Professors, graduates called on to help frame Nashville's future in city's NashvilleNext

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As the city of Nashville begins a historic process of planning for the next 25 years, it has come to several Lipscomb University professors and graduates to help in the community engagement process guiding the city’s long-term planning for 2040.

College of Education Dean Candice McQueen and Institute for Sustainable Practice Executive Director Dodd Galbreath were called upon to write background reports on their respective expertise areas, and Colby Sledge and Stephanie McCullough, graduates of the Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership, are involved in the community engagement portions of the initiative.

NashvilleNext ( is a community-driven process for creating a countywide plan which will guide Metro Nashville through 2040. 

“The last time we updated the plan was in 1992, so it’s time to start thinking big picture and big future again,” said Jennifer Carlat, assistant director of planning at the Metro Nashville Davidson County Planning Department. “But it’s never been updated with this level of community involvement.”


McQueen and Galbreath

Candice McQueen
Dodd Galbreath

To kick off the NashvilleNext initiative, the city is holding a speaker series through early May featuring nationally recognized thought leaders on topics important to Nashville’s future. Each speaker’s talk is accompanied by the online release of a background report on a particular related topic to encourage citizens to inform themselves and engage in discussion.

Taking its cue from other successful cities like Portland, Ore., Nashville officials looked to various local scholars to “bring their local expertise to bear and to get all our creative juices flowing,” said Carlat.

Candice McQueen’s report on education, co-written with Dr. Claire Smrekar and Hillary Knudson, both of Vanderbilt University, was posted in conjunction with the March 11 guest speaker Dr. Henry Cisneros, chairman of CityView, who spoke on “Prosperity: "Modern Cities as Engines of Economic Development and Social Progress.”

“All the requested background reports talk about the state-of-the-art and best practices on the particular topic, what Nashville is doing well and where the city could improve, and then make recommendations,” Carlat said. “So for example, Dean McQueen has been very involved with the mayor and the district schools on innovation on school choice and the Teach for America corps, so she was able to bring that expertise and that knowledge to bear on the education report.”

Dodd Galbreath’s background report, co-written by Tom McCormick of Sustainable Tennessee, explores where the city is now in terms of readiness for climate change and extreme weather changes. Galbreath’s report was posted on March 25, in conjunction with speaker Doug Farr, president/CEO or Farr Associates, who spoke on “Environment: Sustainable Urbanism and Community Livability.”

McCormack is an expert on hazard adaptation and Galbreath brought an expertise in sustainability. The way the city can be prepared for more hazardous weather events – like the 2010 flood – is by promoting sustainable development, said Carlat, summarizing the report.

"Extreme heat and floods are the new normal. It is therefore prudent that Nashville prepare for what is already worse than we've known before," said Galbreath. “Many cities that are ready for the new normal have restored nature to eliminate or lessen floods and heat. Local energy is being made from endless sources, and food is grown and distributed closer to home. These communities thrive economically and socially and are the new standard."

All the NashvilleNext reports can be found here, along with links to online discussion boards and the ability to e-mail in your comments on each report. Upcoming topics explored in the NashvilleNEXT speaker series include regional partnerships on May 6. To see details on the NashvilleNext speaker series and planning process, go to


Sledge and McCullough

Colby Sledge
Stephanie McCullough

Two graduates of the Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership are also playing important roles with NashvilleNext’s community engagement: Colby Sledge, account executive at McNeely, Piggot and Fox, serves as the day-to-day contact for the team carrying out the NashvilleNext community outreach, and Stephanie McCullough, communications and community outreach coordinator at the Nashville Civic Design Center, serves as an advisor to the Metro planning staff for outreach strategies.

According to Sledge, McNeely, Piggot and Fox is focusing “heavily on underserved populations that don’t typically have a voice in this kind of process. Those groups include immigrants and recent arrivals to Nashville, young professionals and senior citizens. We want to ensure that everyone who wants to be part of NashvilleNext has multiple ways to get started, provide input and stay involved throughout the process.”

That’s a concept that fits perfectly with his studies at the institute, which emphasize collaboration among public, private and nonprofit organizations to build thriving communities. “The civic leadership program’s emphasis on cross-sector collaboration has helped me tremendously,” he said. In fact, Sledge’s capstone project for the institute involving models to strengthen neighborhood associations is now being as a tool within the NashvilleNext initiative, he said.

“It has been exciting and a little overwhelming to see the community’s positive response to the project so far,” Sledge said. “We’re only in the first months of a three-year process, but our overarching goal will remain the same throughout: To lead a comprehensive outreach effort so that every Nashville community – geographic, ethnic and otherwise – can look at the finished product and say, “Our voices were heard.”

In her role at the Nashville Civic Design Center (NCDC), McCullough has had plenty of experience engaging the community. The center’s mission is “to elevate the quality of Nashville’s built environment through education and public participation.” Now she is bringing her expertise to the NashvilleNext Community Engagement Committee.

“They are helping us to recruit existing groups – parent/teacher organizations, book clubs, merchant associations, neighborhood associations -- and matching those groups with city planners,” Carlat said.

The city is sending planners out to meetings of these groups to discuss NashvilleNEXT and do visioning sessions. “It’s about meeting people where they are,” Carlat said.

McCullough said her studies at the Andrews Institute helped her develop new ways to communicate in order to motivate neighbors into action.

“I used my project to research applications that could be used as part of NashvilleNext,” said McCullough. Text messaging and online input gathering systems like Neighborland and MindMixer are examples of technology McCullough explored and are now being used within NashvilleNext.

“My experience working in neighborhoods while working at the NCDC reinforced the need for a larger toolkit in order to educate, engage and empower the community. Not everyone processes information the same way, or are motivated to act by the same things,” she said. “Our neighbors have great ideas and know what they want – sometimes they just need someone to help organize and facilitate the process.”