Approximately 100 scenic conservation experts, enthusiasts, and volunteers gathered at the Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville October 19-21 for the 2022 Scenic Symposium, co-hosted by Scenic America and its Scenic Tennessee chapter. The event attracted attendees from 17 states, including representatives of Scenic America chapters and affiliates, government and city planners, historic preservationists, researchers, students, and more.
The three-day symposium started on Wednesday, October 19, with a walking tour of Nashville’s Music Row, led by Mary Ellen Pethel and Jessica Reeves of local tour nonprofit Nashville Sites. An opening reception hosted by TennGreen Land Conservancy showcased efforts to preserve the state’s remarkable biodiversity and breathtaking open spaces threatened by development.
Programming continued on Thursday morning with an inspiring welcome from Nashville and Davidson County Mayor John Cooper, who described the challenges and opportunities that come with the city’s rapid growth.
“Nashville is used to being a university town and state capital, and now it’s a content creation capital,” he exclaimed, pointing to concerns with affordable housing and the need for amenities like schools, churches, and parks to meet the needs of residents.
Other sessions on Thursday explored how communities can quantify the value of scenic beauty, featuring presentations by SUNY Professor Emeritus Richard Smardon, who shared his approach to how a community can attach a value to a scenic attribute, using Cazenovia Lake in New York as an example. Joining Smardon, Virginia Tech’s Patrick Miller explored the deeper meaning of landscape assessments, arguing that manmade content doesn’t necessarily lower the scenic content of a place. Utah State University Professor Brent Chamberlain rounded out the session by showcasing new research that can be used to predict the presence of scenic assets on a roadway based on its “scenic quality” score.
Other Thursday sessions explored scenic byways, featuring presentations by National Scenic Byways Foundation’s Sharon Strouse, the Upper Cumberland Development District’s Mark Dudney, and Scenic America’s Mark Falzone.
A placemaking-focused session facilitated by Nashville Public Radio’s LaTonya Turner took a look at Nashville’s Jefferson Street and its rich history as a center for Black culture and a hotspot for music. Panelists included Tifinie Capehart of the Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership and Tennessee State University, and Lorenzo Washington, the founder of the Jefferson Street Sound Museum.
Thursday’s programming concluded with a discussion about the rebuilding of Second Avenue, which was bombed on Christmas morning 2020, led by Michelle Scopel of the Metro Development & Housing Agency, and Gary Gaston of the Civic Design Center.
Friday’s programming began with a review of Nashville’s plans to develop its East Bank district, featuring Anna Grider with the Metro Nashville planning department and Ben Crenshaw with the Southern Land Company. Grider shared the insights driving the development plan: residents’ desires to be closer to the river, the need for multimodal transportation and connections, and the need to address equity and affordability. Crenshaw stressed the need to seek community input on major development projects such as this one. Noted urban planning expert Andres Duany joined in the discussion virtually and offered his insights into the plan, cautioning the city officials against trying to appeal to all audiences with this plan.
“When people move to a city, they have a choice of living in the city or the suburbs. Your suburbs are getting better and better. Your competition is with your own suburbs,” Duany argued.
Friday’s lineup also included a session focused on billboard laws in the wake of the recent Austin v. Reagan decision protecting a community’s rights to ban digital billboards and recent billboard issues, featuring presentations by attorney Cooke Kelsey, Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Shawn Bible, and Johnson City Attorney Sunny Sandos.
Next, Scenic Tennessee showcased Tennessee Vistas, its newly launched online scenic viewshed register. The presentation was led by Virginia Tech’s Patrick Miller, who created a similar project in Virginia. He was joined by Tennessee Strategic Technology Services’ Paul Dudley and Kari Williams. The morning ended with an update on Tennessee Cleaner Landscapes for the Economy, Agriculture & Nature by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Kevin Botts.
On Friday afternoon, scenic tools and ordinances came into focus with a session in which Gatlinburg’s Jeff Ownby discussed protections for slopes and hillsides in this gateway city; Metro Nashville Council’s Burkley Allen highlighted the city’s dark sky ordinance, and Scenic America’s Nate O’Neill took a closer look at new resources and opportunities for utility undergrounding.
The following session explored the scenic concerns of the electric vehicle revolution, including presentations by Drive Electric Tennessee’s Savannah Robertson, TVA’s McKale Carter, TDOT’s Matthew Meservy, and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce’s Laura Leigh Harris, moderated by Scenic Pittsburgh President and Scenic America Board Chair Mike Dawida.
To close out the symposium, Tennessee’s burgeoning agritourism scene came into focus with presentations by the University of Tennessee Extension Service’s Center for Profitable Agriculture’s Megan Bruch Leffew, Lucky Ladd Farms’ Amy Ladd, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s John Noel, TennGreen Land Conservancy’s Christie Henderson, and Burns Village’s John Patrick.
Sponsors for the symposium included John Noel & Melinda Welton, Tennessee Department of Transportation, RaganSmith, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, John R. Hedrick, the Civic Design Center, TennGreen Land Conservancy, and Nashville Sites.
Scenic America and Scenic Tennessee leaders were delighted with the rich content and enthusiastic response that the event received from hosts, presenters, and attendees alike.
“This symposium was a phenomenal success and a testament to the importance of these issues in communities today as they face development pressures and opportunities,” said Scenic America President Mark Falzone. “We are grateful to Scenic Tennessee for their hospitality and partnership in creating a terrific event.”
“So many scenic issues are on display and in the headlines in Nashville right now, and it was an honor to share our experiences and challenges with our friends and allies during this symposium,” said Scenic America President Marge Davis.