Entrepreneur Suggests 33 Ways To Improve Nashville’s Quality Of Life

Jul 21, 2016

A new report presented Wednesday — “Gear Up 2020” — makes 33 recommendations in response to Nashville’s growth and to stir up innovations from the Metro government.

The ideas come from tech entrepreneur Gabe Klein, who has since crossed over into government work as a leader of transportation agencies in Chicago and Washington D.C.

The local chapter of the Urban Land Institute commissioned Klein’s work, which delivers his case for something Mayor Megan Barry often touts: public-private partnerships, or “P3” projects. Those are when Metro teams up with a company to tackle a challenge usually handled by government alone.

To follow Klein’s recommendations would mean bringing these partnerships to everything from creating parks to transit systems. He says the model benefits all parties: government, business and citizens.

“When you make a place safe and fun and interesting, people actually slow down and hang out there. When they hang out there, if there are amenities and services, they will spend their money there,” he said.

He says partnerships can create better transit systems or play out in small ways, like an apartment developer who sets aside some land as a public park. Collaborate enough in one neighborhood, he said, and it becomes a desirable place to live.

“As much as we can build density, near services and transit and bike facilities … we make people’s lives easier. But also from an equity standpoint, we bring people’s costs down,” he said.

Kim Hawkins, with the Urban Land Institute, said “Gear Up 2020” shows how partnering with private industry teaches Metro how to act like a company — and can get it to deliver projects faster.

“And in Nashville, particularly these days, time’s a wastin,’ ” she told the audience.

The message to the mayor is to get busy during her first term, and she said she’s willing.

City Should Adopt 'Vision Zero'

Several of Klein’s ideas have to do with roadway safety, including committing to the idea of “Vision Zero,” or accepting no fatalities on roadways, whether for drivers, pedestrians, or cyclists.

To do that, he recommends addressing the 50 most dangerous intersections in Nashville as identified by Metro Public Works.

“We have grown in this culture to accept some amount of death on our roads,” Klein said. “The No. 1 killer of young people is not HIV. It’s not even gun death. It’s car death.”

And he wants designs for safer streets as they are built. Klein critiques Metro for not adhering to its written “Complete Streets” policy, which says new roads must consider features for pedestrians and cyclists.

He suggests setting specific goals for the amount of new sidewalk and greenway miles.

And he thinks the B-Cycle bike share program should have four times as many kiosks to become a practical way to travel without a car.

Among Klein’s other suggestions are to:

  • Create a Metro Nashville Department of Transportation that is separate from the Nashville MTA
  • Turn underused parking lots into affordable housing units or open spaces
  • Study the cost of burying power lines
  • Create a new strategy for protecting and increasing the city’s tree canopy
  • Bring new ways of thinking into Metro government by creating a “fellowship” to lure college graduates into public service.

“This is pro-business, pro-people, pro-Nashville, pro-planet,” Klein said of the report. “Sometimes the reaction to ideas like this is, ‘Oh, that’s going to cost a lot of money.’ … We need you guys to really dig in and help sell this publicly.”