Why Not Give All Parks to Developers?

If the fiscally responsible thing to do is to give away Fort Negley Park, why not Centennial and Percy Warner, too?

By BETSY PHILLIPS  –  OCT 23, 2017 11 AM


Jessica Bliss over at The Tennessean has the latest argument being floated by Cloud Hill development supporters for why Nashvillians should just acquiesce to giving the developers a huge section of Fort Negley Park to put a neighborhood on — apparently it just makes fiscal sense.

A park, [Kim Hawkins, part of the Cloud Hill team] said, is not unlike landscaping your front yard. You start with a very blank slate. In the case of the Greer Stadium land, that means demolishing a large existing structure. 

“That’s a whole lot of coming down,” Hawkins said. “Underneath is heavily compacted soil. You can’t just throw grass seed on it.”

There would be cost not only for demolition and removal but also all the landscaping, including soil, plants, irrigation systems, playgrounds, fountains, pavilions and restrooms.


Cloud Hill proposals would avoid all that, with part of the revenue generated from the retail and housing space being allocated to the maintenance of the public and private green space — at no cost to the city or the taxpayers, Hawkins said. 

Hawkins respects the historical significance of the area, but based on cost alone, she doesn’t believe a park-only option overseen by Metro Parks is the right option for the city. 

“It’s like, ‘How are we going to get all this money?’ ” Hawkins said.

“We would love to do it all. It all adds to the quality of the city, but there’s just so much to balance.”

Well, on the one hand, at least the Cloud Hill developers have stopped comparing opponents to Nazis and accusing us of race-baiting. Now we’re just pie-in-the-sky fiscally irresponsible fools.

On the other hand, all of this is bullshit. No one who’s opposing Cloud Hill is demanding “soil, plants, irrigation systems, playgrounds, fountains, pavilions, and restrooms.” I mean, there are already restrooms. What opponents are saying is that some people — i.e. Cloud Hill — got the chance to dream big about what would happen at Fort Negley Park, and people who just wanted it to remain a park weren’t ever given an equal shot to sell their big dreams to the public.

They have since presented some big dreams. But really, the status quo, which at least holds the possibility of the park someday being restored, is better than losing parkland to a neighborhood.

Also, I hate to argue with a landscape designer about how hard it might be to grow grass on compacted dirt, but if she were to go over to Fort Negley Park today and look into the old Greer Stadium parking lot, she would see grass growing in the cracks of the asphalt. So apparently the grass hasn’t gotten the memo that it can’t grow there.

I know I keep harping on this, but it’s because we all have eyeballs. You literally can go to the internet, pull up a map of the area between the interstates where Fort Negley sits, and you can see for yourself that there are no sizable parks there. There’s no place for kids to play a game of sandlot baseball. No place for folks to kick around a soccer ball over lunch. No place for a classroom of kids to go in search of frogs or bugs or to do that weird flappy thing with the parachute. The only big place in that area that could be that for those neighborhoods is Fort Negley Park.

And once you stick a neighborhood on top of that open space, that open space is not coming back.

Here’s the other thing, which should go without saying, but apparently we have to state the obvious these days. Cloud Hill supporters keep saying that all this would happen “at no cost to the city or the taxpayers.”

But there is a cost: the park. Right now, as crappy as it may be, we have a large park. When we give a huge swath of the park to developers, we will no longer have a large park. That is a cost.

And it’s disingenuous to act like it’s not.

Parks have value. They have value that often can’t be measured fiscally. What price could you put on Percy Warner Park or Shelby Park? If parkland is worth only what some developer wants to pay for it, then the city owning parks at all is stupid.

But no one thinks that. We all think city parks are invaluable to the health and well-being of the city. We all know you can’t put a price on what it means to have a place you can go to get away from it all and be out in nature. We know there’s no way to put monetary value on many of the benefits of parks.

There’s no argument that Kim Hawkins is making here that couldn’t apply to any park in the city. They are expensive to maintain. They do need a lot of care and thought and planning. But we’ve decided as a city that they’re worth it.

Parks have value. They’re good for neighborhoods. They’re good for people. The people who live near Fort Negley Park deserve a large, well-maintained park as much as anyone else in the city. We now have a large park that is not so well-maintained, but if we give much of it to developers, we will foreclose the possibility of having a large well-maintained park.

That is a steep cost to Nashville. Let’s not pretend otherwise.