Monday, June 22, 2009

The Wizard Pulling Levers Behind the Curtain

Christine Kreyling divulges news that I suspected all along: the source of Metro Planning's enthusiasm for Bells Bend comes directly from the Executive Director Rick Bernhardt. May Town represents his answer to Cool Springs:
May Town, on the other hand, is laid out according to New Urbanism principles, with a mixture of land uses integrated in the manner of a traditional town.

Sidewalks are as important as streets in linking the site. The idea is to create a walkable environment, with a footprint smaller than the likes of Cool Springs, so one need not drive between one land use and another. The undeveloped portion of the site would be permanently preserved as open space and serve as a green buffer between May Town and the rest of Bells Bend.

As a founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism, Metro Planning’s Executive Director Rick Bernhardt has espoused for years the design principles embodied in the May Town site plan. That is one reason he likes May Town.

“Within the region,” he explained, “you have a need for economic growth that should be as compact as possible” for it to be sustainable, as sprawl is not.

Bernhardt believes that the 900-acre greenbelt to surround May Town, and the steep slopes to the north, will function as a cage holding development in check, with the combination striking a realistic balance between development and preservation.
I've tended to be an advocate of new urbanism in the past as a solution to sprawl, but as a tool in careful planning balanced by community character and citizen expectations. Rick Bernhardt's unchecked support for May Town Center is quickly changing my mind about new urbanism. It looks more like a weapon now than a tool.

May Town Center is a warped vision of new urbanism in the wrong place. It is an afterthought instead of a planning agenda applied region-wide. It is an experiment that puts pristine wilderness and farmland at risk so that planners can transcend the demands of community feedback and assert their own vision for Nashville. It is a violation of the natural boundaries that already exist around Bells Bend in order to rationalize a new set of boundaries and buffers that themselves may be ruptured in the future in the name of new urbanism, and because the precedent will have been set by Mr. Bernhardt.

Do you see where I am going with this? May Town Center is sex with new urbanism to save our relationship to undisturbed back country. And as surely as Walt Disney created a hyper-real replica of Main Street, USA to function as an experiential stand-in or skin for dying American Main Streets, Rick Bernhardt intends to empower developers to impose the idea of a town artificially across a rural community, rather than acknowledging the community's interest in naturally determining their own structure. In the end it still looks like segregation of human activities, but micro-scaled instead of super-sized. Is a smaller, walkable Cool Springs the best use of Bells Bend?

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