Tactical Urbanism Around Tennessee: New Face for an Old Broad

Kate Hyde

Tactical Urbanism transformed this once-desolate urban street in Memphis into a vibrant community of local businesses that includes a coffee shop, butcher, a brewery, bike store, and art studios. After this section of Broad Avenue was cut off from surrounding areas by the construction of a highway, it became abandoned and desolate until artists began using the buildings and creating a community. In 2010, Livable Memphis became involved in installing temporary streetscape elements to showcase what the block could be if designed well.

TURBO’s community focus has inspired us to reach out to organizations nearby doing similar work. I visited Livable Memphis recently when I was visiting West Tennessee. Livable Memphis is helping to revitalize the Memphis region by focusing on land use and transportation issues and by increasing public involvement in civic processes that concern planning and redevelopment. Their program MEMFix was started to help residents visualize concrete change in public spaces.

MEMFix’s first action was their “New Face for an Old Broad” event in 2010. For one weekend, volunteers and local business owners created what “could be” on Broad Avenue. By opening up and inhabiting abandoned storefronts, they created pop-up shops and restaurants. They also enlivened an empty street by installing temporary bike lanes, pedestrian crosswalks, signage, and infrastructure. While this was a great success with thousands of people visiting throughout the weekend, the more amazing thing is that the temporary weekend installation quickly became permanent. Businesses stayed, people kept visiting, and the street was reborn. It is now a thriving district of unique local businesses and galleries.

Since 2010, MEMFix has organized five other transformative events. In just five years, Livable Memphis has published a MEMFix how-to manual, organized a summit for neighborhood leaders, worked to educate citizens about public budget priorities, and conducted other advocacy work around the city. The folks at Livable Memphis were extremely welcoming and open in talking to me about their projects, discussing the differences between Memphis and Nashville, and highlighting available resources for community change.

Here in Nashville, TURBO has combined the efforts of local residents with individual experiences in Tactical Urbanism with the expertise of the non-profit Nashville Civic Design Center and local publication NATIVE Magazine. By forging partnerships both within our community and across the state, TURBO hopes to accomplish public space changes as striking as that of Livable Memphis.