‘The Utility Poles Are Winning’ — Nashville Street Delivers Lessons On What Not To Do On Main Roads

Jan 19, 2016

In some respects, Nashville’s Charlotte Avenue is a prime example of what not to do to create a walkable, vibrant corridor. That’s the message delivered in a yearlong study by researchers with the Urban Land Institute.  The group has ideas to guide the street’s growth and rapid transformation, perhaps as a template to use citywide.

Like in many cities, a main drag like Charlotte can develop a rough reputation. Sustainable development guru Bob Taunton, of Boise, Idaho, calls this the “4Ds” of major roadways.

“They’re dangerous, they’re dirty, they’re disconnected, and often very dismal,” he said. “All communities across the country have these.”

His research team, which studied the four miles between the state capitol and White Bridge Road, worries Charlotte acts as a major divider between neighborhoods.

More: View the 61-page presentation

And his colleague, Mike Higbee, of Design Concepts Inc., in Indianapolis, says it’s dangerously car-centric — making crossing the road a “bloodsport.”

“What’s out there now is hostile,” he said. “You don’t know if the sidewalks were built for the utility poles or for the people, but it looks like the utility poles are winning that battle.”

The experts — who completed four similar case studies nationwide this year — also see huge potential to revitalize Charlotte in a smart way.

“You have a corridor that has some just unbelievable future to it, just like the rest of Nashville,” Higbee said. “This corridor is changing before your eyes and it really is an issue of: Is it going to change and deliver a great outcome for Nashville, or is it just going to be another corridor?”

The panel suggests that Nashville create a group with a full-time leader to organize Charlotte-area residents and businesses amid all the change. A half-dozen big apartments are rising in a two-mile stretch that’s arguably the city’s fastest-changing corridor.

But it was ideas to improve parks, and spur new businesses, that intrigued Hank Delvin. He grew up on Charlotte and now runs a farmers’ market there.

“You know, Charlotte’s always been this way,” he said, “and so it’s really exciting to see some direction and some change and some discussion of how it can improve.”

It will be up to locals to run with the ideas, and possibly to use them as a model across the city.

Researchers with the Urban Land Institute studied this four-mile stretch of Charlotte Avenue in Nashville.
Credit Urban Land Institute Nashville