Cities across the country have recognized that parks are about more than green space. Parks play an important stewardship role by protecting and honoring the best aspects of a city’s history and character. Their presence in a neighborhood promotes residents’ health and well-being by cooling urban “heat islands,”providing places for recreation and exercise, improving air quality, and helping to prevent flooding. Parks promote investment. They increase the natural beauty and resiliency of our city, and define our sense of place. Parks are public spaces where all are welcome.
Parks improve the quality of life of residents and provide an important foundation for strong communities. I was surprised to see a recent report by the Trust for Public Land that ranked our park system 54th in the country, far behind cities such as Raleigh, Austin, and Atlanta. My family and I love to spend time at Bells Bend and the Warner Parks, however, not all neighborhoods and families have easy access to our great parks and greenways. Only 37 percent of Nashvillians live within a 10-minute walk of a park — this is less than half the percentage of a typical major U.S. city.
Given the environmental, health, and economic benefits of parks, we should view parks as part of the solution to issues facing our city. Nashville should work with residents and businesses to invest in and expand our parks system. But under the Briley administration, instead of looking to turn surplus public land into green space, the mayor has attempted to sell off property to private developers to cover revenue shortfalls. Covering operational shortfalls with one-time budget gimmicks is a bad idea. Covering shortfalls by irreversibly selling public land is a terrible idea.
It’s time for a different approach. I want our parks to play central and valued roles in helping Nashville continue to be and become more of the city we want it to be. There are so many ways parks can be assets for needed solutions to many of the challenges facing Nashville. We must set goals, provide resources, and bring agencies together with residents, businesses, and donors to keep Nashville green.
As mayor, I will:
- Safeguard our parks and our property. As a council member, I opposed Mayor Briley’s effort to give Church Street Park to a preferred developer for a new high-rise, luxury condo tower. I helped lead the successful effort to stop the city from selling a large portion of one of our most significant historic sites, Fort Negley, which was once the home of thousands of black refugees during the Civil War. I was against the attempted sale of Trinity Ridge, 11 acres of hilltop, creeks, springs and historic stone walls adjacent to existing banked land for Metro Parks that the administration tried to sell this year. And I also opposed Mayor Briley’s proposal to auction off Edgehill Community Memorial Park, which includes the land where the folk art sculptor William Edmonson lived. That is twice in recent years Metro has tried to give away public land that is significant in Nashville’s African American history. It’s time to stop selling off our parks and disposing of properties in a piecemeal fashion and time to start looking for creative ways to expand green space in this city.
- Connect our city. Our linear parks, trails, and greenways can connect our green space and public spaces. The existing network needs to be maintained and expanded. I will focus on expanding Nashville’s greenway system and the sidewalks and bikeways that connect our neighborhoods to the greenways in order to provide better and broader access to recreation and to encourage alternative transportation.
- Enhance our neighborhoods through increased access to parks. Parks positively inform the character of our neighborhoods, and provide the opportunity for all to gather in shared public space. I will commit to a goal of raising the percentage of Nashvillians who live within a 10-minute walk of a park from 37 to 50 percent. Creating more pocket parks would be one way to accomplish this goal.
- Expand parks programming and invest in our youth. Our parks department provides much more than access to green space. It also provides over 1200 programs a week across the city, including sports, special events, arts, fitness, nature, and history activities. As a parent of three boys, I’ve seen how important after-school programming is in helping kids develop character and maintain good health. Neighborhood residents should have a say in determining what activities their local parks will need. I’ll direct Parks to develop new ways to receive feedback, including working with neighborhood advisory groups to solicit input.
- Improve our infrastructure. Parks can play a critical role in increasing sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Metro Parks can work with Metro Water Services to expand green infrastructure such as retention ponds and bioswales to help Nashville manage our flooding challenges. Our new development in Nashville has lead to less permeable surface area, which makes stormwater runoff a greater challenge to our neighborhoods. Focusing on green infrastructure will help us address one of the costs of our growth.
- Diversify park funding. As Metro Parks noted in their 2017 “Plan to Play” master plan, our parks system is unusually dependent on a single source of funding compared to park systems in our peer cities. We need to find new ways to finance programs so residents can have greater access to these resources. Other cities have found new funding sources by creating citywide park improvement districts and by creating business improvement districts around parks, identifying sponsorship opportunities, and developing more robust public-private partnerships to support our parks.
- Expand green space. There are numerous opportunities to expand access to green space amidst Nashville’s development. We should prioritize bringing additional green space to North Nashville, the banks of the Cumberland, and places like District 30 in Southeast Nashville, which currently doesn’t have a single park. I would also like to work with the downtown residents and the business district to create an improved Riverfront Park along the southwestern bank of the Cumberland. We don’t need to cut down cherry trees to stage events–cities across North America have demonstrated that parks and cultural events can coexist.
For me, parks are a passion. I have always prioritized green space in my real estate development work because I know how critical it is for a city’s health and the health of future generations. As a council member, I am proud to stand by my record of supporting access to green space and preserving Nashville’s unique assets. Parks should be a shared space for all, and the resources, beauty, and programs they provide strengthen our community. As mayor, I will set clear goals for expanding access, identify new ways to support expansion and programming, and put parks at the center of the city’s health and wellness efforts. In my administration, Parks will play a central and valued role in helping Nashville continue to be and become more of the city we all want it to be.