When Indianapolis is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the Indianapolis 500, one of the most famous car races in the United States, if not the world. But as I found out this week, there’s a whole different – and more sustainable – side of the city as well.
Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about coming here. I’ve gone to Mount Rushmore and Disney for work, so Indianapolis didn’t seem like much of anything to get excited about. (Although taking a lap on the famed track in a plug-in hybrid electric Volt was very cool, even though I wasn’t driving.)
Thankfully, the city surprised me. Popping out of our hotel for a run, I discovered that we backed up to an entire state park. I could see a path along the canal from the hotel window, but had no idea how much public space there was. The White River State Park is the home of the Indianapolis Zoo, the Indiana State Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum, baseball stadium Victory Field, and oddly, the NCAA’s Hall of Champions Museum.
But as excited as I am by museums – seriously, giant nerd here – I was much more interested in being outdoors. It was a beautiful evening, near cloudless and 80 degrees with little humidity, a welcome relief from the soup at home. In Indianapolis, the summer sun sets close to 9 PM, due to being just before the border of the Eastern and Central time zones. Fortunately, there was plenty to see outside. On my way out, I spotted the Slow Food Garden, dedicated to growing and educating the public on local food. Rainbow chard, carrots, and garlic, along with many other vegetables, filled the small space with green.
To complete the picture, right next to it was a bicycle rental shop. The prices were quite high for $8 an hour, but $20 for the day seemed pretty reasonable. If I had more time to tour the city, I would have definitely thought about renting a bike. Then, as I ran along the canal, I saw BikePorts for those with their own bikes. In addition to the normal bike racks, these also had lockers, which I’ve never seen outside of Metro stops.
On the way back to the hotel, I ran over a huge pedestrian bridge connecting a park with the Zoo. It was decorated with intriguing modern sculptures made by Indiana artists. I didn’t know this at the time, but these sculptures are actually for sale, supporting the modern art scene. (Writer’s note: I edited the previous sentence to replace “local art scene” with “modern art scene,” as the artist herself of Jet Stream pointed out to me that she is from Chicago, not Indianapolis.) My favorite was Jet Stream, a steel sculpture with a graceful, serpentine slice of metal. Despite the material, it had a lightness to it, appropriate to its title. Off in the distance, I also spotted an extensive stage for concerts. And of course, there was the canal path itself. It was nice and wide, well-paved, shaded by trees, with plenty of space for both bicyclists and pedestrians. It stretches from the beginning of the park, along the Purdue University campus, far north until it connects with another canal trail. However, I certainly didn’t run that far!
Besides the State Park, the other pleasant surprise was Indianapolis’ food. I know you can’t judge a city’s food scene on a hotel’s offerings, but the hotel served the best conference food I’ve ever had. They even had healthy breakfast options, like a fruit and yogurt parfait. The one night we went out, we found a funky, pan-Asian small plates restaurant with excellent sushi. Who would have thought that we’d find good seafood in the Midwest? As we walked there, about a mile from the hotel, I noted that the city had very wide streets like D.C. In fact, they seemed perfect for carving out bike lanes.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in Indianapolis more than I expected. I don’t know if I would return to visit as a tourist, but it seems like it would be a great place to live. And in the end, that’s the important part.