Reclaiming Public Space

Reclaiming Public Space

Reclaiming Public Spaces is an initiative of the Nashville Civic Design Center aimed at improving the built environment for use by all people. This program is multifaceted in nature, including physical improvements to the public realm, the publication of materials like case studies and best practices, and the education of the Nashville community on how to create and sustain great public spaces. Over the course of two years, the NCDC hopes to elevate the conversation currently taking place in Nashville around public spaces, and to create real change within these spaces for the benefit of all Nashvillians.


“The best public spaces foster community, elevate quality of life, and connect us to our city, and, more importantly, to each other. Quality open space - whether a park, plaza, public building, or even a modest street bench - are the spaces that enable us to absorb our surroundings, to relax, eat lunch, meet a friend, experience nature, people-watch, find quiet in the cacophony, or even exercise. This is where our cities come alive and demonstrate their vitality, energy, culture, and local pride.

We all know what the word “public” means — open, free, accessible to all. But the best part of the definition is this: of and belonging to the people. Public space is for everyone, it belongs to each and every one of us, both literally and figuratively.

In the purest sense, quality public space instills in all of us a sense of belonging — that we belong to a larger community and in turn, that our city belongs to us. When the public realm is vibrant, beautiful, and active, it is a demonstration that the local government values its citizens and their quality of life. Alternatively, when the public realm is neglected, badly designed, or treated as an afterthought, it reflects poorly on the city, effectively sending a message that the government does not value its citizens or its visitors. Well-designed, beautiful public spaces have the power to restore a sense of dignity to our urban environment, enrich our civic life and foster a sense of ownership in local residents.

Each day, every one of us moves through public space, whether driving down the street, walking down the sidewalk, or sitting in a park.. When we as citizens take ownership of our public spaces and invest, we reap the benefits of a healthy, vibrant, energetic community. The challenge is how we articulate this value – to our neighbor, to our elected official, to our children. Cities are complex places, with diverse stakeholders who often have competing interests and goals. In order to tackle big problems, we must be optimistic. We must recognize the power of good design to positively impact our lives and our cities.”

(Excerpt from Reclaiming Public Space in Downtown Nashville, NCDC, March 2013)


Recent Projects

A New East Bank Neighborhood in Nashville Preview

A New East Bank Neighborhood in Nashville

During the Spring 2016 Semester, The Greater Nashville Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) requested the fourth year undergraduate Nashville Urban Design Studio to explore a proposal for a “New East Bank Neighborhood in Nashville.” The site is on the Cumberland River, just across from Downtown Nashville’s skyline. At the present time, despite its proximate location, it is an industrial wasteland: what urban theorist Alan Berger terms a Drosscape. The site is inherently bounded and constrained by the CSX mainline railroad embankment to the north, the elevated embankment of the I-65 interstate highway to the east, the Woodland Street embankment and extensive football stadium parking lots to the south, and the Cumberland River to the west. Nonetheless, with downtown Nashville’s extraordinary building boom ongoing, with no end in sight, this 55-acre location would seem ripe for urban redevelopment.

Having made proposals to redevelop “Spaghetti Junction” in 2012, once again studio faculty member T. K. Davis provided his students with a street and block urban design plan, asking them to develop the program and design of blocks as urban architecture, providing public spatial definition and spatial activation as places. “Spaghetti Junction” is a comparable size multi-block area aligned with the Eastgate site, but on the immediate other side of the interstate.

Neighborhood Assessment Toolkit

Neighborhood Assessment Toolkit

A continuation of both The Plan of Nashville and Shaping the Healthy Community: The Nashville Plan, the Neighborhood Assessment Toolkit is an assessment and development scoring tool intended for local and community associations when engaging new development. The Toolkit is comprised of neighborhood and parcel assessment resources, along with a development scorecard based on the 10 Principles of the Plan of Nashville.

Placemaking: Challenges + Opportunities in Metro Nashville Preview

Placemaking: Challenges + Opportunities in Metro Nashville

The Project for Public Spaces, on their organization’s web site, asks “what if we built our communities around places?” They then go on to define Placemaking as “both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region, Placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community.  Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, Placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.  More than just promoting better urban design, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.”

Each team asked the questions “could the spaces proposed improve pedestrian, bicycle, and street connectivity?  Could they maintain and/or strengthen street and/or bike and pedestrian connections depending on the site?”  The intent was to promote walkable, bike-friendly environments and access to transit, with particular attention to providing connections between the proposed spaces and surrounding neighborhoods.

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