Metro Parks protects Nashville’s open space

Nashville’s Metro Parks and Recreation Department (Metro Parks) has been working for decades to provide citizens of Nashville-Davidson County with a network of trails and open space. The department pursued a strategy of open space acquisition for two reasons: 1) to preserve Nashville’s quality of life and unique natural character and 2) to protect against the sprawling development patterns that threatened the metropolitan area’s open space.1)Conservation Fund. Open Space Plan for Nashville.

A 1992 study commissioned by then-Mayor Bresden found that Nashville lagged behind other cities in Tennessee and across the US in terms of prioritizing parks, greenways, and trails. 2)Metro Greenways Commission. (2013, Winter). When interviewed 3)interviews for this research were conducted as part of a student masters thesis at Virginia Tech for this research,  several government officials highlighted the long-standing tension between the Metro Parks department and local developers. Two decades ago, open space in Nashville was under a considerable amount of pressure from the rapid conversion of greenspace to suburbanized development, including strip malls and subdivisions.

In 2002, Metro Parks worked with the Greenways Commission and the Land Trust for Tennessee to develop the Countywide Parks and Greenways Master Plan, which focused on upgrading Nashville’s existing parks and greenways. The plan included a goal to develop a regional network of open space, but a Metro Parks official expressed disappointment in the lack of progress toward this goal. Despite these shortcomings, Metro Parks remained committed to acquiring and protecting Nashville-Davidson County’s open space.

The election of Karl Dean to the Mayor’s Office in 2007 and the financial crisis of 2008 spurred Metro Parks to propose developing an open space plan. Mayor Dean and his wife actively supported environmental causes, and with limited funds for acquisition in the budget, Metro Parks officials hoped an open space plan could generate momentum and financing. Because the financial crisis drove down property values and the support of the new mayor, Metro Parks felt a sense of urgency to capitalize on the political will and the opportunity to acquire land at lower cost than previously thought. While not a direct driver of the Nashville Naturally plan, the 2010 floods that caused over $1 billion of property damage also heightened the urgency to protect the lands around the Cumberland River from development.

As a result of Metro Park’s continued efforts and the support of Mayor Dean and several nonprofits, the Nashville Naturally open space plan was created in 2011. The plan set 12 quantifiable goals, which included the acquisition of 22,000 acres of parkland, sensitive floodplain areas, and conserved land. Other goals include doubling the downtown tree canopy in ten years, converting 20 percent of downtown impervious surfaces, and improving greenway and park linkages. The open space plan is framed as a green infrastructure network and sets various goals for connecting wildlife and riparian networks, supporting urban and rural farming, connecting people to green infrastructure, and preserving historic and iconic resources.

References   [ + ]

1. Conservation Fund. Open Space Plan for Nashville.
2. Metro Greenways Commission. (2013, Winter).
3. interviews for this research were conducted as part of a student masters thesis at Virginia Tech

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