.) Indeed, I think there are several places in Plainfield that need structures – but good ones – designed for people, not cars. Also, Metropolis is the least of my concerns. The fact remains that the current style of development, which has been in vogue for the last sixty years, is completely predicated on extremely cheap oil. I don’t resent driving. I do resent being forced, through poor planning, to literally drive everywhere. Far from being new, New Urbanism is about planning cities and towns around principles that humanity has used to construct cities and towns for 7000 years. Its about respecting Tradition (with a capital T) and developing a true and beautiful place. There is nothing true or beautiful about two abandoned Wal-Marts flanking an occupied one. Can recommend a book for you?

  2. From

    “The Real Solution is to Reduce Oil Demand

    We need a replacement for cars. The transition away from cars can be accomplished by halting the growth of sprawl and roads, and greatly increasing the supply of trains and walkable communities connected to the trains – where people can live comfortably without dependence on a car. Walking and riding trains and bicycles are the replacement for cars. Communities need to be reconfigured to the scale and comfort of the pedestrian….

    10 solutions that are feasible, sustainable, & safe:

    1. A permanent moratorium on all new major road construction and expansions. Every additional dollar spent building and widening roads digs us deeper into our dangerous oil / auto addiction, and increases global warming….

    3. A permanent moratorium on the building of any additional sprawl. Sprawl is probably the single largest contributor to oil addiction and global warming due to it’s very design (or lack of). Sprawl forces everyone to drive many miles daily for everything, which in turn requires constant road expansions, encouraging more cars and driving, and more sprawl. Its a vicious cycle consuming ever more oil, and spewing out more pollution, making global warming continually worse…
    The real solution is to stop making cars altogether by a phased retooling of the auto industry into manufacturing trains, wind turbines, and solar panels (much like during the second world war when they switched to building military equipment)….

    6. A moratorium on new airport construction and expansions, as well as an end to aviation subsidies.

    7. A moratorium on the construction of any new coal fired or nuclear power generating plants. Contrary to industry proponents who say nuclear is a “clean energy” solution to global warming – nuclear power is far from clean. The waste it produces is the most toxic substance known to humankind, remaining deadly radioactive for many thousands of years, with no safe way to store or dispose of it, and no way of preventing it from being made into weapons.”

    Is this not a proper description of the goals and aspirations of New Urbanism? If so, you must be a member of New Urbanism-lite.

    • This is a matter of perspective, in many ways. You assert that New Urbanism is anti-car; I assert that current development (so-called) has fetishized the car, making it completely indispensable to everyday life. Such should not be. The ideals of New Urbanism seek to discipline the automobile to serve human needs, rather than be dominated by the car. The problems associated with our current utter dependence on cars are many – environmental, security, social, and (I’d argue) aestetic.

      I do believe there is a place for automobile transport. However, the current system, which essentially forces one to drive everywhere, is completely unsustainable. New Urbanism seeks a balance – part of that balance means stopping sprawl and designing communities that are less oil intensive. We don’t have to give up our cars – just use them less.

      The issue is sustainability. How do you propose making cars and roads sustainable if not through reduced use and well-planned walkable communities?

      Electrifying the car fleet doesn’t solve any problems either, as we don’t produce enough electricity to suddenly power so many vehicles and most of the electricity produced is from burning fossil fuels.

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