History of NCDC
The roots of the Nashville Civic Design Center lie in the Franklin Street Corridor. In the early 1990s, rumors of expansion to the Corridor traveled throughout the design and architectural community. Fearful that an expanded corridor would transect the downtown district, local opinion leaders began discussing ways to respond to the design with a single “voice.
Out of the informal Franklin Street Corridor group grew the Urban Design Forum (UDF), which remains at the core of the Nashville Civic Design Center’s programming. The Forum itself was organized in the mid-1990s. In 1995, members of the UDF contacted the University of Tennessee’s School of Architecture and Design to request an organized educational offering for the group. UT responded by sending Mark Schimmenti to teach weekend classes on urban design. The classes were offered on Saturdays and cost $150 per series. The last session of the first class series was a charrette on the proposed Franklin Street Corridor project. The class offerings would continue for more than three years, and more than 400 people would participate in them over that time period. The classes established a common language for Nashvillians regarding urban planning and design, as well as establishing credibility for the idea of civic design. Schimmenti would continue to play a vital role in the NCDC’s development and history.
In the late 1990s, Vanderbilt University’s VIPPS (Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies) program became involved with the UDF. During these years, the UDF was, according to the group’s founders, “about beer and fun, honest conversation.” In 1998, the UDF Advisory Committee was formed, thereby formalizing the group even more. As part of the UDF, professional moderators tried to critique proposed projects early in their development and to provide honest and productive feedback. During this period, Mark Schimenti invited architecture and design professors to Nashville to study the proposed SoBro district. Then-Mayor Phil Bredesen attended the project’s first charrette and encouraged the group to focus on the “fabric of the city as a whole.” The SoBro charrettes included public participation in the visioning of the district. The need for a civic design center in Middle Tennessee was heightened by the Peirce Report, published in the fall of 1999. The report, researched and written by Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson, was the result of group and individual interviews conducted in May and June of 1999. Peirce and Johnson talked to community residents and leaders from Davidson, Williamson, Sumner, Cheatham, Rutherford, Dickson, Montgomery, Wilson and Robertson counties about growth, development, transportation, land use and the character of Middle Tennessee. The report spurred the organization of a Regional Planning Summit, co-sponsored by Vanderbilt University and the Greater Nashville Regional Council. NCDC’s “sister” organization, Cumberland Region Tomorrow, was created as a direct result of the summit. Fortunately for the UDF, and what would become the NCDC, the Peirce Report engaged the public in reading about – and discussing – urban design.
In 1999, Bill Purcell was elected Mayor of Nashville. As a result of his tenure at VIPPS, Purcell was familiar with the Urban Design Forum and wanted to formalize the group into an organization. In late 1999, after his election, Purcell approached Kim Hawkins, a local landscape architect and founder of the UDF, about creating a local civic design center. Hawkins formed an ad hoc committee around the idea, and the committee consisted of four well-respected professionals in the local design and planning community: Christine Kreyling, a local planning and design writer and critic for the Nashville Scene; Ann Roberts, head of the Metropolitan Historical Commission; Seab Tuck, a nationally-known architect; and Kim herself. Together, the committee members interviewed 60 community representatives to gauge their feelings and opinions on urban planning and design in Nashville. The committee compiled the findings from their interviews into a report, and Hawkins submitted the report to Purcell.
Simultaneously, in the Fall of 1999, Mark Schimmenti and others made a presentation to the newly-elected Metro Council on neighborhoods and urban design. This presentation was a portion of the new Council’s formal training, thereby providing the concepts of urban planning and design more legitimacy in Nashville. As Purcell was reviewing the committee’s report, the committee members began looking at the structure of other design centers around the country. The group also created a Steering Committee that would eventually form the nucleus of the Center’s first Board of Directors.