EDITOR’S LETTER

There’s no telling where it came from, but I have my suspicions. You’ve heard it. The meme that keeps getting regurgitated on social media and in the press that implies if you’re not for every development then you must be antiprogress. If you’re not lockstep with some master plan that has as its central tenet density, density, density, then you must be feebleminded and unreasonable.
     It isn’t the fact this idea is complete, unadulterated bullshit that makes it stick in my craw. Rather, it’s that it forces me to recognize as reality what I’ve up until now preferred to remain in denial about: Money doesn’t give a damn about communities. Especially BIG money.
     I realize that might sound naïve, especially to the laissez- faire types in the crowd, but it isn’t. What it is is pushback against a cynicism that is eating away at our society like a cancer. The new, catchall, remove-all-responsablity phrase is “market forces at work.” Really? I call it pissing on your fellow human beings.
     I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it again now: In a perfect world, we’d all be Libertarians. The thing is, last time I checked, the world is far from perfect. We may all be created equal, but by the time we’re adults our Masters differ. Some lead lives of service while others serve Mammon. It’s always been this way.
    If you asked them, the vast majority of people living in our community would consider themselves middle class. They work for a living. They don’t have golden parachutes and stock options. They probably wouldn’t trade their lives for that of a Wall Street banker, either.
     But does it follow that because they haven’t chosen a life of making money on complex financial instruments they are less than those who do? When capital begins flowing through our community in the form of residential development, the profits from which flow right back out again, are we being obstructionist simply because we want a seat at the table?
     The game being played now is one with very high stakes, and the monied interests understand very well that the only threat to their interests lie in zoning and planning. They hire attorneys to pour through ordinances — all of which are available online at Nashville.gov should you care to look. They pay people who are well-dressed and well-spoken to appear before the planning commission and Metro Council.
     They know the game.
     The average citizen, on the other hand, is working, raising a family, putting food on the table, living a life. Diving into the nuances of city governance is something most people have neither the time nor the inclination to do.
     That’s the reason for Metro Council. If you voted in the last election in which your council member was on the ballot, then you have a say (theoretically), whether your candidate won or not. 2015 is an election year; we will choose a new mayor, as well as new council members. This election will have a far-reaching impact on Nashville’s future, particularly where our neighborhoods are concerned.
     During the many conversations about the changing face of Nashville I’ve participated in, not once did anyone ever say they were staunchly opposed to new development. On the contrary. What I hear repeatedly is a desire to be heard and for there to be a balance. The developers arrived hear for a reason — and, yes, it is definitely a market driven one. There’s money to be made, and lots of it. NOW is the time for leadership at the council and mayoral level. Put in place mechanisms that force developers to be better stewards of the city from which they are profiting so handsomely.
     Which leads me to one the greatest concerns I hear: Who pays for the infrastructure to support all of this? Right now, we do. That’s why I don’t buy the “market forces” mantra. It’s a scenario similar to the too-big-to-fail banks, only in this case after the developers sail into the sunset, Metro realizes it’s time to pay the infrastructure piper, and we get hit with the bill. Sure, it’s more complicated than that, and the wonks in the finance department are hollering, “Just think about all of the property tax revenue,” but so what?
     I’ve met with and know more than a handful of developers, most of whom I believe are genuine in their intentions to make a positive contribution to the city. Unfortunately, it seems the good ones are in a minority.
     We get the government — and the neighborhoods — we deserve. If we don’t participate in the process, what should we expect? When a developer goes before Metro Council for a public hearing on a Specific Plan rezoning and 10 people show up that sends a message. If 100 people show up and they’re organized and armed with the facts, that sends a MESSAGE. Sending 5,000 emails to a council member has a helluva lot of traction.
     It really isn’t all doom and gloom for 2015, because the power is there if we choose to use it. It takes a little bit more effort than posting displeasure on your Facebook page, however. It takes some form of proactive engagement, whether that takes the form of an email to your council member, attendance at a neighborhood meeting, familiarizing yourself with the basics of how the system works, or even something as simple as getting to know your neighbor.
     Or not. And if that’s the case, welcome to your neighborhood.