Matt Genova - TURBO Outreach Committee Chair
2015 marked the first-ever Open Streets festival here in Nashville, TN. Held in conjunction with the opening of the 11th Avenue Complete Street Project, the festival saw more than 2,000 event attendees stroll though the Gulch on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late June. With vehicular traffic blocked, 11th Avenue was literally open to activity of all kinds, from cornhole games and group bike rides to fitness classes, coffee and juice tastings, and puppet shows. Nashvillians of all ages were able to get out and take advantage of the additional un-programmed public space, celebrating the neighborhood atmosphere created by promoting community interaction in these spaces.
While on the surface it may just seem like a big block party, Open Streets means a lot more than that to those who participated in it and believe in the mission of open streets events more broadly. Here are our top 5 reasons why Open Streets was one of the coolest events in Nashville this summer:
1. It’s size.
Unlike a traditional block party that may span 2 or 3 city blocks in one area, Open Streets Nashville covered the entirety of 11th Avenue from Division Street to Charlotte Avenue, an area of roughly 12 city blocks. This one-mile section of roadway is the main thoroughfare passing through the Gulch, one of Nashville’s hottest (and densest) neighborhoods, making it’s closure that much more significant. To have this much roadway reserved exclusively for pedestrian activities added nearly 2.5 acres of temporary public space to downtown Nashville, and that’s awesome.
2. It’s purpose.
Open Streets Nashville is great not only because of it’s size, but also because the event helped to accomplish a range of other awesome goals. One of the core pillars of the event was to promote physical activity and healthy recreation in a way that is spontaneous and non-competitive, with no finish lines or organized parades to speak of. Open Streets was also meant to encourage higher levels of civic participation, promoting interaction with local businesses and providing active support for all modes of transportation not just in the Gulch, but throughout Nashville. And to top it off, Open Streets was a free event and Nashville residents were provided free bus passes to get to and from the festival, allowing people of all income levels to access and enjoy the event.
3. It’s all about neighborhoods.
As far as us here at TURBO are concerned, arguably the coolest thing about Open Streets Nashville was that it showed Gulch residents what their neighborhood could look like if it had more open public space. While the Gulch is certainly one of Nashville’s trendiest neighborhoods, it is lacking in parks and open space, an issue that was temporarily solved during Open Streets Nashville. This kind of event is great because it gets residents of any community to re-imagine the use of space in their neighborhood and think about ways to make their public spaces better. We’re excited to see more neighborhoods get the opportunity to host events like this in the future, and are grateful that Open Streets Nashville acted as a catalyst to continuing the conversation around Nashville about how we can make our neighborhoods great together!
4. It’s not just in Nashville.
Open streets festivals have been going on across the world for decades, but the concept has only recently begun to take hold in a big way in the United States. The idea originated in Bogota, Colombia in 1974, when the city began to close off certain main streets to automobile traffic weekly on Sunday mornings, opening these thoroughfares up to bicyclists (“ciclovia” translates literally to “cycle way”), walkers, joggers, skateboarders, rollerbladers, and all other active users. These events began to grow in popularity during the 1990s both in the United States and around the world, and by hosting an open streets event this year, Nashville joined more than 90 other cities in the US and Canada alone that currently have active open streets initiatives in place.
5. This won’t be the last.
Some 5 years ago, in October of 2010, Mayor Karl Dean signed Executive Order #40, creating a Complete Street Policy for the city of Nashville. This policy is meant to encourage the city to think about and make accommodations for street users of all types, and the 11th Avenue project was a direct result of that order. Given the success of Nashville’s first Open Streets Festival, there’s no doubt that more events like this will happen in the future as complete streets are installed across the city, helping Nashvillians experience their city streets in new ways for years to come.