Park Plan for Bell's Bend: Nashville, Tennessee

City Parks Forum Case Study


Bell's BendLong an entertainment center for the world and inarguably the country music capital, Nashville sounds have evoked a fondness and longing for green fields and bucolic life within its audiences. The association between Nashville and the countryside runs deep, even among long-time residents. However, the allure of a relaxed, laid-back lifestyle of high quality and affordability has made Nashville an irresistible draw for multitudes of new residents. Metropolitan Nashville has more than doubled in population in just the last 40 years and is now close to 1.5 million. While Nashville political leaders have responded in groundbreaking ways, particularly by merging the governments of the City of Nashville and Davidson County, only recently has there been political initiative to plan for the preservation of the rapidly shrinking countryside.

The Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Department (Metro Parks) has well served greater Nashville for more than a century through its facilities and diverse programs in more than 100 parks. However, at no point in its long history had the department ever produced a long-range master plan for park development. The dearth of formal parks planning in Nashville changed recently under the auspices of Mayor Bill Purcell, who initiated the first ever Metropolitan Parks and Greenways Master Plan to guide his region's park system into its second century. Over the next several years, more than $260 million in park improvements or investments are planned, with $35 million in the first year alone. The investment represents the largest single appropriation in the history of Nashville's Parks Department. Why the sudden shift?

Land UseA change in direction for Metro Parks may have begun in the early 1990s with 808 acres of pristine open space on the Cumberland River, known as Bell's Bend. Nashville/Davidson County government had acquired the tract as a possible landfill, in reaction to the tremendous growth in greater Nashville's population. However, in 2001 government officials determined that there was no need for a landfill in the area. Bell's Bend was transferred from the responsibility of public works to that of the parks department. The dramatic new addition to the parks system prompted Mayor Purcell to undergo a case study of the site and present it to the American Planning Association's City Parks Forum. The City Parks Forum, in turn, invested in Mayor Purcell's initiative with a $35,000 Catalyst Grant to kick-start the planning process for Bell's Bend. The planning momentum eventually encompassed all of the Cumberland River greenways and parks in greater Nashville and the first Metropolitan Parks and Greenway Master Plan was born.

The amenities and upgrades for Bell's Bend and the other parks in the system are impressive. The following are highlights of the 10-year parks master plan:

  • Make improvements to every park (upgrades, repair, or replacement of existing buildings, sport fields, sidewalks, signage, and fencing)
  • Acquire 2,200 acres of new parklands over the next 20 years
  • Install playgrounds at all Metro area elementary schools
  • Expand current greenway system to 200 miles of trails that will link parks, neighborhoods, and schools
  • Build five new regional community centers and two expanded community centers
  • Expand educational, environmental, teen, and cultural programming
  • Improve operation and maintenance of park system
  • Ensure all park facilities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act

Nashville hopes that its planning efforts in Bell's Bend, facilitated by the American Planning Association, will establish a model park planning approach for future projects, and that the Metropolitan Parks and Greenway Master Plan will secure a greener future for the entire region.


Roy Wilson, Director
Metro Parks & Recreation
511 Oman St.
Nashville, TN 37201
(P) 615-862-8400

Images: Top — Bell's Bend. Source: City of Nashville. Bottom — Land Use. Source: City of Nashville.