LET'S PUT PEOPLE FIRST.

Redefining a city that separated us

Josh Armstrong - Director, Downtown Evansville Economic Improvement District, Inc.

Josh Armstrong

Director, Downtown Evansville Economic Improvement District, Inc.

IDEABOARD Guest Contributor

812-773-3735

420 E Maryland St.

Evansville, IN 47711

agency@blackstrap.media

812-773-3735

420 E Maryland St.

Evansville, IN 47711

agency@blackstrap.media

lets put people first.jpg

Let's Put People First

In 2016, the Downtown Alliance with the support of the City of Evansville, Indiana, selected Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA) to create Downtown Evansville’s first Master Plan since 2001. The last few years have seen almost $400m in construction projects reshaping our central business district. While this construction boom is great, and hopefully continues a good while longer, I wanted to share a bit about the ‘why’ behind the Plan and honestly the ‘why’ behind what I do.

Let's put people first.

I’m Josh Armstrong, and I’ve lived in Evansville, Indiana, since 2005 and here is something I’ve learned while here: people are nothing without their fellows. Spiritually, emotionally, financially, bodily…we cannot do anything on our own. But Evansville (like numerous other communities) built a city that separates us from our fellows. When I first began working Downtown, I was buoyed by running into dozens of people I knew daily; random, spontaneous, serendipitous interactions ranging from nods to conversations. I realized that this is the magic of an urban neighborhood: constant fellowship. 

PUMA, myself and some local partners were working on the Plan when we came into the office on November 14, 2015. The nightclub attack in Paris occurred the evening before. We saw later that day hundreds-of-thousands of Parisians and tourists in Paris go out and reclaim their streets. The physical act of humans being in public spaces was the first step in the great city coming to terms with the tragedy and beginning the process of resolution and healing for those spared bullets on that night. We talked for a bit about what we would do in Evansville, how we would begin to recover. One of our team said “we would probably meet in a Walmart parking lot.” I didn’t think they were too far off.

Let's put people first.

The Master Plan was drafted to put the people onto the streets and sidewalks, and that buildings will follow. Previous plans always started with the building project, predicting that this or that project (arena, heliport, luxury hotel, canals) would bring the people. The thing is that this type of ‘silver bullet’ thinking doesn’t hold true. There is no one project that is going to ‘change’ a community; rather, a series and collection of people who then develop a series of projects or buildings is the only way to affect long-term change in a neighborhood or city.

The Master Plan posited four people-oriented ideas: a bustling Main Street; the NoCo Makers District; public space amenity improvements and enhancements to the riverfront. Some of these take longer than others to achieve. That said, it is hard to argue with the outcomes. Since the Plan was released in 2016, Downtown Evansville created an Economic Improvement District (each property owner has the same ‘vote’ as any other). Nine restaurants have opened, with two under construction. Two churches have moved to the area. Two bars have opened with two more under construction. The Doubletree by Hilton opened and two other hotels are under construction. 171 units of housing have been developed and occupied, with another 144 apartments beginning construction in August, 2018. A beloved playground will be moved and expanded this September. The Indiana University School of Medicine campus opens in August. But more importantly, a trip to Downtown today differs from one three years ago by the numbers of folks walking between our four new coffee houses or our new employers which run the gamut from a sole practitioner to the local office of a Fortune-Five firm. And every recreational amenity, job, apartment or consumer opportunity brings more people into Downtown Evansville. 

"When I first began working Downtown, I was buoyed by running into dozens of people I knew daily; random, spontaneous, serendipitous interactions ranging from nods to conversations. I realized that this is the magic of an urban neighborhood: constant fellowship."

We need your help to continue our people-first development. The Post House apartments will soon be under construction with an open-to-the-public linear park running through the center of the project, but we need more opportunities for people to experience the constant fellowship of an urban neighborhood. You can help by advocating for public expenditures along Riverside Drive to create more space for pedestrians. You can help by pushing for the Park on Main and Fourth to be redeveloped as a space for people. And you can help by shopping, dining, working or living in Downtown Evansville if you have the opportunity. If you can’t afford to do these things, please just come on down and walk around our beautiful neighborhood. You very well may see me out and about, experiencing the personal and community growth that I see happen every day as a result of being so close to my fellows.