Fang art

Eric Fang

Representatives of Perkins Eastman — the designer of New York's famed Battery Park City, among other public spaces — on Tuesday night launched a public study to determine how best to create development opportunities for the Cumberland River's East Bank.

Via a virtual meeting hosted by Metro Planning Director Lucy Kempf, Perkins Eastman Principal Designer Eric Fang explained from a Nashville hotel room what Nashville can expect from the East Bank Study while a colleague rode alongside the river by scooter to highlight existing conditions.

The meeting followed Mayor John Cooper’s office in April having announced Perkins Eastman, which focuses on urban waterfront placemaking, will oversee the redesign of the East Bank’s 338 acres. The vast project is anchored in the May 5 approval of the economic impact plan for River North based on the Oracle deal.

Kempf described the East Bank Study as a long-term campaign to engage the public while updating the major and collector street plan — derived from the Nashville Next design standards for future buildings, current major thoroughfares and future road construction originally planned in 2015. The study will also set requisite capital investment priorities in a series of similar meetings to come.

“We’re all going to be working concurrently,” Fang (pictured) said. “It’s not a linear process, and we organize our effort into three main phases. […] Every step of the way we want to build consensus. So with those principals that we will develop with you all, we will develop various options to test out how we can achieve those best.”

The first step Fang explained is the analysis phase, which he predicted would end midway through summer. Auctioning will serve as the second phase.

Members of Eastman’s team will collaborate with engineers from Toronto-based WSP Global to mine and interpret data from market analysis, traffic assessments and other key elements. Perkins Eastman will also review current plans, both completed and in development, so as to build on what has already been done.

The third phase, set to begin in the fall, will involve developing a preferred plan by gathering all ideas and pairing them down to a singular implementation to be delineated in a final report.

At least half of the presentation was conducted with Mentimeter, interactive presentation software that utilizes real-time voting from participants. The software generates a word cluster that magnifies the sizes of some words over others in proportions commensurate with how many voters use the same or related words in response to a series of questions. This made public opinion a visually discernible set of ideas to best achieve consensus.

Organized by Metro Planning, the meeting also included principal designer Vaughan Davies, Varallo Public Relations Founder Deborah Varallo and Pillars Development Founder Edward Henley III. Perkins Eastman also brought together Richie Jones, partner at Hodgson Douglas, and representatives of HR&A and WSP, an economic development consulting firm and an engineering firm respectively.

Varallo emphasized public engagement as a significant focal point of the process, specifically highlighting certain methods of gathering information from the general populace. The East Bank Study will be tracked by online surveys (and eventually paper surveys), a website dedicated to the project, Q&As with focus groups and on Facebook Live, and community meetings.

“We’re going to be going to different community leaders, we’re going to do outreach to the neighborhood groups, we’re going to do pop-up meetings,” Varallo added. “We’re going to ask, ‘Where can we go? Do you have a church function going on? Is there a school activity that’s happening? We want to set up booths and meet people, talk to them, get their ideas. We want as many ideas and thoughts as possible, and we’re going to be doing presentations.”

Information gathering will be done to hone in on East Bank spots that are noteworthy to residents and to mitigate the divide between East and West banks with increased connectivity and complementary architecture. This includes capturing a “scale of smallness” that Davies sees west of the river and that that magnifies, for example, the “grandness of the promenade” and bring it to the East Bank also.

“The Cumberland really informs a lot of what we do,” Davies said. “We have a lot of issues with the water that we need to solve, but we think we can make something truly special and delightful for all Nashvillians along the waterfront here.”

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