Legacy Lands | Protopian Futures Reconciliation, Reclamation, and Reconstruction in Indianapolis

Practices of extraction, exclusion, discrimination, and devaluation are common to most historically Black American neighborhoods in the United States. While all suffered from periods of deep and intentional disinvestment, some managed to maintain their Black identity through the preservation and retention of Black places, spaces, businesses, and a community of prideful Black residents. However, far too many are only known through the artifacts of photographs, slum clearance maps, a small collection of preserved buildings, deep land vacancy or anecdotal “I remember when” stories fondly told by former residents of the neighborhood that once was. If we are to advance a more inclusive and just urban redevelopment agenda – one that does extend the practice of displacement – we must acknowledge that these Black neighborhoods and the legacy of their land histories, hold a heritage that must inform the possibilities for its future cultural restoration, development, and liberation (ownership).

Legacy Lands | Protopian Futures is a multi-disciplinary design studio at the Harvard Graduate School of Design that will imagine the future possibilities for the historic Indiana Avenue neighborhoods if racial segregation, eminent domain, and slum clearance policies had not disrupted the thriving Black communities of Ransom Place, Fayette Street and Pat’s Bottom (and potentially the consideration of preceding native American land settlements). How might we imagine the 21st century Black American neighborhood if its cultural heritage of productive innovation and entrepreneurship had not been erased, but instead was allowed to thrive and influence new forms of architecture, public space, and public policy? The studio will develop design concepts by experimenting with a protopian approach (a non-linear pathway to a wider range of possibilities using alternate timelines weaved into a multiplicity of beautiful futures) rather than a utopian approach (a linear path using a single timeline to produce a single ideal future) in order to unlock the unrealized potential of centering Black cultural production, innovation, and entrepreneurship as the influence for the design of the build environment.

The studio will examine the existing conditions of the broader Indiana Avenue area legacy lands, historic cultural narratives, and timelines of development, in order to propose new futures based on alternative trajectories of just and racially equitable development policy and inclusive spatial practice including culturally informed architecture, landscape architecture and urban design. Student will have the opportunity to rewrite public policy, propose new architectures and public spaces in ways that celebrate and amplify the cultural practices and contributions of Black Americans (and potentially Native Americans).

The studio will travel to Indianapolis to conduct field research and engage with members of the community to both share research, gain knowledge from local community experts, and collaborate on ideas. We invite our studio sponsors and select members of the community to travel to the GSD to attend mid-semester and final reviews of the student’s work. The studio will be documented in a final publication that might serve as a tool to guide the future work of the Indiana Avenue community and its partners.