Saturday, December 20, 2014

Singer songwriter lives in Bordeaux, rose to chart-topping fame overseas and cannot get love from Nashville

Atlanta journalist, Max Blau, has a first-class story out this week in The Bitter Southerner called "Doug Seegers' Nashville Skyline." Seegers is a formerly homeless street musician who struggled in music venues in Austin and in Music City before finally being discovered by Swedish television producers in an alley behind a West Nashville food pantry. According to Blau, Seegers eventually made a TV debut in Sweden after which his song "Going Down to the River" shot to number one.

Even so, Seegers still lives in modest digs here in North Nashville and takes the bus to busk on Lower Broad:

We’re headed northbound on Highway 155 to his house in Bordeaux, a quiet suburb north of the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville. He typically rides the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority’s No. 22 bus to get to and from Bordeaux. Because we’re in a car, he’s not entirely sure about our location until we approach Clarksville Pike. He eventually gets his bearings straight and directs us toward the dead end of a quiet residential street. The singer exits the car, walks down the gravel driveway, and swings open the front door of his one-story brick house.

In spite of his fame and concert tours overseas, Nashville does not seem to be able to fit Seegers into its brand:

Seegers’ biggest challenge remains in Nashville, a city that bills itself as the home of country music, but where writers of traditional country songs now struggle to reach a wider audience. Like many talented local songwriters, the 63-year-old artist faces a tough predicament: How do you land a traditional country song on mainstream country radio? In a perfect world, Seegers would contend for airtime. You’d be hard-pressed right now to find someone who writes with more authenticity than Seegers.

Even our mayor is more likely to hang out with Jack White or Connie Britton than with buskers on Lower Broad or a guy whose rise to international fame started in a back alley behind some garbage cans:

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Selected activists" planning the future "for everyone"

There is a 3-day workshop ending today called Future Ready Nashville. Did you know about it? Until yesterday, I did not.

This is the description of the goal:

America has reached a point where almost all problems can be solved, especially at the local level. Nashville has everything it needs to be Future Ready. This program invites selected activists to experience the DesignShop process, while launching our intentional process of making Nashville Future Ready.

This is the resort-like facility the invited, selected activists are meeting in to "design" Nashville's future:

But what really goes against every populist bone in my body is the idea that a meeting intended to design a future "for everyone" is not open to just anyone.

05 | Create a Vision
So, what is the world that you want to see for...EVERYONE?

I do not see much social change to the status quo in Nashville coming from this meeting. This is how elites in Nashville have operated for a long time: top-down and select. Open, public meetings continue to be marginalized as gauche. Future Ready Nashville seems to be more of a networking opportunity for the participants than a community-based organizing effort, but I am interested to see how they eventually try to implement their designs on our neighborhoods.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are we close enough to Nashville's new ballpark to spot the manure?

Aaron Gordon at Vice Sports engages in a scathing open dialogue with a New York Times article regarding Washington, DC's plan to subsidize a new soccer stadium for its pro-team. While Gordon's entire piece is worthy of your time and attention, I wanted to comment on his observations about the lack of promised economic development that was to come with the opening six years ago of a new professional baseball park.

It seems relevant to North Nashville's close proximity to the new Nashville Sounds' home, First Tennessee Park, which is promised to bring dramatic economic development to the Jefferson Street corridor and the nearby neighborhoods. NYT comments are in bold; Gordon's replies are unbolded:

City leaders say the 20,000-seat stadium will serve as a catalyst for economic development for this area of southwest Washington, the way that Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals baseball team, did for its formerly stagnant neighborhood just a few blocks north and east.

Amazingly, the second half of this sentence directly contradicts the first. It takes 12 minutes to walk from Nationals Park to the very tip of Buzzard Point. If Nationals Park—which cost $700 million of taxpayer money—was such a catalyst for economic development, why do they need to build another nine-figure stadium a few blocks away?

Maybe because it didn't revitalize anything.

This has been the case in other Washington neighborhoods after the city voted to approve major new public venues...

Oh, cool! I mean, if it's worked before...

...including the Verizon Center, home to the N.B.A.'s Wizards and the N.H.L.'s Capitals since 1997;...

That was privately funded by then-owner Abe Polin, so not really a public investment! OK, what else?

...and the 2.3 million-square-foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center, completed in 2003, in revitalized Mount Vernon Square.

Wait, seriously?

I lived in the DC area for eight years, including a year and a half in Shaw, which lies just north of Mount Vernon. The above sentiment about Mount Vernon being "revitalized" is the kind of buried horseshit you can only spot if you're close enough to smell it.

Granted, the cost of the DC baseball stadium in taxpayer money was about 10 times what First Tennessee Park is going to cost Nashvillians in taxes. The flip side of that: the logic unfolds that the economic development in DC communities should proportionately be 10 times what was promised for North Nashville neighborhoods.

However, nearby DC neighborhoods got zilch.

Let's focus on the DC developer's comment that local lawmakers may have rigged expectations too high in order to give the ballpark project momentum. Some of us have been shouting that from jump with Nashville's ballpark. But to the point: they rationalized after the damage was done by minimizing the impact of the new ballpark, saying it is "just a very small piece" of development in the neighborhoods. Will First Tennessee ballpark developers and team owners thusly walk back their spin in the coming years? Will they be minimizing the claims Hizzoner kept making in late 2013 about how a new ballpark will create Jeff St. "revival"?

(If they're honest, they'll acknowledge that our neighborhoods were developing and gentrifying well before a new ballpark rose to the level of anything above a nostalgic pipe dream).

Like DC, Nashville has a convention center that is not performing to the results promised. Nashville is getting half the projected hotel nights, and no doubt tourists will compete for parking spaces downtown with minor league baseball fans for parking spaces during the summer (Metro officials said they hope Sounds fans use shrinking downtown parking opportunities). When they aren't competing downtown they will be choking on-street parking in Germantown, Hope Gardens and Salemtown.

The logic of overrated convention centers also applies to subsidized ballparks:

The whole process is basically maneuvered by the business community — banks, hotels, retailers, construction industries, others who will profit while the city loses .... Cities’ corporate movers and shakers long ago figured out how to get their new centers or expansions without the voters having a say.

The rising $70,000,000 Nashville is giving minor league team owner Frank Ward does one thing above all: it minimizes his family's risk and it maximizes inflated income from ticket and merchandising sales. It does so at our expense, even though our own elected officials allowed practically no influence over the deal. In particular it allows Mr. Ward to sell luxury boxes to rich people from Brentwood and Williamson County who would be more likely to snap up real estate investments in our urban core neighborhoods than to patronize and to put their cash in the pockets of the locally owned businesses up and down Jefferson Street.

Again, regular make-ends-meet taxpayers are the losers in this scenario, because economic benefits pad the pocketbooks of the people privately invested in the ballpark and other nearby properties. The latter need no financial assistance. Little will come back to us regardless of whether this particular ballpark bucks the trend and the science that indicate that any economic impact of sports venues is negligible and fabricated.

I am still waiting for someone to stop cheerleading and to begin explaining to me logically how the ballpark makes our lives cumulatively better in Salemtown when the costs are frankly and fearlessly considered.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

4th Av N Specific Plan passes muster with Planning Commission on consent agenda

While the Planning Commission still has to hold a public hearing on the SP plan slated for 1614/1616 4th Av N, they gave preliminary unanimous approval last week for via their consent agenda (which is a slate of proposals voted on as a whole; unless individual plans are pulled off the consent agenda, they are voted on without discussion). If the plan survives the public hearing stage and gets final approval from the commission, it will go to Metro Council as recommended by planning and only needing a simple majority for council approval.

There are several conditions this plan has to meet, according to the Planning Department, including fire code requirements and a Public Works requirement to remove striping from parking spaces in the row. Here is Planning's recommendation:

Staff recommends approval with conditions and disapproval without all conditions as it is consistent with the North Nashville Community plan and meets several critical planning goals.

1. Use in the SP is limited to up to 7 residential units.
2. For any development standards, regulations and requirements not specifically shown on the SP plan and/or included as a condition of Council approval, the property shall be subject to the standards, regulations and requirements of the RM15 zoning district as of the date of the applicable request or application.
3. Minor modifications to the preliminary SP plan may be approved by the Planning Commission or its designee based upon final architectural, engineering or site design and actual site conditions. All modifications shall be consistent with the principles and further the objectives of the approved plan. Modifications shall not be permitted, except through an ordinance approved by Metro Council that increase the permitted density or floor area, add uses not otherwise permitted, eliminate specific conditions or requirements contained in the plan as adopted through this enacting ordinance.
4. The requirements of the Metro Fire Marshal’s Office for emergency vehicle access and adequate water supply for fire protection must be met prior to the issuance of any building permits.

If you want to read the rest of their analysis, it starts on page 74 here.

I have not perceived any changes that Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association is asking developers to make, so I would be surprised if anyone shows up at the public hearing to address the plan. The developers met with the association in October. Barring any surprises, this plan will probably breeze through the commission and Metro Council.

Don't know about the accuracy of the 150-year-old North Capitol history, but the geography is all wrong

Pith in the Wind blogger Betsy Phillips contends that she "solved the mystery" of a 150-year-old photo taken of Civil War soldiers during the Battle of Nashville. She argues that the photo was taken from Capitol Hill facing Germantown and North Nashville, given the current topography:

Well, there's only one place in town where you're going to be on a hill, overlooking a train trestle, and can see Fisk off in the distance — Capitol Hill facing Germantown. Here's a contemporary picture from the TSLA for comparison (though you can't see Fisk, because of the trees, but you can see farther than Fisk, because you can see the highrise on the far side of the river in Bordeaux, thus, if there were no trees, you'd be able to see Fisk.).05042010_flood_16.jpg

The problem with Phillips' theory is that the 2010 photo above could not possibly have captured Fisk in its angle. TSLA's camera orientation is pointed northwest. Fisk lies at an angle farther west of the camera position. A look at screenshot from Google Earth makes that plain:

Click on to enlarge.

The Bordeaux highrise Kelly Miller Smith Tower (not included in the screenshot, but to the left of center in the TSLA photo) lies on a direct line down 10th Ave N., through Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church (whose steeple is clearly seen in the TSLA photo) to Capitol Hill. The farthest straight western line shown in the TSLA photo stops near where Jefferson Street crosses over the interstate, 3 blocks east of the Fisk campus. The Bordeaux highrise Kelly Miller Smith Tower is near Clarksville Highway, which drops down south to become D.B. Todd, Jr. Blvd, which brushes up against Fisk, but that road is not a straight shot between the highrise tower and the university. The road doglegs away from downtown at Clay St. Fisk does not actually sit between Capitol Hill and the Bordeaux highrise Kelly Miller Smith Tower. It sits off to the western side.

By the way, the photo of Fisk that appears on the masthead of my blog was taken from a spot near the intersection of Union and 9th Av. N, not too far from Capitol Hill. The sunset should tell you I am pointing my camera west. Also note that there are leaves on trees, but Fisk's main buildings sit high enough on a hill itself so as not to be blocked from sight. The Jubilee Bridge can also be seen in the masthead to the left of the Memorial Chapel's spire. Again, the theory that the TSLA shot--taken on the northern side of Capitol Hill--includes Fisk does not hold water.

Obviously I cannot speak to the actual location of the 150-year-old photo or the history of North Nashville during the Civil War, but I can say that if Betsy Phillips is operating under the assumption that the 2010 photo includes the Fisk campus, her theory that Capitol Hill is the only place the old photo could have been snapped is itself open to debate.

Whether the history is right, the geography is all wrong.

UPDATE: Based on Mike Peden's comments below and in respect for the legacy of the late Rev. Kelly Miller Smith, I corrected my references to the "Bordeaux highrise" to reflect its proper name.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Is this Salemtown development designed for people or for cars?

Over the past year--whether concerning a new bus rapid transit line or an $18 million pedestrian bridge--the Mayor's Office has drummed into our heads that the strapping millennial generation is different than others in that they want more walkable neighborhoods and more mass transit. In short, they don't care for cars.

What's good for public dollars ought to be good for private dollars, too, so why is Dale & Associates builders planning a high-density build in Salemtown with what looks like parking for at least 40 cars? New builds are marketed to millennials who don't subscribe to car culture (unlike baby boomers), so why do these the developers of "The Row at 6th and Garfield" plan to pave/build over what looks like about 80% of the land across 5 properties?

Accommodations for 40 cars?!!

It seems brash enough to demolish 8 units across those 5 plots and build 20 in a neighborhood zoned mostly for medium density. However, I can grasp the logic that the urban core is going to become more, not less dense over time. What I fail to appreciate is taking out what are currently modest rentals that accommodate working-class folk in are increasingly being pushed out of Salemtown. What I fail to fathom is why one more project is being built for upwardly mobile millennials, with no mention of affordable options to hang on to diversity. What I fail to respect is the idea that the space will be more devoted to servicing cars than people; in an age where we are told that millennials are giving up their cars.

Current configuration: 8 units, maybe a dozen parking spaces.

Some in the new urbanist klatch refer to this corner as the "last remaining corner at 6th and Garfield," even as it continues to be occupied families with children. Part of the problem with the gentrifying mindset it that it renders people of modest income invisible. The more profound attribution to me is that if The Row at 6th and Garfield is built as currently planned, then the last patch of considerable green space at this intersection will be paved over. It is not uncommon to see children playing on the grassy areas whenever I pass this intersection.

The builders of each of the other three developments (one is Dale & Associates) at the intersection took vacant lots with nothing but green space and built town homes with completely paved car ways in the back. They left thin slivers of green space ringing each of the developments. So, The Row at 6th and Garfield would complete the trend of orienting intersection completely to car traffic regardless of environmental and stormwater run-off impact.

While the question of 20 units may not be as much of an issue in the urban core, the question of parking for 40 cars in the core makes 20 units too much for this intersection. The owners of these properties are allowed to build what they wish within the current medium density parameters, but they are requesting rezoning for 40 cars. They have to have community support to be permitted to build for 40 cars.

In my opinion, it is unwise for Salemtown to support to the idea of parking for 40 cars in one development. We need to ask the developers to scale down their build more practically for the people they are marketing to. Why not double the number of units from 8 to 16 and reduce the number of car provisions to 32 (or less since millennials don't prefer cars)? And they should be required to include affordable housing components in the project.

If the men of Dale are going to ask for our support in their bid to maximize land owners' investments, then they should be willing to give something back to our community.

UPDATE: I took a photo of the MTA bus stop closest to the properties where The Row at 6th and Garfield would be built. The blue sign marks the stop. The red brick duplexes in the center background of the photo are the properties in question. We are talking about a few dozen feet to walk to catch a bus that runs straight down 5th Av N to downtown's central station in around 5-10 minutes (yes, I have picked up a bus there before), where other buses can take riders anywhere in Nashville.

Again, if mass transit is a comer with potential buyers, and they do not have to walk even a block to access mass transit, why should developers include 40 parking spaces at The Row at 6th and Garfield?