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Nashville, Miami latest cities inspired by Beltline’s urban redevelopment

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Even Tennesseans concede a city known for “snarled traffic and suburban sprawl” might be onto something.

The Beltline’s Westside Trail debuted a year ago, adding three miles to the planned 22-mile loop.
The Beltline’s Westside Trail debuted a year ago, adding three miles to the planned 22-mile loop.
Curbed Atlanta

Not to relive sour memories—or to whip up bad blood between Southern boomtowns—but remember when that Nashville mayoral candidate was talking so much trash about Atlanta?

Three years ago, in a heated runoff for the mayor’s seat, Nashville businessman and Republican hopeful David Fox launched an ad campaign smearing Atlanta, warning voters that without sufficient leadership, the Tennessee capital was doomed to be strangled by traffic and growth. (In one commercial, a saddened, frustrated commuter holds signs stating: “Hey Nashville. Welcome to Atlanta. Don’t make the same mistakes we did.”) Fox eventually lost, but the clip still lives on YouTube.

If a recent newspaper account is any indication, however, Music City might be changing its tune.

In the latest nod to the Atlanta Beltline’s transformative potential, Nashville’s the Tennessean published a genuinely—if reluctantly—complimentary article last month titled, “Nashville can learn some growth lessons from Atlanta—yes, Atlanta.” Meanwhile, city leaders in Miami called the Beltline the blueprint for an urban trails project that’s been percolating for years, echoing sentiments from cities in metro Atlanta looking to borrow from the Beltline template.

The Nashville report was spurred by a visit from none other than Beltline visionary (and evangelist) Ryan Gravel, and it begins with a not-unreasonable dig: “For many, a mention of Atlanta conjures long commutes, snarled traffic, and suburban sprawl.”

As the New York Times and others have chronicled, once-sleepy Nashville has been experiencing a building boom that’s reshaped the city’s skyline and led to population growth around 100 new residents per day.

Cranes over Nashville, as seen a year ago this week.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Still, earlier this year, voters roundly rejected a sweeping, $5.4 billion mass transit plan called “Let’s Move Nashville,” which would have included five light-rail lines, more than a dozen transit centers, and a beefed-up bus network, among other projects. (A political scandal on the part of the initiative’s champion—the mayor who’d beaten Fox—didn’t help).

Following Gravel’s visit, the Nashville paper acknowledged the Beltline as “an innovative transit redevelopment project” that could “provide some lessons for planners and government officials in the Nashville region, which is grappling with its own growth.”

Gravel, who now heads his urban design consultancy Sixpitch, spoke to a summit of metro Nashville leaders of the Beltline's potential for preserving green space, boosting health and mobility, and providing equitable growth.

A duplicate Beltline in Nashville isn’t likely, as the city’s railways are very much active. But as Gravel noted, the “concepts and civic engagement could apply to Nashville ... particularly for future mass transit planning,” per the Tennessean.

Meanwhile, down in Miami-Dade County, a linear park called Ludlam Trails is moving forward after commissioners approved a purchase for $25 million of an abandoned railway that stretches for about six miles, according to Local 10 News.

In the works for at least seven years, the project could break ground next month. As the news station notes, “The county has used Atlanta’s Beltline for inspiration.”