From the BIG Map Blog
|The Public Square circa 1890.|
In the desolate landscape resulting from this policy lies opportunity for Nashville and for other cities in similar situations, since the same land which was cleared has remained largely fallow in the intervening decades, leaving it a blank slate largely unencumbered by NIMBY opposition. The image below shows the area, Sulphur Dell, immediately to the west of the downtown (west is up) where lately a few apartments and townhouses have begin to sprout amid vast areas of surface parking:
The piecemeal development occurring prior to 2010 has not necessarily come together to create a compelling urban environment, as setbacks and parking requirements have combined to result in fragmented development with little sense of spatial enclosure.
The new code explicitly acknowledges these shortcomings, noting that "while residential development has thrived in recent years, the creation and enhancement of urban neighborhoods is still a goal." In line with this, some of the most significant changes in the code include:
- The entire elimination of parking minimums, without the imposition of maximums (p. 80; Market Urbanists take note). This shames the much-touted Miami 21 code, which has retained high minimums.
- A de facto abolition of Euclidean zoning. Although a use chart is presented in hyper-detailed Euclidean format, virtually all uses, except for heavy industrial and some automotive businesses, are allowed, essentially creating a "general urban" zone along the lines of those found in Paris (p. 57-58).
- Abolishing most setback requirements, and instead requiring that buildings occupy at least certain proportions of their street-facing frontage.
- The establishment of height limits, with bonuses for incorporating certain features, including LEED certification, open space, certain types of parking (underground or above ground but "lined") and affordable ("workforce") housing.
- Height bonuses: most are well-intentioned but counterproductive. A bonus for public "open space" reflects a suburban aesthetic and incentivizes the tower-in-the-park form, contrary to the stated goals of the new code. A bonus for certain types of parking would appear to incentivize parking, even if the code does not require it. If there are no parking minimums, why not provide a height bonus for little, or no parking? Or only underground parking? The height bonus program seems to be an abdication of basic planning responsibilities for public space and transportation.
- Streets and blocks: to its credit, the code addresses this issue, proposing a handful of new streets to improve connectivity in certain areas. As can be seen in the above image, however, the existing street network is, in places, grossly inadequate, with overly wide blocks and insufficient north-south streets. The urbanization of this area, if it is to be effective, will require the opening of many new streets to bring blocks down to mangeable, pedestrian-friendly dimensions. Existing plans are too tentative. Narrower streets would have an important role to play here.
The Nashville Civic Design Center, which is staffed by some dedicated urbanists, has spent years working on plans for downtown neighborhoods, and has a wealth of articles, photos and plans on its website for those interested.