George Kessler - Landscape Architect - Master City Planner of Indianapolis
More than one hundred years before the concept of ‘global warming’ was ever considered, decades before ‘greenways’ were at the top of city wish lists for Quality of Life improvements, and long before obesity was a major health issue in the United States: 26 cities in the United States hired the preeminent planner of Ideal American Cities to design Park & Boulevard Systems. The city leaders hired George E. Kessler.
Not mere parallel strips of green space along rivers and creeks; these systems were multi-functional---designed for recreation, transportation, conservation, health, socializing and flood control within the residential districts of a city. And they went beyond functional to become works of art; expressing the unique character and identity of each city in its natural environment.
Kansas City, MO; Denver, CO, and Cincinnati, OH are some of the cities that invested in their future a century ago by hiring and implementing Kessler Plans. In Indiana, the cities of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Terre Haute are beneficiaries of his botany/design/engineering trained hand. Underscoring the importance of these designed city plans, the Indianapolis Park and Boulevard System Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Fort Wayne’s system was first articulated in the Fort Wayne Multiple Property Cover Document: The Civilizing of a Midwestern City: The Park & Boulevard System in Fort Wayne Indiana: A Plan for the Ideal Development of Transportation, Parks, and Residential Development. That document was followed by the successful nomination of the Fort Wayne Park & Boulevard System to the National Register in 2010. Both systems were determined to be of national significance.
The designed system includes large parks, and then adds more parkland in the neighborhoods via parkways along riverine corridors. Extending the perception of parkland and green space even further along the parkway drives; parkings, now called tree lawns, separate motorized traffic from pedestrians. The parkways in turn are linked via beautiful boulevards around the circumference of the city and serve as the lines of communication to and from the suburbs to the center of the city. Functioning as a system, the parks, parkways and boulevards enable access to all sides of the city and to the central business district.
George Kessler’s plans for a city enabled the tenet of “Sound Mind, Sound Body,” inherent from his German roots, to be realized. Today that concept is supported by scientific research showing the value of exercise, being in Nature, and more so, an aesthetically pleasing natural surrounding as the means and way to physical and emotional well-being. His plan has allowed the development of an extensive ‘greenway’ trail system throughout central Indianapolis and has afforded the opportunity for health-minded residents and visitors to partake of the natural surroundings in their quest for a healthy body and mind while being in the central core of the city. In addition, his parkways and parks have conserved the natural environment within the city limits offering a pleasant venue for flora, fauna and humans alike.
Indianapolis’ park & boulevard system combines the existing natural landforms of Central Indiana with the c1820 purposeful locating of the Capitol City in the middle of the state at the confluence of Fall Creek and White River. These land forms are the result of the glaciers that covered and then retreated northeasterly more than 10,000 years ago. The drainage system from the glaciers ran southwesterly both in Marion County and the lower two-thirds of the state, eventually draining into the Wabash and Ohio Rivers before joining the Mississippi River and the Gulf of New Mexico. Within the Ohio River Watershed, Indianapolis is located in the White River Watershed. It is composed of lesser watersheds that include Fall Creek, Pogues Run, Pleasant Run and Eagle Creek. Because of the glacial drainage pattern, these stream corridors radiate like fingers on a hand from the White River. Kessler’s system has been described as the Green Velvet Glove that embraces the city and its people as a result of this configuration.
More than twenty years ago, city and neighborhood leaders together with the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, began the public process of identifying stream corridors in Marion County, Indiana that could be developed into a greenway trail system or kept as conservation corridors for the protection of the natural habitat. Fortunately, much of the Kessler Plan park and parkway open green spaces were still in the public domain. Having Kessler’s plan in hand facilitated and enabled the trail system locations to be quickly identified. Development and construction of the greenway system, though, is still being done today. In 2012, 2.9 miles of Eagle Creek Trail, 9.15 miles of Fall Creek Trail, 6.9 Miles of Pleasant Run Trail, .3 miles of Pogues Run Trail, and 7.3 miles of the White River Trail have been completed. Additionally, the Pleasant Run Trail and the White River Trail have been designated National Recreation Trails by the National Park Service.
Today, the city and local leaders including Eli Lilly Company and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. have initiated a project to revitalize, acknowledge, and protect these historic stream corridors. That effort is called Reconnecting Our Waterways (ROW).