Rear Window

Ali Alsaleh

I spend a lot of time on my balcony. Paying an unsettling amount for rent in Nashville forces me to use my amenities to their full extent, to make sure I'm getting my money's worth (although I'm pretty lax when it comes to the gym down the hall). But on my balcony, whilst relaxed and un-sweating, drinking my lobby-provided coffee, I enjoy the scenery as much as James Stewart; passing cars, dog-walkers,  Saturday night Vandy bros, the occasional poor soul attempting to parallel park-- it's a soothing ritual. But there's one repelling piece of my Krispy Kreme glazed panorama that bothers me.

Elliston Place Triangle as of June 2015

Elliston Place Triangle as of June 2015

Let me give you some geography first. I live on the second floor of The Dallas on Elliston Place, a new apartment block on the corner of 21st and Church Street; yes right across the Krispy Kreme (hence the lack of gym time). Elliston Place, the connecting street I see from my balcony, is a prime location in Midtown, boasting a vintage Nashville era, with notable locations like Elliston Place Soda Shop, Exit/In music venue, The Gold Rush bar, and many other entertainment, eating, and shopping joints. It's minutes-walk from Centennial Park, West End, and Division Street. In the daytime, West End's traffic congestion funnels into Church St./Elliston Place, and at night, the Place is pedestrian heavy with our friendly karaoke-enthused citizens. Basically, with Nashville's unbelievable expansion, Elliston Place sees a lot of action now.

But with this action, comes a responsibility; a responsibility to provide for our citizens, resident and passing-by, an environment of growth, of community, and of safety. At the split of Church Street and Elliston Place sits a small "grassy" median, a triangle divider with the sole purpose of allowing people to take a right turn. A median which I've been staring at outside my balcony for the past 10 months. This median which is unkempt, unstructured, and dirt-washed.  This median with a natural dirt path cutting through it to suggest that people find it a short-cut to their parked cars. This median gets no respect.

As a natural gateway into Elliston Place, it is a disappointment to the fun-loving, lively character of the street, an important first impression that does not reflect the amazing atmosphere and people. Thus, instead of a rotting simple median, I believe it would be pleasant to have a welcoming, grassy, shaded plot of land fit for an entrance; our very own Arc de Triomphe. Seriously, some fresh-cut grass, a couple of trees, and a bench would do it justice. But let's not stop there. How about a "Welcome to Elliston Place" sign, a little dog park, some public art maybe? (not another guitar sculpture please). Alongside litter, the median is crawling with potential for a face-lift, a well-designed and landscaped pick-me-up that the residents and friends of Elliston Place can be proud of. One that will attract the jogger to pause and stretch, or the best friends to meet up Sunday morning and reflect on how crazy last night was while they sip their over-priced coffee, or the frustrated rush hour driver passing through to say "hey, I need to check this place out tonight."

Metro's vision for a potential use for the triangle, identified as an open space deficiency area.

Metro's vision for a potential use for the triangle, identified as an open space deficiency area.

With the help of TURBO Nashville and the residents and supporters of Elliston Place, we can make this happen. And I can sit on my balcony and do exactly what I usually do, avoid the gym.

An Urban Change Novice walks into TURBO…

I have no knowledge of municipal code, how to obtain a permit, or really anything related to local government. I’m not even from Nashville. So how did a non-civic minded outsider end up volunteering with a group of tactical urbanists?

I’ll back up a bit. I’m a recent transplant from Atlanta and I work as a freelance advertising copywriter, which is a lengthy way to say, “I write words for a living.” It also means I work alone (a lot) so I started volunteering with Creative Mornings—a free, monthly breakfast lecture series—soon after I got settled in Nashville.

The speaker for February’s lecture was Gary Gaston, the Executive Director of the Nashville Civic Design Center. I went into that month’s meet-up with literally zero knowledge of what Gary did… and ended up learning an incredible amount about my new home city’s history and it’s unintentional division due to the interstate system that created enormous barriers between neighborhoods.

In his presentation, Gary spoke briefly about the work that TURBO is doing on the ground to mend disconnected urban areas and bring beauty and community back to the city. I was inspired by what they were able to accomplish with seemingly huge obstacles. I mean, here’s this group of people who see a problem with the urban landscape, find innovative solutions, and actually implement them—putting their vision into action. I imagined them as this group of civic and environmental activists, which is certainly not a way I’d describe myself so I second-guessed whether I could actually contribute to their mission.

But I was interested in their work so I looked them up anyway. They just so happened to be having their monthly meeting shortly after I got in touch.

And an awesome thing happened at that meeting: I met this amazing collection of individuals from all sorts of professions who are not only extremely welcoming, but are dedicated to healing injuries that urban development has caused to the city they love. Everyone brings their specific skill set to the table to reach the goal, whether it’s knowledge of city ordinances or the ability to write a captivating blog (hey-o!).

And even though I was initially concerned about lacking DIY skills and having very little civic knowledge, that apprehension faded within minutes of meeting everyone at TURBO. The team is truly committed; their passion and positivity are infectious. They saw ways for me to apply my skill set that I hadn’t even thought of—plus, I’m gaining a whole new perspective of this amazing city, it’s neighborhoods, it’s challenges, and it’s culture that I would’ve never gotten otherwise.

I’m overjoyed that I stumbled into finding this great organization and can’t wait to get started contributing, in a small way, to Nashville’s future with the great projects TURBO has planned.

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.

Open Streets Nashville

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.

Open Streets Nashville encouraged spontaneous physical activity of all kinds, including games of giant Jenga with Mayor Karl Dean! (Photo courtesy of Metro Nashville)

Open Streets Nashville encouraged spontaneous physical activity of all kinds, including games of giant Jenga with Mayor Karl Dean! (Photo courtesy of Metro Nashville)

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.

Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia opens up many of the city’s streets to active transportation during certain times every week, promoting consistent physical activity and civic engagement among its residents. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia opens up many of the city’s streets to active transportation during certain times every week, promoting consistent physical activity and civic engagement among its residents. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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.

Spotted: Jane Jacobs Gardening

mmmm... flowers

mmmm... flowers

Jane Jacobs decided the 21st avenue and Broadway median needed some brightening up. This busy intersection is full of cars and construction making the trip to the median and bus stop quiet a dangerous endeavor. Jane planted flowers around the bus stop bench to draw more attention to this site that needs improvement. This large grassy median is not being used to its full potential-- some flowers will spruce it up for now... but this site has potential for more drastic change, such as a pedestrian plaza or a small pop up

Planting Bulbs

Planting Bulbs