And the Winners Are…?
Just as it was with previous attempts, the latest “Transit Plan” died on the table. The difference this time around seemed to be the disparate nature of the opposition. From young ultra-progressives to the stereotypical older, white conservatives, across racial lines and income levels, the “Vote No” crowd defied categorization. Well, other than sharing the common goal of shooting down the referendum.
I find it disappointing. But, before you start filling my inbox with talking points provided by Americans for Prosperity or screaming about taxes, please hear me out. Sure, I’m very disappointed that it didn’t pass, and I have no desire to beat a dead horse. The ship has sailed. Despite what many of the naysayers believe, it could very well be a long time before this opportunity presents itself again. What disappoints me the most is we never seem to get around to having a conversation about the one thing that makes a great city great: culture. In other words, how do we as Nashvillians view the culture of our fair city? How can we make it better? What sacrifices are we willing to make to achieve this?
I’ve resided in Middle Tennessee for the better part of my life. Since 1977, to be exact, having moved to Franklin with my family. We lived in Oakwood Estates, which is located just south of the downtown area, off the Goose Creek exit on I-65. Back then, the drive into Nashville on the Interstate was miles and miles of farmland. No Cool Springs. No Nissan HQ. Nothing, really. The first sign of organized civilization as you headed north was the WSM tower in Brentwood. The city began at the Old Hickory Boulevard overpass. I’ve witnessed the change over the years as the city seemed to spread out to the surrounding environs like kudzu. Sleepy I-65 South has gone from four lanes to 12 in some areas. Where once one could make the drive into town with only the radio to remind you of the city nearby, now it feels like the 101 in L.A. At least at rush hour.
Humanity has increased its size by billions of people since 1980, and there are times I can’t help but think half of those people decided to move to Nashville. I’m not opposed to the influx; it’s a result of our attractive culture. However, I do see problems down the road if we aren’t able to address our shortcomings.
I first noticed how awry the conversation had gone when we were working on the cover story “Where Goes the Neighborhood” (March|April 2014), about the surge of development and the “Tall/Skinnies” that seemed to be popping up everywhere. What struck me was how one-sided the conversations were. It was basically, “Developers suck!” Granted, there were and remain unsavory developers. We had to deal with a particularly egregious example directly across the street from our house. But what I never heard was the other component of the conversation — the opposing argument if you will, which, if anything, is a progressive one: If Nashville fails to increase density in the urban core, the result will be more outlying subdivisions, which in turn will lead to more traffic congestion.
So, here again, rather than the conversation centering on how these issues address our culture, it devolved into a pissing contest between the communities and the developers and, if the cranes upon the skyline are any indication, the developers won. At best, we missed an opportunity; at worst, well… And, so it goes with mass transit. No one seems to be able to look past their self-interests long enough to engage with the bigger picture. The development will continue. The influx of transplants from other urban areas that are rapidly becoming unaffordable, even to those with means, will continue. Traffic congestion? Its growth will most certainly continue.
All things community arise from the culture of the community. People didn’t decide to start moving to East Nashville in droves because of the Tall/Skinnies; they came here because of the culture. Is affordability part of the culture? Damn straight it is. And one day soon, not being able to cross town without getting in a car will have a negative impact on our culture.
If we prioritize the culture when contemplating the city in which we wish to live, and we are able to have a conversation about it, then maybe the Nashville of the future will be recognized first for its culture. Otherwise, we lose the very thing that makes our city a great place to call home.