Lessons from Nashville

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JOHN OLSON
  • John Olson
Nashville, Tennessee is the Music City; it is their culture, their brand and their identity. This is and always will be what they are. It was an honor to attend this year's Regional Leaders Trip to Nashville. The music was fantastic and it’s a great place to visit, especially for business — very much like Vegas. However, also like Vegas, it’s not a city that I would like to live, or take the family to on vacation, personally.

This doesn't mean that there isn’t something we can learn from Nashville, there absolutely is. They’re a city that takes risks, they seek something out and they demand action. There’s a lot of risk involved with this kind of development strategy, but when it works the results are phenomenal.

One particular risk highlighted during my visit was the investment along the riverfront of downtown Nashville. We spoke with the local parks department and the landscape architect who designed a new park along the riverfront. The park, including a world-class amphitheater, was designed with great care to get residents and tourists engaged with the city's most fundamental amenity, the water. The amphitheater design included the best acoustical engineering, without sacrificing quality in pursuit of being the best (yes, they claim they will have better acoustics to Red Rocks.) The risk? $50 Million was invested into this project without a managing company to take the reins to make the venue function.

The city hadn’t secured a company to operate the amphitheater until this past November, even though the project was already scheduled for opening with an Eric Church performance at the end of July. The same story is true for the Bridgestone Arena, formerly known as the Nashville Arena, where the Nashville Predators hockey team plays. The building was constructed prior to even an inquiry about professional hockey in Nashville.

The economic development generated by these types of projects is absolutely spectacular. Downtown Nashville is experiencing a construction boom comparable to downtown Denver, both are in the billions of dollars in development. Billions!

My personal takeaways from Music City? Branding and the message of the city's vision needs to be infused and unified. Nashville's primary industry is healthcare, that's not sexy. The Music industry is their brand and culture, it’s infused in everything, but it's not even in the top five for economic development. The primary industry in Colorado Springs is tied to the military, but what is our identity?

Nashville has issues with their built environment just like the Springs; they have potholes, a dysfunctional transit system, an addiction to the automobile and poor bicycling infrastructure. They have residents who don't want to be vehicle-dependent and want more options for mobility. They have environmental issues and highways not only failing to relieve congestion, but escalating the problem and prolonging the city’s true transit potential. They recognize the problems and are working to solve them.

I came home with a renewed enthusiasm for the Pikes Peak Region. Sure, we all have differences in opinion, but I believe that everyone shares a common goal of achieving our communities’ potential.

The time is right now; we have a new Mayor for Colorado Springs, a region that is looked at as beautiful, great proximity to the world-class city of Denver, high levels of private investment in our health and educational institutions and a community ready for action. The cards have been dealt and we're sitting pretty with a near straight flush. It’s time for action!

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, working and residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Urban Design and Landscape for Altitude Land Consultants, formerly doing business as EV Studio Civil Engineering + Planning. He has a strong passion for our region and directs it through the business and the non-profit, Colorado Springs Urban Intervention.

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