TERRE HAUTE —
The man with the large, gray mustache and distinctly 1960s hair style extended a bright yellow tape measure across the road.
“Ten-foot lanes,” he said with a grin. “I like that.”
He is Dan Burden, an expert on turning car-centered communities into human-centered destinations where people want to walk, bike and live. He was measuring the width of a lane of North Seventh Street on the east side of the Indiana State University campus — a stretch of road with a grassy median, a bike path and lots of pedestrian crossings — in other words, an area that looks a lot like Burden’s vision for a good place to be.
After a walking tour of the downtown, Burden gave Terre Haute an “eight” on a 10-point scale for being the type of pedestrian-friendly city he likes to see.
“That’s very good,” Burden said, reflecting on the approximately 3,400 communities he has visited. “I rarely find ‘eights.’”
Burden was the keynote speaker Friday at the second Our Green Valley Conference at ISU sponsored by the Our Green Valley Alliance for Sustainability. His 45-minute talk included several before-and-after photographs of communities that have used his vision to transform themselves from bleak and uninviting into “walkable,” and “livable” communities.
According to Burden, most cities and towns are built around the automobile, meaning cars travel through them too fast and too much. It also means destinations, such as stores, are too far from where people live. That leaves residents unable or unwilling to walk or bike to stores, banks and other businesses.
“Until we build our towns for people, we will fail,” he said.
Burden’s general vision has been guiding much of what Terre Haute City Planner Pat Martin has been attempting to do for nearly 20 years. For example, Martin, mostly using federal and state grant money, has helped push the city toward a more robust trail system, including the Heritage Trail, the Indiana Mile, the Collett Park trail and more.
“It’s a daunting task,” Martin said of making Terre Haute a more biking and hiking community. It’s a real challenge to make these changes because the city is well over 150 years old, he said.
Burden also applauded the way ISU is moving more into the downtown, something he believes will eventually create a vibrant mix of people and investment opportunities for businesses. However, he urged new construction on Wabash Avenue to retain existing building facades and also said the city should bring back more two-way streets downtown.
“You’ve got to get rid of most of your one-way streets,” he said.
Another key to Burden’s vision is “connectedness” – bringing together key parts of a community. One idea currently in the works in Terre Haute is to use outdoor art to help connect the downtown to the Vigo County government center and to the Wabash River, Martin noted. That project is being planned by Wabash Valley Art Spaces Inc.
“What we’re doing is pretty big, actually,” said Mary Kramer, executive director of Art Spaces. It will also fit nicely with the type of “place” Burden believes will make Terre Haute a better one in which to live.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.