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Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v07n07)
Letters to the Editor - Clarke Kahlo
posted: Apr. 02, 2010

Note to our readers: Letters to the Editor are the opinions of our readers and not necessarily those of this paper.

In 2008, the city planners and the Broad Ripple Village Association began a visioning process for the area, entitled Envision Broad Ripple (EBR). This was occasioned by Mayor Ballard's criticism of Broad Ripple's constant clamoring for multiple city services and the subsequent decision to prepare yet another land use plan for Broad Ripple. About 17 meetings have been conducted over about as many months. Many ideas have been generated, including many big ideas. Participants have been exhorted to "think big"
One recent EBR meeting report document (7-15-09) includes an assertion by one of the breakout groups that "There needs to be a Broad Ripple yacht club dock on the river".
A previous document (3-11-09) contained a general recommendation from a breakout group to "activate the riverfront". It included a suggestion to build a riverwalk along the scant remaining greenspace along the river between the Monon Trail and Broad Ripple Park, and a suggestion to "build a restaurant between the riverwalk and the White River. . . " These ideas, if implemented, would consume what little is left of green/open space.
At an "Inspiring Places" event of the Indianapolis Spirit and Place Civic Festival last November, local storyteller Bob Sander read from his piece entitled Breaking Silence. Eighty-nine year old Dorothy offered the following counsel:
"People move in here and they think, 'Why, we could just build a little boat dock or a deck or something, right below, down there by the river'. Well I tell 'em the best advice I ever got, which was from an old woman who lived here when we first moved in, namely: Don't go putting anything down there by the river. It'll just get swept away. Nature's gonna have her way."
Dorothy was right-- floodwaters do an efficient job of removing man-made structures, especially at riverbends.
Some Broad Ripple promoters assert that we need to "activate the river". But they don't want to see that the river is already "activated". Its riparian zone has been filled and paved with reckless abandon. All of the few key remaining undeveloped river tracts from 20 years ago have now been developed with intense commercial uses, thanks to the lack of vision of the political political-powers-that-were and the insatiable appetite for growth of the commercially-driven BRVA.
White River needs no further development, public infrastructure (except for a rebuilt waterworks feeder dam) or unnecessary adornment, amenity or "activation". As
Edward Abbey wrote in his Down the River: "Leave them in peace. Let them be. Efface yourself, for a change, and let the wild things be. .... Let being be."
The river and its thin screen of undergrowth and trees now provide welcome refuge and a modest feeling solitude for nature lovers, boaters and fishermen. Yet earlier this year, at the urging of the BRVA, the City's Department of Public Works removed much of this soil-holding vegetative screen along Broad Ripple Avenue to "open up the view", primarily for motorists. Sadly, the persistent commercial interests always seem to hold sway whenever there is a choice between commerce or preserving the natural fabric.
Even the Central Indiana Community Foundation's Brian Payne proclaimed in his essay in the 2009 Spirit and Place Festival program guide, "It's ridiculous that the (Broad Ripple) Park fronts on White River, and yet the river is a missing element in the visitors' experience." Actually, the park connects with the river in several direct ways, and the banks are already eroded and bare enough. Yet some apparently still argue that the riverbanks should be cleared of vegetation in order to maximize the visibility of the river. Those of us who, in years past, have volunteered with the Parks Department to plant trees and shrubs on the riverbank upstream of the boat ramp to reduce erosion and encourage wildlife would reject with the proposition that an open vista should trump all other needs.
In 1996 and 1997 central Indiana's White River was designated as one of North America's most threatened river s by American Rivers, due in principal part, to unrestrained development encroachment on riparian greenbelts. We should seek to save what remains of the natural fabric of the river instead of mindlessly cutting it out.
Edward Abbey also once famously quipped about "big ideas" which seems apropos to our current situation in which our scant remaining natural lands are endangered by too much "creative thinking". "Big ideas can be dangerous. I'd rather have a man come at me with an ax than a big idea." Let's hope the "yacht club dock" idea and other potential expensive, greenspace-destroying boondoggles are duly dispatched to the dustbin of creative history.
- Clarke Kahlo
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