The Victory Memorial Bridge Park blog post was researched, written, and designed by Elizabeth Crimmins, NCDC Design Fellow. Elizabeth has been with NCDC since January 2019, and will be pursuing her Master’s in Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia this fall
With development along the Cumberland Riverfront on the horizon, it is imperative to consider how improvements to connectivity and public space can increase the quality of life in and around downtown Nashville. Throughout Nashville’s history, the Cumberland River has played the role as the epicenter of Nashville’s identity and evolution. It served as a means of transportation and survival in Nashville’s early Native American history, and later European settlements. “It was the river that was the initial lifeline to the rest of the world, connecting Nashville to the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers—and beyond.” (The Plan of Nashville: Avenues to a Great City). Throughout the early 1800s, the Cumberland continued to act as a key contributor to the economic development of Nashville, connecting the emerging city to major ports like New Orleans by steamboat. By the end of the 19th century, the Cumberland River was at the core of Nashville’s successful industrial economy.
In 1823, Lewis Wernwag, a bridge engineer and designer from Philadelphia, was hired to construct the first bridge spanning the Cumberland in Nashville. His design boasted a toll bridge where the present day Victory Memorial Bridge is located. To the relief of local Nashvillians, the toll bridge was replaced in 1851 in favor of a suspension bridge located one block upstream, where is now the Woodland Street Bridge. Today, the abutments of the Nashville Toll Bridge can still be seen from the bluffs on either side of the Cumberland. During its existence, the bridge acted as a major passageway across the river, including for the infamous Trail of Tears. The remains of the bridge continue to bear testament to the often-unrecognized tragedy. The present-day Victory Memorial Bridge was built in 1956 in honor of fallen World War II soldiers from Davidson County.
Left: Detail of an 1831 map of Nashville showing the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge crossing the Cumberland River at the northeast corner of Public Square. Right: View of Nashville Toll Bridge in an 1832 birds eye map by Matthew Rhea.
Photograph of people crossing the Woodland Street Bridge, 1855.
Site Plan and Analysis
The proposed park totals more than 1,000 feet long and 350 feet wide, thereby creating 350,000sq ft of new useable space. Extending west from Public Square, the park would provide for a signature public space connector while promoting more green space in the largely asphalt-covered East Bank. This location also presents an opportunity to continue development of the East Bank Greenway, and connectivity within the Music City Greenway.
The first section of Victory Memorial Bridge Park focuses on developing the East Bank through the creation of two mixed-use buildings with an outdoor plaza space that evokes Nashville’s industrial history and geography. The fountain within this plaza features the topographic lines of Nashville, creating a visual connection to the historical context of the Cumberland River and its reflection upon Nashville’s history. The park itself remains level at two stories tall, allowing the buildings to open up onto the park on the second floor. This area of the park is accessed by either the alleyway in the southeast corner, or a public elevator inside the building near the north end of the park. Cyclists can also enter the two-way cycle track at a nexus of Nashville’s transportation network which could include a BRT route along Dickerson Pike. A parking garage on this end of the bridge is located below the park, creating more parking than the current surface parking lot at this site. Developing this end of the park to have around 300,000 square feet of commercial and residential space will intend to integrate with future development along the East Bank. The new residential space, anchoring the east side of the park, could be a candidate for affordable and market rate housing. These new buildings can create a significant revenue source for the construction and continued maintenance of the park.
The second section of the park provides a fun, interactive space by providing a hammock grove, swings, and a lawn. The hammock grove will have some hammocks already in place while keeping several open trees for people who wish to bring their own. The lawn acts as an intentional flex space for community events such as movie nights and yoga classes. This interactive space also provides a transition into the rest of the park’s more playful elements.
The third section presents several kid- and pet-friendly attractions. The pet-friendly space will be programmed specifically for responsible pet ownership and socialization. The music garden generates a space for creativity with permanent outdoor musical instruments such as interactive sound sculptures, drums, a large harp, and even a performance area. Located south of the music garden, the sculpture playground allows for public art to become an immersive experience where climbing on the art is encouraged.
This section of the park emphasizes public art installations and nature education. The nature garden focuses on educating patrons on native Tennessee plants, animals, and water sources while offering a platform for sustainable living education. An outdoor classroom space allows for local schools to have field trips or for a group gathering space. The large light tunnel helps activate the park at night in addition to lighting along the pathways to create safety and strengthen visual appeal.
The final section is one of the more important portions of the park, as it maintains the axis of Public Square from War Memorial Plaza while transitioning from the geometric form of Public Square into the more organic shapes that define Victory Memorial Park. It begins by opening up to Public Square with a structured plaza. Connected to the plaza is an open area for existing tree canopy’s to emerge up from Gay St, and become part of the park. A winding suspended canopy pathway allows for patrons to wander among the treetops. The sunken amphitheater erects a formal performance or gathering space and connects to a dock that grants public access to the water.
Victory Memorial Bridge Park will not only enhance pedestrian and cyclist connectivity within and around Downtown Nashville but will be a landmark public space for the city. Utilizing the new infill on the Park’s east side also presents the opportunity to create nearly 350 new residential units, of which a substantial portion should be affordable. While literally bridging East Nashville and Downtown, the park responds to the significant proposed development along the East Bank. By reimagining the role of pedestrian connectivity and public space over water, this bridge park reconnects the people of Nashville with the Cumberland River in an innovative and immersive way.
References and Further Reading