How This Small ‘Do-Tank’ Brought Sustainability To Indianapolis
A three-person non-profit has managed to make a big difference in environmentalism in a Midwestern city.
When Indianapolis native Michael Bricker and his previous partner Maryanne O’Malley started People for Urban Progress (PUP) in 2008, they knew a company that rescues and redesigns discarded materials could meet some resistance in a Midwestern city. But Bricker says he has since realized that Indianapolis is a community that welcomes innovative, green-thinking projects.
PUP’s first task was an ongoing project to repurpose 13 acres of white fabric from the RCA dome, where the Colts played until 2007. In 2012, PUP repurposed five miles of signage from Super Bowl XLVI. From both of these projects, PUP continues to produce wearable products such as bags, wallets and beach bags.
“It’s about how to match the need to the resource,” Bricker said to PSFK. “The need was getting it out to the public. It’s about matching those needs with existing resources and hacking those resources and figuring out a way to post-modernize those resources so we can do what we want with them.”
The publicity PUP received from their first project helped them to gain attention in the community; About two years after starting PUP, Indianapolis residents understood the need for and value of repurposing projects. The organization developed 1,000 products for the Colts stadium project and garnered 70,000 dollars from community members. Half of this money paid designers to make the products and the other half funded community shade structures and pavilions.
Bricker is excited that the company is helping Indianapolis residents to understand that the places and products they love don’t have to disappear with changing times.
“Some cities in the Midwest are slightly behind when it comes to implementing sustainable practices,” he explained. “But that’s starting to change. We focus on developing tangible, physical physical products that showcase the impact of sustainable thinking and action. We take materials and resources that people already love and give them a second life. We’re hacking, changing and redesigning our city using the resources it already has.”
Since its inception six years ago, PUP remains a small company with only three employees; Bricker, his sister Jessica who is director of design and fabrication, and Jonathan Allinson the director of operations and development. The team of three contact local companies to partner on projects, and unlike most non-profits, partner financially with those companies as well.
Bicker is perhaps most proud of PUP’s efforts with Indianapolis entertainment staple, Old City Hall, which was built in 1909 and had been sitting vacant for several years. In 2013, Adam Thies, the Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, approached Bricker to become part of the city’s PLAN 2020. PUP helped repurpose lockers, cubicle panels, shelves and ceiling tiles throughout the building. The building, now called The Hall, is open as a multi-purpose space featuring a conference room, a hangout room and five small galleries for city planning.
“It is truly one of the only spaces in the country that functions this way and represents a great partnership between the city, the public, a local foundation and a local non-profit,” Bricker told us.
Another of PUP’s recent collaborations was a partnership with IndyGo transit to repurpose Indianapolis’ Bush stadium seats into bus stop benches. Bricker says PUP has had the most success in these partnerships because of the team’s willingness to contact a company when they think a project could benefit both of them.
“We just reach out to people directly,” he says. “We put our own skin in the game by partially funding many of our projects. Partners, collaborations and local foundations help bridge the gap. That goes a long way. We’re asking to partner and we’re telling them that we’re going to fund part of it. That goes a long way. Our whole approach is to ask, ‘How can we help them solve the problem rather than complain about it? The more we put these projects out in the city, the more people kind of get it. Design can be accessible. Ideas can be tangible.”