Writing about Oakland, Calif., the city she grew up in, the author Gertrude Stein once wrote: “There’s no there there.”

I wound up in Murfreesboro because there seemed to be more of a “there” here than in Smyrna, my original destination.

Where’s your proofreader, Mr. Keast?

But to be honest, we don’t have the kind of “there” that Franklin has or even Chattanooga.

"Where's the beef?"
“Where’s the beef?”

Finding our “there” is a major recommendation in the Kendig Keast report on planning for the next 20 years of rapid growth here. But the section dealing with this issue is basically a cop out There are examples of what other communities like Franklin, Charlottesville, Va., and Ashville, N.C. have done. But there is precious little  on what Murfreesboro can do to find its “there”.

The consultant closes with an exit line that leaves you hanging: “What are the noteworthy attributes does Murfreesboro possess (grammar isn’t his strong point) that could be used to brand the city as a unique place worthy of spending (what?) visiting?”

Beyond a few hints on how the city can market itself to tourists, we are left to our own devices.

Hey, Buddy! Wanna buy this bridge?"
Hey, Buddy! Wanna buy this bridge?”

It’s dangerous to leave me to my own devices because I’m really good at spending other peoples’ money on pie-in-the-sky projects.

A Disneyland for adults

The eastern part of Joe B Jackson has been pretty much ruined with businesses that don’t generate many jobs. What follows is an attempt to save the western part, on the other side of I-24, from a similar fate.

If an innovation district is better suited for the underdeveloped land south of City Hall, or property closer to MTSU, why not create a corporate office center on the land west of I-24?

1 and 1/2 cheers fo the courthouse square

If there is a major theme in the Murfreesboro 2035 planning study, it’s the idea that the best companies with the highest-paying jobs are following talented people, locating in places creative workers choose to live. Thus, if you want to get good companies, you have to attract talented people, a key resource these companies compete for.

The sundial bridge tells the correct time one day a year.
The sundial bridge tells the correct time one day a year.

I love the city’s Jazzfest, and since I am an out-of-town freeloader, who deserves to be annexed, I plan to make a contribution to it this year. But to be honest, the city needs more than the courthouse square, the medical center area, or Home Depot on  Old Fort Parkway to attract knowledge workers.

Disneyland for adults

Like an innovation district, my idea for Joe B East would have mixed uses. Multifamily housing would serve workers who want to walk to work. Everything in the district would be designed to promote interaction among talented people. The area would be crisscrossed with paths, and there would be at least one small park with a pond in the middle and a paved walkway around it. If  workers there crave action at night, a coffee shop and perhaps a  bar with live entertainment would give it to them. The area might even have a theme, like the Gay Nineties Gaslight Square district (gone now unfortunately) that St. Louis created in the 1960s.

And an icon to top it all off

Redding's Cascade Theater, an art deco treasure from 1935
Redding’s Cascade Theater, an art deco treasure from 1935

The city of Redding, Calif, is slightly smaller than Murfreesboro — about 90,000 people in 2013. The town has a terrific recreation area at the Lake Shasta reservoir (now at a low level) and one of the few remaining art deco theaters in Calif. But the city fathers wanted something more. They hired the renowned Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, to give it to them.

The bridge he designed was controversial at first because, with cost overruns, the price tag came to $23.5 million. Although the entire bill was funded privately, many residents thought there were better uses for the money. Few people feel that way now, however, as the bridge draws an estimated 300,000 people yearly. They come just to take the free, 700-foot walk across it.

Last year, the bridge celebrated its 10th anniversary.  In an article marking the event, the Sacramento Bee quoted a local official as saying: “There’s a there there now.”

Waking across you feel like a part of the river.
Waking across you feel like a part of the river.

If I were planning a bridge here now, I would have it connect the upscale homes in the Savannah Ridge development with my corporate center on Joe B Jackson.

“Damn the obstacles; full speed ahead.”

Now maybe there are problems. Cost is one. Perhaps the soils there wouldn’t support a bridge. Or maybe the railroad would be an insurmountable obstacle. Would a 700-foot span be long enough? It doesn’t matter. This is my pipe dream, and its scale dwarfs anything the consultant is suggesting. That’s because he, unlike me, has to be responsible

We have a good start

Cannonsburgh Village, The Oaklands Plantation Home museum, the Stones River Battlefield, the Greenway, the JazzFest, Uncle Dave Macon Days, the Saturday farmers’ markets in the courthouse square are all seeds that can give the city a sense of identity. But they aren’t enough.

Here are some strategies that the consultant claims have worked elsewhere:

— Tout the scenic beauty that surrounds your community. Asheville, N.C., for example, promotes its location in the scenic Blue Ridge Montains and its “thriving arts scene.” The consultant states that tourism brings in $4.7 million each day to Asheville and its surrounding county.

— Promote your town’s historic roots. Oakland, Calif., addressed Getrude Stein’s concern by creating Jack London Square, a vibrant shopping and eating district along its waterfront. Among the square’s events is a writer’s club that pays tribute to the Bay Area author for whom the square was named.

— Create retail districts with atmosphere. Boston capitalizes on its historic past with its Faneuil Hall Maketplace The great thing around this shopping area is the huge shade trees that run down the middle of the main shopping area. The Avenue here could be a similar place, but it’s long on concrete and short on shade.

— Establish linear walkways and parks that connect important parts of the city. The Greenway is a good start in this direction.

— Set aside open space areas that draw people who are looking for recreation or who just want to relax outdoors. Fremont Calif., turned the problem of a major earthquake fault that runs through the center of town into an asset. The area along the fault line became a 500 acre park with an 83 acre man-made lake in the middle that is a center for fishing, boating or just walking.

At the celebration of the Sundial Bridge’s anniversary, Bev Stupek, who works at a park at one end of the Sundial Bridge, took a poke at former critics of the iconic structure. According to the Sacramento Bee, she jokingly said at one of the bridge’s celebration events:

“There’s a unanimity we bring to the table that we didn’t have 10 years ago, as some of you may remember the bridge being slightly controversial,” she told one group, pausing for scattered laughter. “There were even some naysayers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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