April 4, 2016|By Will Allen

Ever since The Conservation Fund embarked on strategic conservation planning over 20 years ago in the Loxahatchee River watershed, we have advocated that communities establish a clear vision and strategy for greenspace protection. Creating an implementable vision for conserving and enhancing land and natural resources fosters a healthier community and enhances quality of life.

No elected official has understood that better than Karl Dean, the former Mayor of Nashville-Davidson County. Mayor Dean and the residents of Nashville have long known that quality of life is intrinsically bound to its history and beauty. Striking river bluffs along the winding Cumberland River, rolling hills, and serene forests are essential to the character of Nashville and help foster the creativity found in the region’s country music and other innovative industries. These assets become even more important over time in a region where a projected one million new residents are expected to arrive by 2035.

WA Cumberland River Matt HicksThe Cumberland River. Photo by Matt Hicks.

From the outset of his administration in 2007, Mayor Dean focused on sustainability, parks, green space and greenways with an overarching goal of improving public health and reducing childhood obesity. The effort really got a kickstart with the Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee on Environmental Sustainability, which recommended the creation of the city’s first Open Space Plan.

Mayor Dean, the Metro Government, and the Land Trust for Tennessee chose the Fund to lead the team developing the plan. The result was Nashville: Naturally, Davidson County’s first open space plan, which charted a clear vision for how to protect and connect the city’s green infrastructure. The Fund teamed with ACP Visioning+Planning, Hawkins Partners, Inc. and Clarion Associates from 2009-2011 to inventory and evaluate the region’s natural areas and to engage the public in developing a vision that ultimately focused on four major themes:

  • Connect people to the green infrastructure network
  • Connect wildlife and water networks
  • Support urban and rural farming
  • Preserve historic and iconic resources

The plan vision called for large blocks of connected open space in the four corners of Davidson County and nine bends of the Cumberland River through a network of protected lands at key points along the Cumberland River, including a greener downtown with a revitalized riverfront. 

WA Open space vision map

So how can the value of a plan be measured? A plan builds momentum, institutionalizes green space as a community goal, prioritizes conservation efforts, and attracts new financial investments in green space protection. To me it ultimately it comes down to implementation.

Since the plan was adopted by Nashville’s Park Board, the Metro government has contributed more than $45 million, including $5 million in capital bond funds for open space acquisition, $10 million for greenway development, and $30 million for riverfront parks and greenways. This has been leveraged by funding from Greenways for Nashville, the Land Trust for Tennessee, Friends of Warner Parks, the Joe C. Davis Foundation, and other sources.

WA Nashville c Dieter SpearsNashville is successfully integrating green space into its urban landscape. Photo by Dieter Spears.

By the time Mayor Dean left office in 2015, Nashville had exceeded many of the 10-year goals outlined in the plan in just over five years! The open space plan articulated a goal of adding 3,000 acres of parkland in the next 10 years. As of 2015, over 4,500 acres had been added to Nashville park system, including key anchors at Antioch Park and Stones River Park, adding to more than 500 acres protected by the Land Trust for Tennessee.  

In addition to a more than 25% increase in parkland, Nashville also has built over 39 miles of greenway trails, a 50% increase, surpassing the goal to add 25 miles in five years. Numerous other plan goals have been achieved, including protection of a highly prized 12-acres site on the west bank of the Cumberland River for a park and greenway as well as a new pedestrian/bike bridge over railroad tracks to connect a downtown neighborhood with the new Music City Center convention space and the riverfront.

WA bike path satori13Nashville residents and visitors can experience and enjoy the outdoors on its greenway trails. Photo by Satori13.

Thanks to the dedication of Mayor Dean and the City’s many partners, Nashville is well on its way to achieving his vision for Nashville to become the “greenest city in the south.” And the work continues as the region strives to achieve the plan’s ambitious and aspirational goal of protecting 22,000 acres of public and private land by 2033. In the meantime, residents, visitors, and generations to come will be able to experience the outdoors with these new green space assets. I love it when a plan comes together!
Written By

Will Allen

Will Allen is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Giving & Conservation Services at The Conservation Fund in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. With the Fund more than 20 years, Will oversees the divisions of Marketing & Communications, Development, Freshwater Institute, Resourceful Communities and the Conservation Leadership Network. He is the co-author, with Dr. Kent Messer, of the Cambridge University Press book entitled The Science of Strategic Conservation: Protecting More with Less. He served as co-editor-in-chief and managing editor of the Journal of Conservation Planning and has published in peer reviewed journals, trade publications, and blogs for the Fund, Jobs for the Future and The Nature of Cities. Will holds a B.A. in Urban Studies from Stanford University and a Masters in Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.