This article is part of our “This is Nashville” series, where we are highlighting companies and people who are working hard to embrace and protect attributes that define our Music City spirit: entrepreneurial, creative, friendly, quirky, charitable, forward-thinking and neighborly. It’s Nashville’s amazing people — as individuals or collectively as companies — who make us happy and proud to call Music City home. By featuring these people and businesses, it’s our small way of saying, “Thank you!”

Nashville Civic Design Center

Nashville is an amazing, vibrant city exploding with growth. With so many cranes found on our current city skyline, one has to wonder how much of this construction will beautify our city, make it more functional and elevate the quality of our built environment? Surely there is some of our city’s growth that meets these intentions, but it’s hardly the core purpose of most of it. However, that is the entire purpose of all projects imagined by the Nashville Civic Design Center.

Founded in 2000, the Nashville Civic Design Center (NCDC) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to elevate the quality of Nashville’s built environment and to promote public participation in the creation of a more beautiful and functional city for all.” — NCDC’s mission statement

With this mission in mind, NCDC promotes and supports the 10 principles of The Plan of Nashville. If you are not familiar with this plan, here is a visual:

Nashville Civic Design Center

Directly supporting the second principle above, to “Treat the Cumberland River as central to Nashville’s identity – an asset to be treasured and enjoyed,” the NCDC recently released a stunning design that connects both Memorial and Victory bridges across the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville called Victory Memorial Bridge Park. With the revitalization and development of the riverfront, a project such as this would benefit tourists and residents alike while adding a public green space that connects two sides of Nashville and excites our imaginations in ways similar to grand public art, while also adding much-needed green space to our concrete jungle.

Nashville Civic Design Center

It’s hard to stop staring at this, isn’t it? It’s magnificent. “Victory Memorial Bridge Park: Reimagining the Role of Pedestrian Connectivity and Public Space Over The Cumberland River” — NCDC

Nashville Civic Design Center

Here’s another perspective, looking from downtown to the east bank.

If this “capping” of the river by a public park sounds vaguely familiar to you, you may have heard about “highway capping,” another bold idea offered by NCDC that similarly connects neighborhoods, adds green space and creates additional land for events, concerts, etc. Nashville’s interstates create “interstate canyons,” which provide physical barriers between neighborhoods. By “capping” the interstate, neighborhoods are once again connected and in a beautiful fashion without disrupting the interstate below. Midtown would no longer be separated from downtown just because we have a huge interstate providing a physical pedestrian barrier. Wouldn’t that be amazing? There are currently similar structures in Dallas, St. Louis, Boston, Seattle and more.

See NCDC’s interstate capping proposal for Nashville here.

Nashville Civic Design Center

As part of Boston’s “The Big Dig” project, two sections of the city were joined using interstate capping methods. Now, this public space exists and pedestrian travel is possible. This same idea can be used to join Nashville neighborhoods and provide additional green space and event space to residents. Image:

Other bold projects have been proposed by NCDC. A personal favorite is the Alleyways of Nashville initiative as it inspires the city, yes, but also business owners, neighborhood associations and individuals alike. NCDC highlighted how alleyways around the globe have been reimagined in ways that require very little maintenance but make a large difference for the residents who enjoy them, adding another layer to neighborhood life to the alleyways downtown.

While many of NCDC’s ideas are lofty, they inspire. Their concepts are supposed to be a catalyst for change, ideas that bring people together and motivate the community. But, their ideas are not ones that need to be 100% implemented in order to see forward progress. An example of this is Bankers Alley. Here is the rendering that NCDC imagined:

Nashville Civic Design Center

Here is the way NCDC imagined transforming Banker’s Alley. This was before 21c Hotel bought the property. When 21c was shown this use case, they were able to imagine the alley as a pedestrian-friendly space, and that’s exactly what they created (see below). Image: NCDC

Nashville Civic Design Center

21c was able to imagine a better use of Banker’s Alley with the rendering from NCDC and added planters with growing plants, barriers for cars partway down the alley and entrances off the alley. This alleyway is now often utilized by pedestrians. Image: NCDC

Last year, we wrote about Alley 258, a wide, vehicle-friendly alley that runs parallel to Woodland and Main streets in East Nashville. Along with inspiration from NCDC, the creative minds at Pfeffer Torode envisioned this area being embraced as public space.

Abby Wheeler of development company Invent Communities and Jamie Pfeffer of Pfeffer Torode Architecture spearheaded the Alley 258 Pumpkin Carve event in 2017 in partnership with Carl Denton Designs (event planning & design), the Nashville Civic Design Center and neighbors of the alley. (See full article about this event here.) Image: Jordan & Alaina Photography

Another example of an envisioned alleyway that adds an element of creative genius to one of Nashville’s most treasured landmarks is a thoughtful redesign proposal of the current dumpster alley at The Ryman. When this alley is reimagined, it turns into a destination that will surely be a beacon for many visiting downtown.

Nashville Civic Design Center

The current state of the alley is bleak.

Nashville Civic Design Center

This creative, cleaned-up pathway between the strip of bars and the beloved Ryman would be loved and used by all.

To point out one more of the many projects that NCDC has envisioned, their plan for The Charlotte Avenue Healthy Corridor provides a 20-year plan to create a reimagined Charlotte Avenue that adds “a greenway and public transit, complemented by new urban architecture. The study presents a 20-year vision for high-density, mixed-use, transit-oriented development (TOD) that incorporates principles and best practices for a comprehensive health and wellness corridor.” As Charlotte Avenue has exploded in growth in the last few years, having this plan to imagine all that it could be inspires.

Nashville Civic Design Center

For everyone familiar with how Charlotte Avenue is expanding and growing, this sketch makes perfect sense. See more here.

While money is being given to large corporations to move here, we hope ideas like NCDC’s, which improve the quality of life for Nashville citizens and tourists alike, aren’t dismissed. We know that politics and government budgets are complicated and that there are plenty of other things that Nashville needs to address, but, we like to dream that big, innovative ideas like these might one day be a reality.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About the New Nashville Design Collective

When I asked Gary Gaston, CEO of NCDC, about where he hopes Nashville will be in 15 years as far as issues that NCDC is involved with, he said, “In 15 years, we will be able to see many more of our big-picture visionary projects implemented – such as the full impact of Cumberland Riverfront vision, including the blueway and community boathouse, East Bank redevelopment, new bridges, interstate capping examples, transit-oriented development and accompanying transit.”

For anyone reading who wants to know more or who wants to help out, Gary suggests, “Attend our events, become a member and/or sponsor, and volunteer with our Tactical Urbanism group to actively get involved in projects. We have a smartphone app that can help keep you informed with all we are doing. And, of course, visit our website and social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.” Gary also mentions that for our Nashville youth, the Design Your Neighborhood initiative is exciting. Find out more about that here.

Thank you, NCDC, for continuing to excite us about what Nashville’s built environment can achieve.

If you’d like to learn more, check out Nashville Civic Design Center HERE.


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