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Bolstering creative community engagement in the Nashville region

Considering the enduring creative energy in Tennessee’s principal city, it’s no surprise that Nashville is deepening its commitment to engaging the community in creative ways, and integrating artists into community development and transportation projects.

We believe that incorporating the arts into the process of planning and building transportation projects results in projects that better serve local communities, are championed by locals, and more fully reflect the community’s culture and values.

There’s been a surge of interest around the country in this approach; in developing strategies to be more responsive to a community’s transportation needs and the unique cultural components of place. Nashville, Tennessee is no exception. Through the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) leadership, the region is deepening its commitment to creative community engagement and integrating artists into community development and transportation projects.

The Nashville Area MPO recently launched its creative placemaking efforts with the adoption of its most recent regional transportation plan. The MPO’s long-term goal is to embolden and equip their members to facilitate more valuable public engagement and further community outreach in local planning efforts.

On March 1st, the MPO convened area elected officials, transportation planners and engineers from local and state governments for a Creative Placemaking Symposium to learn how and why it works, and begin thinking through how this approach could address the challenges and opportunities in their own cities.

Through the symposium, the MPO educated attendees about the difference between creative placemaking — a method to engage the community in planning transportation projects — and simply plopping public art at a bus stop that is out of context and not reflective of the neighborhood.

But where should planners or local officials get started, especially when it seems like a new, perhaps unfamiliar approach? Symposium speakers inspired those in attendance to start by getting to know artists in their communities and work with them to identify and document transportation challenges and solutions.

El Paso Councilman Peter Svarzbein delivered a the keynote address on his successful arts-based campaign to bring back a historic streetcar between El Paso and Mexico. T4A’s own Director of Arts and Culture, Ben Stone, offered examples of creative placemaking projects across the country. Additionally, local leaders Caroline Vincent, director of public art for Metro Nashville Arts, Gary Gaston, executive director of the Nashville Civic Design Center and Renata Soto, executive director with Conexión Américas provided examples of their work in the Middle Tennessee region.

From left, Rochelle Carpenter with T4America/Nashville MPO, Renata Soto with Conexión Américas, Caroline Vincent with Metro Arts, Ben Stone with T4A/Smart Growth America, Gary Gaston with the Nashville Civic Design Center and El Paso Councilman Peter Svarzbein.

The symposium served as a forum for planners to think through how and why creative placemaking might benefit projects in their own towns and cities.

“Creative placemaking is first and foremost about public engagement,” said Rochelle Carpenter, who works for the MPO and T4America. “By facilitating community discussions that inspire people to express their feedback, we hope it will lead to greater participation in the transportation planning process, better transportation projects and more public support for those projects.”

To learn more about creative placemaking in Nashville, read about:

  • Profiled in our Scenic Route guidebook, the story of creating the region’s first-ever bilingual crosswalk along Nolensville Pike, in partnership with the MPO and Conexión Américas.
  • Envision Nolensville Pike: a community-led plan to improve walking, bicycling and transit use along Nashville’s most diverse corridor
  • Tactical urbanism initiated by the Nashville Civic Design Center and its program, TURBO
  • The Learning Lab, a professional development program for artists in civic, social and placemaking practices by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts