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.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Creating Places: SoBro master plan musings Part II

As we learned last Monday, Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Associates  will lead a team of local companies (which the Nashville Convention Center Authority has selected) to assist in the development of a SoBro Strategic Master Plan. My previous post notes four recommendations as to improving SoBro. Here are a few more:

1. The intersection of Ash Street, Fourth Avenue South and Lafayette Street creates a small triangle of sorts. I cannot determine if a private entity owns the tiny parcel but I would think not. If Metro owns the land, it offers a prime spot for a piece of public art.

2. Lea Avenue. As my good friend (and frequent Urban Planet Nashville poster) Brett Withers notes, this east-west street creates a major challenge, as it angles at various points with no consistent connectivity to the north-south streets it crosses or T-intersects. In fact, from Tenth Avenue South on the west to Hermitage Avenue on the east, Lea is "broken" five times, likely rendering it SoBro's least functional street. That said, I would not want the street straightened, as that would require a cost (and perhaps substantial) for right-of-way acquisition. Some folks might desire the sharply angled Lea segment spanning Sixth and Fifth avenues to be closed. I would oppose that move, too. The reality is that Lea might have to remain essentially "as is" in terms of layout. However, I would like to see consideration of a smallish traffic circle where Lea crosses (at a slight angle) Third Avenue. A segment of the fire station land on the southeast corner could be used to accommodate the circle. With that move, Lea would a bit more effectively span Fifth on the west to Rutledge Street on the east. That alone would help. Perhaps some readers will have stronger recommendations. I would be curious to hear.

3. I feel Third Avenue South needs to be treated more like an actual street.  Given Second and Fifth avenues are one way north and Fourth and Sixth avenues are one-way south, I would hope Third would be kept a two-way street to maximize efficient traffic flow. But, instead of stop signs currently at its intersections, I would prefer to see traffic lights. With lights and a traffic circle (as noted above) at Lea, Third would begin to assume a more urban street form and function. This might spur some infill development. 

More to follow, including a look at Urban Design Associates.


  1. Driving down around the SOBRO/Lafayette area recently, I couldn't help but think this whole area is perfect for development in the next 10 years. And big time development. It seems like the potential property tax revenue gained from substantial infill in this area would more than justify the expense of fixing the street grid down there. And it also seems like a really wise long term decision for our downtown...

  2. Lea Avenue is a pain to drive on, but it is a great street for biking and walking. There is very little auto traffic and cyclists are not as dissuaded as motorists by dog legs and the other oddities you find on Lea. With the recent announcement of next steps for a bike/ped bridge connecting Sobro with the Gulch, I think it would be a great idea to turn the extent of Lea avenue into a "neighborhood greenway." On this type of street, car access is maintained, but barriers and intersection improvements are installed to discourage use of the street as through route for motorists while improving the experience for cyclists and pedestrians at hairy intersections. Since Lea avenue has great connectivity to the Rolling Mill Hill Greenway (which one assumes will eventually find a way under KVB through Thermal Plant Park to Riverfront Station), this would be a critical active transportation link between the Gulch and the heart of downtown Nashville. More info on neighborhood greenways here: