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.