Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Urban Paradise?

As I wrote in the last post Bless You're Heart I have tried to explain why I have such personal problems with Nashville. The reality is that while I find the lack of education and the ability to have rational intelligent discussions frustrating if not impossible, I do discuss other issues that I find exceedingly relevant and that is the infrastructure and the obsession Nashville has with patting itself on the back for doing what I am not clear.

We lack public transport, we lack sidewalks, crosswalks, timed lights, we lack a downtown core that has more than honky tonks.  The endless approval of permits to build with insufficient issues such as drainage, proper inspections and other issues that surround both code and services that surround the endless structures being built is laughable.     Build housing but with it see if the area can sustain them, such as Grocery Stores, Hardware stores, Laundry and Dry Cleaners, and other amenities that make a neighborhood. And do so that is in reason with the average income.  The endless bullshit about the six figures is not true, if that was the case the median wage would be much higher than 45K which it has been for years. Again hospitality, medical and government are the largest employers not exactly the incomes that are in the upper strata.

It goes without saying that the public schools are egregious and disgraceful and in turn the inability to have educated and trained workforce which explains the crime problem here that for a city this size is disproportionately high.

Which falls in line with the corruption and other issues surrounding the public figures that dominate the region. In the past two years I have seen Judges indicted, Sherriff's also arrested; Legislators investigated for sexual harrassment, the problems with the sole safety net regarding health care,  City Hospital falling into scandal after scandal.  A Mayor resign for theft of public monies to enable her affair and now the head of  the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has taken leave as he too took a page from the Slattern Berry's book and used public monies to fund his affair.

None of this seems unusual given the current state of affairs in America; however, this is even more disturbing given the "religious" emphasis in the area.  I have heard story after story, heard praise Jesus after praise Jesus comment about how God is this amazing being but the ability to violate said Commandments and laws that the Bible espouse occurs on a daily basis.  The irony is that they use to same texts in which to judge and ostracize others while seemingly exempt themselves from the same;  Hypocrisy must have been the missing Disciple.

But the most disturbing part of living in Nashville is the endless patting on the back nonsense as if this is the Paris of the South.  It is laughable if not tragic, grim and pathetic. 

This is from New York Magazine written by a local writer and his insight is much like mine, the carpetbagger with only two years of residency on which to compare.  But he is right with regards to our urban planning or lack thereof and I do comment on some of his observations with my own.

But the reality is that Nashville is not going to be some urban paradise in this next decade.   This is not surprising and again given what we currently know about the city's current fiscal problems, there is no expected resolutions regarding some of the more major issues that confront the city and that is the issue regarding flooding.  Again this city flooded badly only eight years ago and given what we are seeing regarding our climate change and weather issues this may be sooner versus later when this happens again.


Downtown Nashville Is Supposed to Be the Model of the Walkable 21st-Century City. I’m Not So Sure.

By Justin Davidson
New York Magazine
June 8, 2018

On a spring evening in Nashville, I join the line outside the Station Inn, the venerable joint where grizzled fiddlers and young banjo hotshots converge for the Sunday-night bluegrass jam. A decade ago, the squat stone structure was the only sign of life in an industrial tract down by the rail yards. The beer is still cheap and the music homespun, but outside the metal door is the Gulch, “a hotspot for young urbanites,” as the city’s visitor website puts it. There’s an Urban Outfitters across the street, next to a Lucchese store selling $500 cowboy boots. Around the corner, the Turnip Truck supermarket is running a sale on kombucha. Down the block, a cluster of high-rise rental buildings sprouts from the vale of parking lots and one-story warehouses. This is what the 21st-century American city is supposed to be, a satisfying and active mix of cultural holdovers, storefronts, and apartment buildings. Except the sidewalks are empty and the streets as wide as rivers. In reality, it’s a lukewarm spot at best. 

America is getting cities wrong again. For decades, planners, mayors, and activists have promoted the dense, walkable downtown as the solution to a vast array of problems. Studies and news articles have celebrated the young people who flock to urban centers, live in apartments, walk to school, and bike to work, promoting diversity and tolerance, raising property values and coffee standards, and foretelling an end to sprawl. That optimism has curdled, largely because of the side effects of success. Richard Florida, who once believed the “creative class” would bring a new inner-city Eden, now thinks that saving downtowns is a good way to destroy them.

The hope that American cities would gradually morph into miniature Manhattans or heartland Copenhagens evaporates as soon as you try walking around Nashville or Phoenix or Louisville. In most of those places, it’s not clear what the word “city” even means: neighborhoods of single-family houses don’t look much different on one side of the county line than they do on the other. Often, a theoretically walkable neighborhood is actually a tourist strip, or a tiny nugget that you can cross in just a few minutes on foot, before you hit a multi-lane road or a strip mall. A shopping district consists of a coffee place, a restaurant, and a boutique or two.

Nashville is a boomtown, slurping up millennials and immigrants to work in health care, tech, auto parts, and education. A high-powered global music industry coexists — and overlaps — with a network of amateur virtuosos and barely-paid pros, who keep the bars on Broadway afloat and the tourists entertained. A free shuttle bus plies a tourist loop, but the most visible form of transit is the pedal tavern, which gradually slows over the course of the evening as the passenger-bikers get more sloshed.  ** with this is the endless golf carts as a form of donated transport, the endless push for car share services in lieu of transport and the reality is that few if any of the businesses are affordable for the given resident.

The signs of ferment are familiar. Cranes bob and nod on the skyline; developers lure newcomers with glass towers, insipid apartment complexes, and the delights of future density. Brunch, an elevator ride away! Bars you can stumble home from without getting behind the wheel! Every day delivers nearly 100 new residents, many bringing fancy educations and 401(k)s. The newest employment juggernaut is the investment management firm AllianceBernstein, which recently announced it would move its headquarters from New York, bearing more than 1,000 jobs and six figure salaries.  **for the record that is only 1/3 of their workforce all backroom positions and few if any security in that they will relocate and undoubtedly will find their wages stagnate as here there is no imperative to raise them due to cost of living. Then exactly where this group will be actually working is not yet spelled out so they may well be working outside of Nashville itself but details!**

Yet many longtime Nashvillians watch the celebrations from the sidelines, which keep getting moved farther back. “The influx of jobs means an influx of people with high incomes, coming to a state that’s relatively cheap,” says The Tennesseean’s editorial writer David Plazas, who spent a year documenting the disorienting and sometimes traumatic effects of the boom. “We have to ask ourselves a question,” says Paulette Coleman, an affordable housing advocate: “In our efforts to grow and improve, do we address the people of Nashville of all economic levels?” So far, the answer is no. The city is constantly playing catch-up, waiting until affordable housing shortages, inadequate transit, and financial inequities reach crisis levels before addressing them with half-baked measures. The emergence of affluent sort-of walkable areas is pushing African-Americans and immigrants into far-flung areas like Goodlettsville, lengthening their commutes and creating more congestion on the roads. Density is making the city more, not less, car-dependent.

Advocates consider the benefits of walkable cities self-evident, but a lot of other Americans reject them with disgust. In California, an alliance of voters on the left and right recently quashed a ballot measure that would have allowed for more apartment buildings. A similar coalition of odd bedfellows rejected Nashville’s $5.4 billion proposal for a light rail network that would take decades to build and skip some of the neighborhoods that might need it most. (They also disdain a cheaper, quicker, and more flexible solution: buses.) A few days after the transit vote, Plazas livetweeted a discussion at Progressive Baptist Church, where a preacher compared the transit plan and other big-money development projects to the promise of “40 acres and a mule,” which is to say a racist scam.  **again that card is tossed more than a ring at a circus here and I for one am sick of it. The next time I hear it thrown at me I will ask them if they would like me to kill myself, quit working and be homeless or have it tattooed on my head. Nashvillians loath confrontations more than they hate outsiders.

Sixty years ago, downtown Nashville was a mixed and bustling place, where African-Americans wielded their postwar economic muscle by patronizing — and, in 1960, boycotting — shops that refused to serve them coffee. Whites made their exodus along federally funded highways to suburbs where they obtained federally insured mortgages and reaped the tax benefits of homeownership, privileges mostly denied to blacks. Even the Grand Ole Opry abandoned its storied Ryman Auditorium for a shopping center/hotel complex ten miles away. Today, that’s where Nashville’s most convincing pedestrian experience can be found, amid the ersatz woods and indoor gardens of the Gaylords Opryland Resort.  ** which flooded in 2008 and used tax dollars to refurbish it.

In 2002, a citywide plan allowed residential construction downtown, inaugurating a demographic reshuffling. Today’s revitalization policies are organized around corporations, sports, and country music, a stylistically diverse but overwhelmingly white genre. J.T. Gray, who runs the Station Inn, is a guardian of Nashville’s old-time soul, which the newcomers simultaneously cherish and threaten. “We’re going to keep on doing what we’re doing, exactly the same as we always have been,” he says. But Gray’s precious relic exists at the pleasure of its landlord, a family-owned plumbing company, and the heavyweights’ goodwill. “The developers are fans, and if we’ve got them behind us, we’ve got the city behind us.”

After the show at the Station Inn, I walk the mile or so into the heart of downtown, onto the Broadway viaduct that vaults over the tracks; past the medieval stone bulk of Union Station (now a hotel), looming like a haunted castle over the desolation; past the parking-lot graveyards of buildings demolished decades ago to make room for skyscrapers that haven’t yet shown up. I pass only a handful of other pedestrians. A 20-minute stroll feels like an hour-long slog. Walking always lifts my spirits; here, it snuffs out the music’s afterglow and makes me crave a drink.  *I concur I just walked the same distance today and felt like the weather, heavy. And the way a pedestrian is viewed here by both residents and drivers is one of disdain and confusion. 

My itinerary takes me past the site of the future Nashville Yards, a billion-dollar 15-acre megaproject so closely patterned on New York’s Hudson Yards that it will even have its own High Line. Its architect, Joe Bucher, a partner at the firm Gresham Smith, says that the buildings will be threaded through with shopping walkways, piazzas, and a 1.5-acre park — semi-public spaces that will help graft a new neighborhood onto a dead street. A large music venue will “make the development hum and sing.” For now, Bucher acknowledges, even apartment dwellers need cars, but he is bullish on self-driving automobiles, and he has designed the garage so that, one day, parking spaces can be recycled into offices or stores. That long-term future may be bliss, but in the short- and medium term, density is just going to supercharge the traffic.

The market is propitious, yet a metropolis’s crackle comes from the variety of its people and the intertwining of disparate lives. Growth and density are powerful tools, but only when harnessed to a humane vision of mixture and complexity, when old buildings and rooted populations endure alongside the new, when architecture is calculated to delight and last, and transit is stitched into an urban fabric that expands organically, not in isolated lumps.

Even after Nashville Yards opens, the rest of downtown will still look like an orthodontist’s nightmare: more gap than shine. But to Bucher, that’s progress, one step in a coordinated, nationwide, multi-decade campaign. “As we wipe out postwar development, a lot of southern cities are becoming vertical and dense. New York is on its sixth or seventh generation of buildings. In Nashville, we’re just getting to generation two. Here, a big project doesn’t get dropped into an already vibrant neighborhood; it creates the city around it,” he says.

That crop of generative construction includes mammoth sports and entertainment complexes — Bridgestone Arena, Nissan Stadium, a convention center, the Country Music Hall of Fame — that draw in crowds at certain hours, then spit them out again to disperse just as quickly. Neighborhoods don’t flourish in the shadow of these regularly scheduled megaliths. Bucher insists that a residential building can seed a city more efficiently: just look at 505, a 45-story residential skyscraper on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Church Street. “If you stand out in front of it long enough, you see an amazing cross section of people. They make a lot of money or have a lot of wealth: that’s the only thing they have in common.” *That is not true it is part hotel part apartment complex and it is not fully rented and overpriced, no millionaire would live there with nothing surrounding it but a homeless park.  Sorry but you are wrong but that is the speak here - heavy and full of bullshit.

That monoculture of shallow-rooted affluence springs from the financial wildfire that burned through 2008, says Jonathan Miller, a New York–based real-estate consultant. With interest rates low and bank loans scarce, Wall Street has swooped into the real estate market, looking for promising places to park excess cash. Investors hunt for the high returns that only high-rise luxury housing can bring, since tall buildings multiply the value of land. Faraway private equity firms have hijacked urbanists’ agenda, bringing forth a kind of metropolitan version of Westworld: a place that looks like a city but isn’t.

The Vancouver-based urbanist Brent Toderian came away from a visit to Nashville impressed with handsome and inviting examples of gentle density: low-rise apartment buildings and the townhouses that some locals scornfully refer to as tall-and-skinnies. But “these small moments of improvement in a sea of business as usual” don’t begin to deal with the insidious addiction to cars, wide roads, and free parking. It’s not enough to build big: if Nashville really wants to live up to its aspirations, it will have to concentrate growth, rather than scatter it nodes. The downtown population, which is growing at a brisk clip, currently stands at about 13,000. That’s not nearly enough, Toderian says, to create a pedestrian culture like that in his hometown of Vancouver. “A fundamental game changer would be adding 60,000 people downtown, 7,000 of them children.”

And yet it’s not clear how long the new Nashvillians will want to live in the towering paradises that were built for their benefit. New neighborhoods like the Gulch and Germantown depend on an endless supply of glamorous, leisure-seeking young globalists who transition seamlessly from architects’ renderings to real life. Urbanists have been counting on that cohort to internalize the virtues of density. Having started out clustering, walking, biking, and ordering in, surely they would continue to do so for the rest of their lives. It turns out that millennials, too, migrate to the suburbs as soon as they have kids, driving up the cost of single-family houses within commuting distance of core markets. All of which suggests that all the apartment complexes going up in central cities are really temporary housing for a mobile population. “The new urbanism story was about millennials, millennials, millennials,” Jonathan Miller says. “It didn’t include growing up.”

Nashville may eventually generate the kind of dense collaborative ecosystem that makes a prosperous city feel alive at sidewalk level. But it’s not looking good. The mayor’s office recently floated a proposal to hand over a small park across the street from the public library, plus $25 million, to the developer Tony Giarratana, who would fill the lot with yet another high-rise condo and build living quarters for 100 homeless people on another site half a mile away, right next to a major highway. That outrageous boondoggle would mean sorting the privileged from the powerless and making sure they never meet. That’s no way to make a mixed and vibrant city: it’s how you plant the next generation of ghettos.

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