Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Creating Places: SoBro master plan musings

We learned Monday that Urban Design Associates, a Pittsburgh-based urban design firm, will lead a team of local companies the Nashville Convention Center Authority has selected to assist in the development of the SoBro Strategic Master Plan.

I'll have more on UDA soon, but I will begin with a few recommendations as to improving SoBro and that might be incorporated into the master plan.

1. (To Metro Public Works officials): Modify Peabody Street from Fourth Avenue on the east to Seventh Avenue on the west. This segment of the street either needs widening (a possibly expensive proposition, admittedly) or should be converted to one way. With the vastly altered KVB only one block to the north, having a street this dysfunctional and so close to what will be a major urban boulevard once it opens seems contradictory — and jarring. 

2. (To NES officials): Enlist the opinion of the Nashville Civic Design Center before you skin your substation building located at Sixth and KVB. Gary Gaston and his team "get it." They will know the right materials, forms, color scheme, etc., to give your building a cool exterior vibe. 

3. (To MDHA Design Review Committee members): Don't meddle with the design Tony Giarratana has for his proposed residential high-rise SoBro. The good folks at Loewenberg Architects know what they're doing. Trust them.

4. (To public works officials, once more): If you are eventually going to place "SoBro" banners on the district's utility poles, please don't do so unless you use two cross arms per one pole. Having a banner affixed to an upper bar and a lower eyelet will not keep that banner secured — as has been glaringly proven with the banners in The Gulch and along the Demonbreun Viaduct.


  1. The "side" street issue needs to be addressed before... not after the KVB opens. I agree with the Peabody alignment... but also, Metro needs to be working NOW on the crook in Lea Avenue.

    Note to Metro Officials: Listen to these comments and especially listen to the experts in urban design. Learn your lessons from the land rush that occurred in SoBro before Metro finally decided to buy land in that area... and jacked-up the price of land by 100-150%.

  2. My suggestion... think of SoBro as an extension of downtown not competing with it. Don't use up the land with lowrise buildings that take up too much land. Don't concentrate everything into one area. Use the entire area for the river over to 8th Ave S and from Broadway up to the interstate. Include urban parks. Create sufficiently sized sidewalks that aren't easily obstructed by light posts. Don't limit designs and materials of the buildings to be built. Challenge architects to think completely out of the box - no cookie cutter buildings. NO HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS. Incorporate retail, entertainment and restaurants into the area. NO SURFACE PARKING LOTS!!!

  3. AMous,

    Agreed on Lea. Strong point.

    PTalk4, as much as I dislike surface parking I think we'll still see some as SoBro unfolds. But let's hope whatever surface parking we get is sited behind the buildings. A nice example of this is the Hampton at Fourth and KVB. Most of the parking is underground, with the surface lot small and unobtrusive. I can be comfortable with that model. But, yes, ideally we would have no surface lots.


  4. SOBRO needs to be all about suppoting the convention center. It will be 2 million square feet. There will be thousands of people in SOBRO, seven days a week. So what are they going to do when events are not in session at the MCC? Not hanging out in a park, pillowtalk. Those thousands of visitors will be spending money!!! And, broadway and 2nd ave is going to run out of room...think how crowded it gets now on the weekends with just locals.

    When people go to conventions, they want entertainment. That's why the best convention cities are Vegas, Orlando, and New Orleans. So expand the entertainment district and let Nashville be the hottest spot in the US for shows. Retail, restaurants, hotels, and things for those expense accounts to go crazy. We need to capture as much tax dollars as possible. We got to pay for that thing! Not too mention, creating hundreds if not thousands of jobs.

  5. Nashnative, you may (or may not) have misinterpreted my statement on urban parks. I am by no means suggesting a Centennial style or Bicentennial style park. I am suggesting small green spaces that help to achieve a bit of airiness. Like buildings that have plazas, they tend to keep the area around them from feeling dreary and closed off. The trend today is to achieve that by creating small intimate green spaces that also serve as a park. But I wouldn't rule out a city type park that takes up one whole block. I just returned from a trip to Philly and noticed that both locals and tourist enjoyed this one park in their downtown that is surrounded by hotels, businesses of various types, apartments, townhomes, condos and office buildings. On certain nights they have entertainment, there were several "park" musicians" freely entertaining the people gathered, something that would work for Music City. You even saw people dancing. On the weekend there was a small farmers market and flea market that surrounded the park. It was fantastic to see locals and tourist blend in perfectly enjoy this park and the vibe of Philadelphia. Another wonderful example of a city park is Union Square in San Francisco. Again it's one square block and in this case it is surrounded by some of the best shopping in San Francisco, plenty of restaurants and nearby entertainment.

    I couldn't agree with you more in that Nashville needs to create an environment that is condusive to convention goers at the end of their day. A small park helps those who want to wind down for a moment, do some people watching then go shop, eat, dance, laugh, etc. while creating jobs and contributing to Nashville's tax dollars.