Cincinnati officials impressed by results of Nashville’s form-based codes

In late June 2010, 18 individuals from Cincinnati made a trip to Nashville, TN in order to learn more about that city’s form-based code efforts. While on the trip, local officials and community leaders toured three of Nashville’s most notable developments to see first-hand how such land planning initiatives have made a tangible impact there.

The delegation attending the last of several trips to Nashville included Cincinnati City Councilmembers Laure Quinlivan, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young; Hamilton Vice Mayor Rob Wile; leaders from Downtown, Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn, Hyde Park, The Christ Hospital, the Cincinnati Form Based Codes Initiative, and UrbanCincy.

While in Nashville, the delegation visited Lenox Village and The Hill Center. The two new urbanist developments located in Nashville’s suburban communities each have a unique focus as Lenox Village offers a walkable residential neighborhood, while The Hill Center is an upscale commercial district built in a walkable manner.

Inside Lenox Village, the delegation was impressed by the development’s tree-lined streets, wide sidewalks, public gathering spaces, and pocket parks with homes ranging in cost from $84,000 to $350,000. The development also includes a small element of office and retail space, while also providing ten percent of its total housing units as rental.

The area surrounding the upscale, 220,000 square-foot Hill Center development reminded some of the Cincinnati guests of the Kenwood area. But while many of the same upscale retailers were found at both, the physical implementation is much different. According to the developers of The Hill Center, much of the difference comes in the “road diet” that took place to accommodate bicycles, improve sidewalks and pedestrian connections.

“Granbery described the “ping-pong effect” that retailers desire, where a pedestrian can easily cross from one side of the street to the other to reach another retail store that catches his or her eye – even green space should not be so wide as to keep shoppers from crossing the street easily,” described Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.

The third development the group toured was The Gulch which is a former railroad center turned mixed-use infill project adjacent to downtown Nashville. Restaurants, live music venues, trendy retail, and condominium towers now occupy the site which has become a popular destination for young people. The Cincinnati delegation also noted that the development project earned a LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) silver certification for its location, transit access, neighborhood design, green infrastructure and buildings, and its overall design process.

The Gulch is only the ninth neighborhood in America to receive such designation, and the first neighborhood in the south.  Since the plan was originally developed in 2002 by MarketStreet Enterprises, the City of Nashville and Davidson County Metropolitan Development & Housing Agency have invested nearly $7 million in infrastructure improvements.  The Gulch neighborhood has also required the incorporation of affordable housing in order to receive tax increment financing assistance.  Within the ICON, 44 of the total 418 housing units are affordable to those earning 80 percent of median income for the area ($34,000 or less).

The trips to Nashville were taken to help further develop Cincinnati’s initiative to develop form-based codes throughout the city as neighborhoods desire. Should Cincinnati develop such a system of land planning it would become only the third major American city to do so joining Miami and Denver. If all goes according to plan, city officials hope to start implementing the necessary zoning code amendments by fall 2010 with the help of Opticos Design.

  • I just moved from Nashville to Cincinnati to attend UC’s DAAP school for a masters in urban planning. I feel like I have a pretty good understanding about what things are successful in Nashville and what things are being quite oversold by well funded marketing teams of major developers.

    The 3 areas mentioned here are quite significant developments or Nashville, ranked 49/50 by Lenox Village is a good idea. Build a subdivision, but make it walkable and livable. The idea is good, execution: so so. The major problem is that it is so far from the urban core. It is literally a pocket of urbanism at the end of a marginal retail corridor and only accessible by car, and quite a long way at that. I was about to buy a place there when I lived in Green Hills (Hill Center), but then I drove back from the showing and said “there’s no way I’ll make this trip everyday and save money or be happy”. Merchants have not filled in the retail stores like advertised outside of the locations on the main road- Nolensville Pike.
    The next place the Hill Center is pretty good. It has some good anchor stores that serve the area’s interests pretty well, Whole Foods and West Elm. There are many boutique shops that are great and it is fairly walkable. However, again since Everyone in Nashville drives and everyone in Green Hills drives a BMW or Suburban (seemingly anyway) the walkability of the places is somewhat of a veneer to the node that is is to an auto centric area. The population doesn’t appreciate the “road-diet” effect, the culture just doesn’t allow the benefits to outweigh the costs. You’ll hear “it’s just so hard to find parking, and turning into the parking lot is just such a hassle, and driving through there is such a pain”. Their impressions are driven by their car’s ability to interact with the space rather than the humans. Now the fact that it is directly next to the YMCA, the main workout facility in the area, it does attract many people across from the gym. That intersection could take a lot of work to make it more feasible and attractive to walk there.
    The third place the Gulch, in my opinion, is overblown. I think it’s too high (tall) density in to small an area. The condo market took off in Nashville right before everything crashed and there were some zealous developers who built about 5 condo buildings much like the ICON around Nashville. Even though your article states that they are a attractive to young people they are not affordable to young people. The information about the 412 units for those that male $36000 or less is news to me. It has been place that seems to be struggling with their occupancy rates, but the commercial district has done pretty well. All in all converting an abandoned train depot clearing into a successful district I think all in all is a success. I just think the developers bit of more than the market could chew.

    Some other area in Nashville that are really taking off and seem to be doing it more organically are the 12south area, home to genuinely mixed income residents and are cohabiting well while trying to fend off gentrification. And Germantown with smaller developers and design firms taking on smaller projects but with a cohesive vision for the area.

    Nashville’s a great city and the Nashville Civic Design Center does some great work. The biggest challenge is the entrenched auto culture of the city.

  • David:

    When I visited Nashville in summer 2009, I really enjoyed Germantown and saw a lot of potential there given its close proximity to downtown. Plus Germantown has the terrific Nashville Farmers Market inside Bicentennial Park. The West End is also nice in a secondary high-density business center around a university kind of way (not unlike Cincinnati’s Uptown).

  • With all of that said, I do tend to agree that developers built The Gulch a bit too tall. Nashville doesn’t quite have the demand to fill in the areas between The Gulch and downtown to make it seem more natural. So the development will more than likely stay a isolated cluster of high-rises for the foreseeable future. It may have been much nicer to cut the height in half, and build twice as many structures…but then again, maybe the proforma wasn’t based on that kind of a build out.

  • Donna Nicely

    I think it is great that other cities visit Nashville to see how our city plans to develop neighborhoods. Nashville is a great city to live in because of all of the entertainment. There is always some place to and things to do in Nashville. The Gulch, Germantown and Lenox Village are all great areas to live and work.