Want to play 20 questionsactually, more like 100 questionsabout the future look of our city? The Nashville Civic Design Center (NCDC) has just the game for you. On Saturday morning at the Nashville Convention Center, NCDC is staging a citizen summit on a new vision for the urban core and surrounding neighborhoods.
Called the “Plan of Nashville,” this highly ambitious, community-based vision will paint a picture of how the urban areas of Nashville should look and work. It will also establish principles of urban design to guide the area’s future.
After an opening pep talk by Mayor Bill Purcell and a brief explanation of the planning to date by NCDC design director Mark Schimmenti, the summit will take the form of a survey. NCDC staff will ask the public to answer questions on 10 topics, ranging from what to do with the Cumberland riverfrontgreenways? marina?to how to get more residents into downtown. Schimmenti will demonstrate principles of urban design that apply to each topicwhy narrowing streets can help make them more pedestrian-friendly, for exampleto help participants frame their responses. Then each citizen will mark his or her scorecards.
The topics of the survey are rooted in themes that have emerged from a six-month series of public workshops NCDC conducted. Last fall, design center staff divided the entire study areadowntown and framing neighborhoodsinto 10 districts. Each was assigned a pair of design leaders from a pool of volunteers: local designers, planners and developers. The teams held community meetings in each district that focused on existing conditions. They asked residents, business and property ownersand anyone else who showed upto explain what was good about the district and what wasn’t, where they took visitors and what places they avoided.
In February, team leaders returned to their districts for another workshop, this time asking participants to imagine the futures of their districts. As they gathered around tables covered with maps, they drew new bridges over the river, buried the interstate and sketched a home for boats on the East Bank. They placed mixed-use structures next to the stadium and a black history museum on Jefferson Street. They renamed North Nashville “The River District” because the area is inscribed by the arc of the Cumberland. Dickerson Road was turned into “Dickerson Village.”
In all the workshops, according to NCDC design assistant Gary Gaston, certain themes were mentioned again and again:
♦ The Cumberland River is a major and under-exploited amenity. The scrap yards and industry should be moved away, and the real estate should be redeveloped for recreation and living space.
♦ The parts of the city don’t connect well. The downtown grid should be repaired. Interstate barriers between downtown and the neighborhoods should be lessened. Gateways into the city and civic gathering places, linked by beautiful and usable streetsfor pedestrians and bikers as well as for carsshould be created.
♦ Convenient and efficient mass transit is a top priority. More road capacity for cars is not.
♦ Moremuch moredowntown housing is needed.
♦ The gaps downtown made by surface parking should be filled in.
♦ The East Bank needs major redevelopment. A majority prefers new neighborhoods and greenways.
♦ Home ownership in neighborhoods with high percentages of rental housing should be promoted.
♦ An infusion of public art into downtown and the urban neighborhoods is needed.
Inevitably, with hundreds of people thinking outside the box and all over the map, conflicting suggestions arose. Many thought a system of linear parks along the Cumberland was a top green priority. Others preferred more neighborhood parks linked by green boulevards. Some favored the thermal plant site for a new baseball stadium, but locations on the East Bank or a return to Sulphur Dell north of the State Capitol, where baseball originated in Nashville, also drew support. Where to place a new convention centerif we decide we need oneproduced several suggestions, including the northern end of the Gulch, the East Bank and the wedge of land at the intersection of Lafayette Street and Eighth Avenue, where the old Sears building (now Union Rescue Mission) stands.
The summit is not designed to resolve the finer differences of opinion. Rather, “It’s the first opportunity for people from all 10 districts to come together, react to all the different visions and build some consensus on how we should proceed,” Gaston says. “At the summit, we’ll put all 45 maps generated in the workshops on the walls and all the ideas on the table, and ask the citizens as a whole to sift through the possibilities, narrow the options and establish priorities.”
Then the design team leaders and NCDC staff will take the survey results and distill the 45 maps into five. One map will cover downtown, and the four others will cover the surrounding quadrants. These maps will be presented at the May 17 meeting of the Nashville Urban Design Forum for further public comment.
By the end of the summer, Schimmenti and his crew plan to have one big map, with accompanying design guidelines and policy recommendations, to present to the public as the official Plan of Nashville. The design center, with the assistance of Vanderbilt University, will publish the plan in book form in the spring of 2004 to mark the third anniversary of the founding of NCDC.
At that point, the design center will develop action groups to implement the plan in collaboration with other civic institutions. The public art aspect of the plan, for example, is a natural for the Metro Arts Commission. And the Nashville Downtown Partnership would be a logical key player in the economic revitalization of downtown. The point of the plan is to integrate the efforts of these groups into a coherent program.
Another purpose of the plan is to give us something to test and measure individual projects against. What if someone suggests the construction of a skyscraper on a site that the plan had designated as a park? Or what if someone wanted to build a downtown school that would impede a sightline to a major monument? By comparing proposal to plan, Nashvillians will be able to see what they’d be giving up in the future, not just in the present.
“Right now in Nashville, when a project is proposed for a certain sitea courthouse or a ballpark or a convention centerall we know we’re giving up is what’s there now: the thermal plant, surface parking,” Schimmenti told the Scene at the plan’s inception. “All outside investors have to go on is the way we are. We all know that Nashville can be great. But we don’t have a vision of what form that greatness can take.” The Plan of Nashvilleby the citizens and for the citizenswill be our blueprint.
The Plan of Nashville summit takes place this Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in room 204 of the Nashville Convention Center.
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