Matt Genova, MUP 2018
Organization: Metropolitan Nashville Planning Department, Nashville, TN
Sponsor: Joint Center for Housing Studies Community Service Fellowship
” As I wrap up my internship here in Nashville this summer, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned during my 10 weeks with the Planning Department.
While it’s impossible to distill the entire summer down into just a handful of takeaways and do justice to the whole experience, the following ideas stood out to me as particularly important nuggets for my future in planning (and hopefully for others as well!). In no particular order:
- Collaboration is key. The level of coordination required across different government agencies (e.g. planning departments, DOTs, mayoral offices, city council members, public works departments, etc.) to make any one large-scale project happen is incredibly high. Inter-agency collaboration is something Nashville has worked on a lot over the last few years, and it’s been great to see that play out in meaningful ways with respect to things like transit and infrastructure.
- Planners wear a lot of hats. Day-to-day, city planners need to understand everything from policy and zoning nuances with respect to specific development sites to how projects and initiatives fit in with the long-term social, economic, and physical vision for the city.
- Rights-of-way are complicated, especially in densely developed areas. This may sound obvious, but seeing first-hand how much streets, sidewalks, and bikeways can change in dimension and configuration from block to block made it much clearer why the expansion of sidewalk, bike, and transit networks is no small task.
- Public outreach processes must strike a balance between being informative and being approachable. Too little information can make members of the public feel uninformed or as though a process is disingenuous, while too much information (especially early on in the process) can be overwhelming or make it easy for opponents to derail a process due to small details that may change as the project evolves anyways.
- Standardization is challenging, but important. It’s difficult to standardize existing similar programs from across governmental and non-profit agencies and bring these initiatives together under one umbrella. Nashville is working on one unified clearinghouse for local placemaking opportunities (like SF’s Better Streets Toolkit), but creating a sense of cohesion among disparate programs that have developed in different organizational silos can be tough.
Overall, it’s been a great summer in Nashville, and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to learn in a city that’s growing and thriving. The energy around the city is infectious, and that’s due in no small part to the continued efforts of city officials to create a place that is welcoming and provides a high quality of life for old and new Nashvillians alike. I can’t wait to get back to the classroom in Cambridge this fall to apply some of these lessons learned.”