Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An I-40 "park-over" would do more to spur Jefferson Street renaissance than a ballpark

Studies show that public parks have positive impacts not just on neighborhood quality of life, but on rises in property values and on the growth of broader benefits like jobs and youth programs and attractions for visitors from outside local neighborhoods. This is likely why a city like Dallas (TX), not known for its abundance of greenspace, took the innovative step of creating urban park land in an unlikely place: as a land bridge over a below-grade freeway.

Kyle Warren Park in Dallas

Observers note that the "park-over" has mitigated the divisive, unsafe and intrusive effects of a major freeway, but it has also spurred major mixed-use infill and revitalized the urban core. According to one Dallas planner

I was interested to visit the park to see if it lived up to the hype. The landscaping and paving materials are high quality, and movable outdoor furniture creates flexibility for groups to socialize or have lunch at nearby food trucks. I also noticed a well used and expansive outdoor library where people can borrow books and magazines during their visit. From my conversations with visitors, it seems Kyle Warren is evolving into a destination itself, with many visitors driving from the suburbs just to spend time in this high quality public space. While the location of the park is on the fringe of Dallas’ downtown, surrounding office towers give the space a “center of it all” quality, with colorful, brightly lit skyscrapers creating a unique backdrop after sunset.

Everyone with any historical sense knows the sadness of the slashing, blighting impact of Interstate 40 on the Jefferson Street neighborhoods of North Nashville. Local and state government have taken minimal steps: landscaping and creating a plaza underneath an overpass of the highway near TSU. But those improvements are not prominent and seem trivial given the history of the area. They're still buried underneath an interstate, which draws the main attention.

I have yet to see real estate advertisements that catalyze the plaza as a local attractor. That should be a source of embarrassment to politicians and community leaders who touted the plaza before and during its installation a couple of years ago.

Besides, North Nashville deserves more than a plaza underneath a freeway, which seems backwards.

In addition, Metro officials and state government should work together to park-over I-40 at places where the roadway is recessed. The interstate itself should be buried by social spaces that draw the community together. One recessed place is the stretch between D.B. Todd Blvd on the west, Scovel Street on the north, 17th Ave N on the east, and Jefferson St on the south:

Prime North Nashville spot for a park-over

A park over that stretch of I-40 could be an asset to Fisk University and neighborhoods previously severed from each other by the interstate. While a park-over would work with the existing properties, a further option could be to buy up the private properties between Jeff St. and the highway and flip them into green space as well.

With the tremendously positive impact that parks play in community quality of life, parking over the interstate would do much more to benefit North Nashville than a ballpark at Sulphur Dell, which is limited by a specialized, privatized and seasonal uses.

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