Thursday, March 31, 2005

Baylor Women in the Final Four!

Congrats to the Baylor University women's basketball team for defeating the UNC Tar Heels last weekend and receiving a berth to the Final Four in Indianapolis. I am a Baylor alum who fumed last year when Baylor was robbed by a referee, who called a last second questionable foul, handing the Tennessee Vols the win and the chance to move on from the Sweet Sixteen. I honestly hope that Baylor gets to meet Tennessee this year in the championship for some payback. A lop-sided win would even the score.

04/08/2005 Update: Baylor beat both LSU and Michigan State to win the National Championship! We didn't get to drub Tennessee like I wished, but we're #1!

Ms. Small at the Wash (with Yazoo, too?)

Two links that I plug on this weblog (see the sidebar) are converging this weekend. Claire Small will be performing at the Family Wash on Saturday, April 2 at 9:00 PM.

Claire has a velvety, bonny voice and total command of presence in her musical style. The Family Wash is an alive, unique venue with savory food and brews (I highly recommend the Shepherd's Pie with a pint of Yazoo Porter, which would throw a third link that I plug into the convergence).

If you already have other plans on Saturday night, do yourself a solid and change them. You need to hear Claire sing and you might as well have a pint and pie while you are at it. Don't you dare miss it.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Too Young To Buy Paint?

A couple of weeks ago I was tuned to live coverage of the Metro Council meeting to watch them handle the bill prohibiting front yard fences that I touched on before. After happily witnessing the deferment of the bill, I stayed planted on the couch just to watch the other business they had to conduct.

My ears perked up when they got to the debate on a bill sponsored by Mike Jameson of Downtown-and-East Nashville to prohibit stores from selling spray paint to minors. I had heard of the bill in passing on the evening news, and I wanted to listen to why someone would advance such a farfetched notion for controlling graffiti.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you will remember how much trouble the little angels in my neighborhood have been causing me personally and others more generally with gang-related graffiti. Despite my ever-stoked desire for Metro to be proactive in stopping the diminutive vandals, I remained unconvinced that stopping the sale of certain art supplies to those under 18 would work. It seemed to me to be well-intentioned, but desperate and misplaced; so, I didn't take the bill too seriously ...

...until I listened to all of the desperate and misplaced reasons that opponents gave for defeating the bill. In a paraphrased nutshell, they included:
  • "Who are we to call this graffiti vandalism? These kids might be budding artists who just need to be encouraged and trained to find different canvases on which to paint."
  • "It is impossible to legislate appropriate behavior for teens."
  • "We need to train and to teach children not to vandalize instead of making laws to restrict them."
  • "What will children in art classes do when they cannot go out and purchase supplies? This bill will punish unfairly teens in art classes."
  • "The bill will not stop graffiti because all the offending teenagers will need to do is ask an adult to purchase spray paint for them."
I could not believe how this bill stirred opponents to protest. I never took it seriously until I heard exactly how seriously they took it. I also was in disbelief that public servants would go to such unreasonable lengths to oppose a bill that probably only enjoyed marginal support by those outside affected communities.

Probably against their better intentions, the opponents of prohibiting sale to minors drove me firmly into the supporters' camp. The reasonableness of prohibiting the sale was made clear to me in the lack of reason of council members who rose against it. Here's why:
  • "Gangsta" graffiti obviously ain't art. I don't have an appreciation, let alone an understanding, of avant-garde art. I am hard pressed to comprehend the logic behind nailing a Barbie doll to a painted wooden shingle, framing it, and hanging it on a wall at Bongo Java with a sale price of hundreds of dollars. But I understand the difference between graffiti as an art form and graffiti as "gangsta" turf definition. No matter how naive one acts about the intentions of vandals, when one sees a group calling themselves "the Bloods" daily wearing red clothing, trying to intimidate neighbors, and using only red spray paint to claim their "hood" and to "R.I.P." their dead friends, one must conclude that what they are doing ain't art. Encouraging them to find a more suitable canvas might get one a bullet in the head.
  • It's ridiculous to claim that we cannot legislate appropriate behavior for teens. Nashville does it every Friday and Saturday that it enforces a curfew. Beyond that, the rule of law is legislating appropriate behavior for everyone. Do these council members really believe that we should stop writing laws?
  • If we cannot legislate appropriate behavior for teens, how could we possibly legislate training for them?
  • Kids in art classes who need spray paint will do what every other kid does when its time to buy supplies: haul their parents to the store with open billfolds to pay for the supplies.
  • Reasoning that adolescent vandals can still get spray paint by asking adults to buy it for them is like arguing that we should not have drinking age laws because kids can find an adult to purchase alcohol for them. I don't see very many council members advocating the repeal of prohibition of alcohol for minors.
In the end I did not hear one good reason for not prohibiting the sale of spray paint to minors. In fact, the reason that Councilman Jameson made for it sounded pretty good to me: it gives vendors who suspect foul play the power to tell teens that they are not authorized to sale spray paint to anyone under age. At least proponents of the bill are trying to lead on this issue; and that is the bill's most attractive feature to me, one of the many victims of vandalism. If opponents don't like it, then they need to pull their heads out of the sand on this issue and they need to find some means of leading us to a solution.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

"Won't You, Please? Won't You, Please? Please, Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

This has been a week of bonding for Salemtown neighbors. First, on Friday, several of us happened to serendipitously meet on the corner of 5th and Hume to chat with our councilman, Ludye Wallace, who was attending an Easter Egg hunt across the street at Morgan Park. He stopped over and he got an earful from us on why front yard fences matter and on how we really need the alley that runs between 5th and 6th paved. It was basically an impromptu association meeting.

This morning my wife and I took her parents to Monell's for breakfast, where we again ran into neighbors. After our typical banter over a not-so-typical corn pudding and fried chicken breakfast (for breakfast?!), we continued our bonding outside the restaurant. A "Nash Trash" tour bus drove by and the tour guide stuck her head out the window and yelled, "Hello, German persons!" (which was apropos if not correct, since we were in Germantown). We all agreed that the next time we met we should probably take the tour ourselves.

This afternoon while tending to the continuing saga that has become my nascent tool shed, I had some other neighbors come over and alert me to smoke rising out of my air conditioning unit, which we had turned on for the first time in months. This was a positive experience--that is, neighborliness from neighbors, not the smoke from our AC--because we've been concerned in the past that our relationship with these neighbors was a bit rocky. However, they were very hospitable and I was very amiable. I thanked them for the warning. They showed me the cracks in the wall behind their kitchen cabinetry and I let them borrow my wheelbarrow.

Good karma all around. Bonding is a beautiful thing for neighbors to do.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

In The Zone

There was a time when I would read about zoning changes and my eyes would glaze over. They bored me to tears. Then I got into neighborhood organizing and I realized that if one does not pay attention, zoning can cost you the quality of your neighborhood.

Tonight the Planning Commission is scheduled to hear a zoning change request from a developer who wants to convert a store at Garfield and 5th Ave. in Salemtown into "something with residential and office space"; so says the rumor mill. To do that he has got to have a zoning change from residential (R6) to "Mixed Use" (MUL). Alternatively, the Metro Planning Department Staff is recommending a change to a different, more restrictive "Mixed Use" category (MUN), based on the idea that Garfield and 5th is designated a neighborhood center.

Are your eyes glazing over yet? Even if they are, do not assume that the difference in details is unimportant just because it does not jazz you. The details are important and we all know details are where devils reside.

I'm confused as it is that a store already sits on residential property. Either the current property owner got some sort of exception or he is bending the zoning laws somehow. All I know is that the distance that I live down the block equals the time it takes to eat a small, single serving bag of chips or other snack food.

How do I know this? Because the neighborhood youth who buy Doritos or Cheetos or Fritos from the corner store and then walk down the block past my house finish their snacks just in time to throw the empty bags on my front lawn. It's nearly a daily ritual. I have a new measure of time when telling people how to get to my house: walk to the corner of Garfield and 5th, buy a bag of Lay's, and walk south; by the time you finish the bag, swivel right and throw it on the ground; the house that sits on the newly littered property is mine.

Hence, eventhough I haven't really probed the issue of how a store can sit on residential property, I won't be sad to see it go away. The only question that remains is, "What will take its place?" This is where details become important, so unglaze your eyes.

According to the Planning Department's report, the developer who is buying from the previous owner expresses "uncertainty" regarding intentions with the property. Also, the report says that, under the requested zoning change (MUL), the developer could just as easily place a fast food restaurant as quality residential and office space.

Fast food restaurant?! Suddenly I'm having visions of empty potato chip bags giving way to Big Mac wrappers and of supersized coke cups hurled from car windows onto my lawn. There's nothing sexy about a neighborhood gone from the chip bag to the fry basket.

So, I'm very interested in this re-zoning request. My intention is to go to the Planning Commission tonight and find out what the developer's intentions are, raising questions or taking issue as needed. I have the benefit of living in a historic part of the city so I have some argument in favor of a stricter zoning change.

And the Planning Department's recommendation is a stricter zoning change. The long-term plan for Salemtown is to reserve space for Neighborhood Centers, which maintains that structures be built where neighbors gather and/or live and that those structures be built to the sidewalk to sustain a "mainstreet character."

If I have a choice, and I think I do as a resident of the neighborhood, I support the more restrictive, "mainstreet" re-zoning. The developer can still build a business or residential units but not simply in whatever form his or her heart desires. He or she still has some responsibility to the neighbors who actually have to live in the vacinity of his or her development.

By the way, if you are still confused and blurry-eyed and in need a primer for understanding planning and zoning, the Tennessean offered one in a recent edition.

03/24/2005, 6:00 PM Update: Well, for all my bravado and bluster about attending the Planning Meeting tonight, thanks to my own poor planning and confusion on meeting times, I failed to attend. "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," was Shakespeare's quote, right? Thankfully, though, two neighbors did attend and spoke in favor of the more restrictive MUN. If they had not attended to represent the Salemtown Association, the MUN probably would not have passed, which it did. Looks like we won't have to worry about a fast food operation on the block. Hello, mainstreet, and kudos to W.W. and M.R. for recovering my fumble.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Exciting Upgrades Coming for Metro Planning's Virtual Map Room

Looks like the Planning Department's changes will provide detailed histories of a property’s owners, sales prices and appraised values. Site visitors will also be able to obtain details about the structures on various properties via a link to the Metro Property Assessor’s information.

I find the Map Room very beneficial. It's great to hear we'll be able to do even more after it is upgraded.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Happy Birthday, Runabout!

My youngest daughter is one today. We celebrated in grand style.

Trying on her first birthday for size. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
One of the most tender mercies I have ever experienced in my life happened just the other day. My youngest grabbed her mom's arm at the dinner table and then reached for mine, pulling it over next to her mom's. Then, she stroked both while cooing in a loving and happy way. How can that not melt a daddy's heart?

News Coverage of West End Crime

Now that all the media frenzy around the West End crime spree seems to be subsiding, it seems entirely fair to ask, what was the big deal? I do not mean to be cavalier about other people's hardships, but the increased crime on the west side is not out of the ordinary for city dwellers, especially for those residents who do not take precautions to deter crime, like using an alarm system or shutting curtains at night.

Perhaps the news is that there are some very affluent people who unrealistically expect to live in a city without crime; so much so that they think that they can leave their doors unlocked and not get robbed.

I lived around the West End area for a long time. It is more affluent than the north, south, and east ends of town; and residents I observed were relatively laid back, perhaps even cavalier themselves about ever being the victims of crime. I have also witnessed and experienced more crime while living on the east and north ends than I did while living in the West End area. The flip side of these anecdotes is that those who live in higher crime rate areas are less laid back about security and more vigilant about criminals. Ironically, the west side opened itself up to a crime wave because it was not prepared.

That is not to say that west end residents deserved to be the victims of crime. That would be too strong. But some proverbial chickens have come home to roost, because the bad guys figured out how--as bad guys are oft to do--to exploit weaknesses in home defense systems and gated communities. Crime that was once considered endemic to other areas, but farfetched on West End, came to West End. And the news of it was sensational.

But the media should have focused less on the sensation of the west side's rising crime wave and more on the continuity of crime across Nashville. Criminal behavior causes a sense of urgency among all law-abiding Nashville residents, regardless of the direction of the compass point.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Tax Assessor Cometh

Have you gotten your property reappraisal letter, yet?

The Tennessean provides a helpful tip sheet for comprehending the details.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Zen and the Art of Maintenance Shed-Building

One of my favorite books is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read somewhere that Robert Redford bought rights to the script in order to make the motion picture adaptation of the book years ago, but I don't see how the book could ever be made into a movie and still do it justice. Even as great a filmmaker as Redford is, I think that making this particular book into a movie of quality would be arduous, if not impossible. (Not that I'm some kind of Coppola or Kubrick; just a guy with an opinion about a paperback).

ZATAOMM's discussion of "Quality," impinges on so many things I think about during the day. My copy of ZATAOMM is well-thumbed precisely because I constantly consider the everyday concreteness and evasiveness of quality in life. Here's a couple of quotes from the book:
If you want to build a factory, or fix a motorcycle, or set a nation right without getting stuck, then classical, structured dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn't enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality to work. You have to have a sense of what's good [p. 255].
You point to something as having quality and the quality goes away. Quality is something you see out of the corner of your eye [p. 308].
I started building a storage shed this week. My mind's eye is too many times focused on getting the plans perfect rather than building something with quality. The plans give me the structured subject-object knowledge of the shed, but scrutiny of the plans of the final project require more than simply soaking up technical knowledge and spitting out widgets. It requires mulling and brooding over the work. When I do that, I not only work on the shed, but the shed works on me, too.

The shed won't be perfectly level. I hope that it nonetheless has a good level. I am trying to build something that has utility when I need to store and maintain equipment. However, I am trying to build something more than a building that functions perfectly. I do not want it to fall down (it will be interesting to see if it even stands, given than it is my first attempt to build a proper structure). But I do want to do more than just stand it up and nail it in place. I want to look at it, even if indirectly, as it goes up and I want to feel some of the good of crafting it.

In keeping with how evasive "Quality" can be, I took a picture of the drainage rocks, landscaping blocks and finished foundation at night. If there's a way to take a photograph so that it looks like something you see out of the corner of your eye, I certainly do not know how to snap it. I concluded that a picture partially shrouded by the night would come close to peripheral sight.

Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
It's a relatively level floor. I think I have glimpsed quality, but I continue to look for it, without really staring it down.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Arrival of the Little Giant

FedEx brought my 26 ft. long "Little Giant" extension ladder this week.

Not a moment too soon. One of the spot lights at the back of my 22 ft. tall roof line went out a couple of days ago. That aircraft-grade aluminum frame easily went the distance and then some.

All I have to do is finish building the storage shed in the back to house the giant. Oh, and I have to figure out how to dispose of the 8'x6" box the ladder came in. Ever try to break down an 8 ft. long, narrow box? As I carried it out back, it caught the wind and drug me along like a big main sail.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Major Graffiti Gone

Before. Posted by Hello

After. Photographs by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
Regular readers of Enclave will remember that I posted a picture of this house nearly a month ago among a montage of graffiti-painted buildings in my neighborhood. It's located on the 1700 block of 6th Ave., North in the heart of Salemtown. I considered it the "granddaddy of all our graffiti jobs."

Last week it was one of several that I reported to Metro Codes at their website. Whether the graffiti was removed because Codes acts quickly on these reports or because the owner had already planned to remove it this week is no matter to me.

I'm just pleased and thankful to the owner and perhaps Codes that the graffiti is gone and that resistance to vandalism continues. Let's hope we're picking up a head of steam as we clean up our neighborhood.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Welcome to Weblog Hell.

What a frustrating past few days it's been for yours truly.

At the end of last week, Comcast had problems with its downtown service and I had spotty to no connectivity for a couple of days. At just about the same time had server problems, which meant that I could not post to Enclave, when I could get connected, and I missed my first day of publishing since I started blogging over a month ago.

Over the past 24 hours I have once again been unable to post to my weblog on Blogger despite the fact that I had things preying on my mind. Still no word from the muckety mucks at Blogger on what their problem is.

"Push Button Publishing" has become "Pain in the Butt Publishing" for Mikey. No whining though; just the typical sounds that emanate from your average dissatisfied customer.

Monday, March 14, 2005

A Bad Bill Before Metro Council Tuesday Night: Fences Can Make Good Neighborhoods

Tomorrow night (March 15), Metro Council will have the second reading of a rash and reckless bill designed to prohibit single-family dwellings—like the one I live in—from having fenced front yards.

The bill has been sponsored and introduced by my own councilman, Ludye Wallace, and it would amend Metro Codes to read:

No fence shall extend beyond the front façade of any single-family or two-family structure. For purposes of this subsection, "front façade" means the front vertical face of a building that is substantially in one plane, has associated with it a primary entrance, and is composed from the following architectural components: exterior walls; columns or other vertical structural elements; windows; doors; roof edges; permanently roofed recesses; and arcades, balconies, or porches with permanent roofs supported by vertical structural supports.
I sent a letter to all Metro Council members this afternoon expressing my “fervent opposition” to the bill. We had planned to put up an attractive wooden picket fence, in keeping with the historical character of the north Nashville neighborhoods, in order primarily to provide a safe place for our toddler to play as she learns to walk and to run. We also support those, like Councilman Mike Jameson in East Nashville, who argue that this bill would “wreak havoc” with the historic nature of the neighborhoods.

This bill basically throws the baby out with the bathwater. It does not attempt to distinguish between effective and ineffective fences. Moreover, there seems to me to be more problems with the appearance of backyards and alleys than with front yard fences in Salemtown. The bill would do nothing about this deteriorating fence at the back of an overgrown lot in Mr. Wallace's district:

Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
What an eyesore. What an embarrassment, even if it is not in front.
As ugly as the previous picture is, the front yard fence bill is even uglier as it would prohibit handsome old fences like the one in this picture:

Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
Another fence it would prohibit:

Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
And it would do away fences like this wooden one, which not only defines the front property of the house, but also provides privacy from a next-door business:

Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
Given the current problems we have in Salemtown, I am amazed that our own councilman picked front yard fences to attack. I wish he would focus more on getting the gravel/dirt alley on my block paved or on dealing with gang-related graffiti in our neighborhood or on helping us reduce crime. Heck, I would have been tickled if he would have simply asked for my opinions and feedback when he started writing this lame prohibition against iconic picket fences.

Please contact Metro Council Members at or go to the Council meeting Tuesday night to oppose this bill!

03/15/2005 Update: During Tuesday's council meeting, Mr. Wallace reported that he had received a number of e-mails opposing the bill. He graciously moved to defer the bill indefinitely. Council voted in support of deferment.

Cameras vs. Real Cops

Perhaps this is not the worst idea for fighting crime, but it is surely not the best idea, either.

We need more cops on the beat, more community policing and increased contact with neighbors. And we need more tax revenues to pay more cops to do that. Cameras only become an excuse to shift financial resources away from community policing and to cut more taxes that would otherwise be used to secure our neighborhoods.

03/14/2005 Update: Here's a BBC story, via the Nashville Scene's Bruce Barry on Pith in the Wind, that indicates that the usefulness of video surveillance as a crime deterrent is "overstated."

Sunday, March 13, 2005

More MetroCenter-Owned Properties In North Salemtown: Does It Look Like MetroCenter Is Helping Make Salemtown An Attractive Place To Live?

The MetroCenter-owned lots pictured below are overgrown dumps compared to the lovely landscaped gateway lining MetroCenter Blvd.

With neighbors like this, who needs absentee landlords who may be letting the conditions of their land deteriorate in order to drive out the few remaining residents?

MetroCenter property (Parcel # 08104017400) zoned "vacant residential" on 4th Ave., North between Clay and I-65. Posted by Hello

MetroCenter property (Parcel # 08104017300) zoned "vacant residential on" 4th Ave., North between Clay and I-65.
Posted by Hello

More of Parcel # 08104017300 with abandoned furniture.
Posted by Hello

Looking south from Metrocenter property to 4th Avenue's dead end at I-65. More abandoned furniture. Photographs by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005

"The Plan of Nashville": Whose Plan? Which Nashville? Part IV

In this final response to The Plan of Nashville’s calls to replace I-65 with an urban boulevard, I want to examine MetroCenter’s holdings in North Salemtown. In particular, I want to consider whether there is any indication in the actual geography that MetroCenter is interested in neighborhood-friendly development. If there were such indicators, it would make the idea of doing away with the I-65 barrier more palatable.

As I wrote in Part III of this series, MetroCenter owns the only vacant residential properties in the upper “commercial zone” of North Salemtown. However, the side-by-side properties along MetroCenter Blvd. look more like the gateway to MetroCenter’s commercial developments farther north than a nascent residential block.

MetroCenter property on MetroCenter Blvd., north of Clay Street. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
Half of the thin strip of land is landscaped with a steep, narrow grade and trees lining the crest: easy on the eyes of passing motorists on MetroCenter Blvd., but hard on houses if people were actually to live here. Moreover, if this were a gateway to an embryonic North Salemtown community rather than a commercial district, then quite logically, the industrial park-like “MetroCenter” sign would not be facing south at the tip of the northwest corner of Salemtown. The steep grade and the sign collectively encourage people to by-pass Salemtown altogether and to motor to the commercial offerings.

What, then, of MetroCenter’s holdings of vacant residential land in the lower “residential zone” of North Salemtown? I previously asserted that if zoning stays as is and MetroCenter holds a few vacant residential parcels in a predominantly residential block, then I have no worries about The Plan of Nashville’s call to do away with I-65.

MetroCenter property on 3rd Ave., south of Clay Street. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
However, the properties as they currently stand south of Clay seem to be lying fallow, overgrown, and unkempt. If we gauge MetroCenter’s commitment to the well-being of the Salemtown neighborhood based on the quality of development of their residential properties, we come up empty. The MetroCenter Blvd. gateway to their commercial holdings with its dark-wood mulched flowerbeds, strategically placed pine trees, and gleaming metallic sign seems to be dramatically more developed and inviting, despite its total lack of viable space for people to actually live.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Salemtown Neighbors "Cowboy Up" On Crime

The Salemtown Neighborhood Association had its third meeting last night with Metro Police Officers from the Central Precinct, including Precinct Capt. Andy Garrett, Sgt. David Rueff, and Community Affairs Ofcr. Chris Locke. The topic was crime prevention and forming a Neighborhood Watch. We were also fortunate to have Michelle Steele, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods, in attendance.

The next Salemtown Neighborhood Association meeting will be on Wednesday, March 16 at 5:45 at the Morgan Park Community Center. Snacks will be served.

Hooray for MDHA!

The battle for clean alleys in Salemtown has been waged for months, enlisting the services of various Metro departments: Public Works, Streets and Roads, and Animal Control, to name a few.

One of the more effective responses to our call-to-arms has been MDHA, whom I contacted this past Monday about a local MDHA property, whose residents were merely pitching trash into the public alley as they didn't have a gate on the back fence. The other problem was that the MDHA property at the alley was so steeply inclined that the new tall trash carts could not easily stay in their upright and locked positions.

On Tuesday, I got a response from Jerry Seay, MDHA's Director of Housing Management, promising action. The slope was removed on Tuesday; a gate was put in by Wednesday, and the carts were replaced today.

Hats off to Mr. Seay and MDHA. Thanks for helping us keep our neighborhood clean.

Before. Posted by Hello

After. Photographs by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Tennessee Discovers Trash

Well, the litter around the state employee parking lots on 5th Ave., North has finally been picked up. I drove by the lots on my way home today and I searched in vain for the six-month-old garbage that I documented in previous photos.

It looks as if the Governor’s no doubt steadfast quest to keep public lands clean has finally come into its own. I guess we can anticipate the next litter pick-up as early as next fall; that is, if he follows the same leisurely schedule as 2004 for sprucing up public grounds around Bicentennial Mall.

Since I have been critical of the state’s seeming unwillingness to clean up rubbish for half a year, I felt led to give it credit now that it seems willing. I just wish it would strive for extra credit in the future.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

More Punk-Style Vandalism: Maybe It's Got to Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Gang-related graffiti on the front of 1707 6th Avenue, North. This duplex is owned by an out-of-town landlord, according to the Metro Planning Department's "MetroMap" site. It is owned by The Provident Bank, whose address is: One East Fourth St. ML 198D, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202. Is anybody from the bank going to drive down from Cincy to clean off the paint? Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
“Our hood” is my home, too. I don’t deface your neighborhood, so why do you deface mine?

Maybe the neighborhood kids are just acting out at home because their principal is showing backbone and dishing out discipline at school.
These kids are going to have to find a way to be a part of the solution instead of the problem.

But until that time, the rest of us can solve this problem, according to the Metro Codes Department: "The Property Standards Code states that it shall be the duty of the owner of any building to remove graffiti and restore the damaged exterior surface to an approved state of maintenance and repair [emphasis mine]." To report graffiti on privately-owned buildings to Codes call: 862-6590.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Dog Day Afternoons Nearly Gone

Up until recently our neighborhood has had a real dog problem. We had two or three packs of strays; by my count around eight or nine total dogs roaming a six-block area. And it was not always the dogs that were the problem. We had masters in the area who refused the idea of a leash law or the principle of keeping one’s hounds in bounds.

Oh, it was cute to see them romp and play with each other at times. But we had dogs raiding trashcans and chasing children. The mutts sewed piles of doggie doo everywhere. I saw one small dog, not much bigger than a chihuahua, pulling a trash bag twice his size down an alley. One day I walked out on my porch to find five or six male dogs hot on the tail of a female in season through my yard under cars and down the street.

When I took my toddler out for her stroll, I usually carried a can of pepper spray, because I was never too sure but that I might run into a mean dog along the way. High numbers of strays increased the odds that I might run into an ornery alpha male.

After some failed attempts to enlist the help of Metro’s Animal Control through their phone operators, I wrote a lengthy e-mail to the only person I could find on the website who seemed to oversee the program, Dr. Stephanie Bailey. And, boy howdy, did she have oversight. Dr. Bailey is Metro’s Director of Health. Needless to say and thanks to Dr. Bailey, we did get a response from Animal Control along with promises to improve their service.

With few exceptions, their service has improved. At least six strays that I know of have been captured. Owners who once let their dogs roam the neighborhood now contain them or have given them away to better homes. Obviously diseased strays—including one mangy adult dog slowly choked to death by a puppy-sized collar put on him long ago—have been humanely treated.

I rarely see a stray in our neighborhood now. Every dog I see is either contained or leashed. The dog days of summer will be here soon, but here's hoping the strays are gone for good.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

"The Plan of Nashville": Whose Plan? Which Nashville? Part III

“Carefree Highway” was one of Gordon Lightfoot’s hits in the 1970s. I must have been in junior high when it got the most airtime, but I remember misunderstanding his lyrics and changing the word "Carefree" to “Every.” On those rare occasions when I hear it now, I still catch myself wrongly intoning, “Every Highway," which implies something other than what the song means.

In the song a highway is carefree because it provides the freedom to slip away from cares and the routines that tie us down, even if those things include the “good old faithful feelin’ we once knew.” Highways represented ironic flight for Gordon Lightfoot’s wayward generation.

They seem to represent something very different now. For those who authored of “The Plan of Nashville,” highways rip the fabric of neighborhoods. I do not disagree, but I do claim exceptions for some neighborhoods. From my point of view highways both slice up neighborhoods and provide barriers to keep other economic and political forces at bay.

I have already made the latter argument about the inner loop of I-65 at Salemtown between 3rd Avenue and MetroCenter Blvd. To be specific, I-65 is a wall that acts as a disincentive for the out-of-state company, MetroCenter, to expand farther south than it already has. In Part II, I mustered some numbers to show that MetroCenter owns a substantial amount of property in North Salemtown with no clear or evident inclination to support a neighborhood.

However, I want to be fair to MetroCenter, too. There are other dynamics in North Salemtown that could lead to residential development and business expansion compatible with neighborhood interests. If those other dynamics hold the day, then turning I-65 into an urban boulevard is not a bad idea. Those dynamics are contained in zoning details.

First, I will breakdown the numbers. The slice of North Salemtown severed by I-65, is itself bisected east to west by Clay Street, which runs from 3rd Avenue to 6th Avenue. There are no Salemtown residences to the north of Clay. The overwhelming majority of parcels are zoned “vacant commercial.”

Here is a rundown of the 30 parcels contained between Clay and Dominican:
  • MetroCenter owns 19
  • CB&J Properties, LLC owns 5
  • Strickland Enterprises owns 3 (none other than the same company that makes Strickland's Surpeme Salads. I already took them to the weblog woodshed for making 5th Ave. and Jefferson Street look trashy).
  • SouthCentral Bell owns 2
  • One parcel is owned by an individual and his wife, but there is no residential structure on the property.
My first expression of fairness toward MetroCenter: of the 30 Salemtown parcels between Dominican and Clay, there are 3 zoned “vacant residential,” and they are all owned by MetroCenter. There might be a blessing-in-the-disguise-of-MetroCenter here, given their residential zone holdings. However, let’s hold that "'god-bless-you' in abeyance” (nod to Seinfeld) for consideration at a later date and a later entry.

For now, I want to cross Clay Street to the south and focus there. All of the North Salemtown residential units sit in the block south of Clay, north of I-65, west of 3rd, east of 6th. That block is relatively small, measuring 120’x950’x150’x 1020’. MetroCenter owns 7 parcels there distributed across the block. Currently all of MetroCenter’s properties in the “residential block” are zoned “vacant residential” (in Zone terms, "R6," meaning single-family dwellings).
Time for the second expression of fairness to MetroCenter: if the zoning stays as is on each of those properties, then perhaps The Plan’s vision of controlled, mixed residential and commercial properties on MetroCenter parcels might come come true for North Salemtown. And if MetroCenter is community-minded to North Salemtown, then perhaps they might be community-minded toward the rest of Salemtown if the wall of I-65 ever came down as The Plan envisions.

However, I am not quite ready to extend benefit of the doubt to MetroCenter. A problem remains. It is the unknown factor in the equation: we will not know what MetroCenter’s intentions for these parcels are until they tell us. For all we know they may well intend to push legally to change the zoning.

If the planning commission and Metro Council stand firm on keeping residential zoning, then MetroCenter has 7 small and randomly placed properties “on the residential block” on which to build single family homes. In that light the Plan to take out the interstate might work along side a strongly organized Salemtown as a counterbalance just in case MetroCenter decides to start acting like a wise guy.

For the meantime we can look to I-65 as a figurative means of evading MetroCenter’s drive to acquire, while repeating Gordon Lightfoot’s refain, “Carefree Highway, let me slip away, slip away on you.”

Saturday, March 05, 2005

More Effects of Proposed Bush Budget Cuts on Local Neighborhoods

I have been writing in recent weeks on the planned Bush cuts to the federal budget, including those to the Block Grant program and to COPS.

More and more bad news for urban neighborhoods is coming to the surface the more President Bush's planned budget cuts are analyzed.

The latest stats are from various sources via the Democratic National Committee:
  • Bush’s Budget Cuts Funding for Tennessee’s COPS Program. Bush’s 2006 budget cuts funding for the Community Oriented Police program, which has put 2,351 police on the streets in Tennessee. [DOJ, 10/19/04; Budget of the US Government, 2/05]
  • Bush Budget Eliminates Grants to Help Tennessee Local Drug Task Forces. “Two federal grants that have helped fund local law enforcement will be reduced 36 percent this year and may be eliminated from the budget next year, officials said. The Edward Byrne Memorial Grant, which funds the 26 judicial drug task forces across the state, and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant will be eliminated, officials said. … Ricky Smith, the director of the 12th Judicial District Drug Task Force, said his budget comes almost entirely from a $96,000 Byrne grant. ‘We can manage a year or a year and a half, but I think eventually you are going to see drug task forces across the state eventually go out of business,’ Mr. Smith said.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 2/12/05]
Also, the Bush cuts threaten to destroy the "Hope VI" program, which has rejuvenated the communities of Vine Hill, Preston Taylor, John Henry Hale Homes, and Sam Levy Homes in Nashville. Via the DNC:
  • Bush’s 2005 budget proposes to eliminate the HOPE VI program, and requests that Congress rescind the $143 million it had already approved in the 2005 budget. Congress has rebuffed similar requests in the past to eliminate HOPE VI, which helps housing agencies replace dilapidated public housing units with mostly larger townhouses and detached homes to create mixed-income communities. [Washington Post, 2/7/05; Associated Press, 2/7/05; Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006, 2/7/05]
Preston Taylor and John Henry Hale Homes sit in north-by-northwest neighborhoods. Hence, the Bush cuts hit close to home. We still have a number of very old and crumbling public housing projects in other urban neighborhoods that will only continue to deteriorate without federal help.
Hope VI represents a unique partnership where Metro government and other public, private and non-profit agencies match federal funds allocated to renovate and enhance the quality of urban life. It gives local institutions the opportunity for good works that they otherwise could not afford on their own.

03/06/2005 Update: Here's a piece I missed from Friday's Tennessean on Hope VI and the John Henry Hale Homes.

Friday, March 04, 2005

"The Plan of Nashville": Whose Plan? Which Nashville? Part II

Zoned sketch of North Salemtown. Source:
I would like to take a second look at the proposal, in “The Plan of Nashville,” to turn the I-65 corridor into an urban boulevard in order to redevelop the interstate’s footprint and “reintegrate” the neighborhoods to the city. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I-65 cuts a small slice of North Salemtown off from the rest of Salemtown. I expressed reservations about The Plan’s proposal with MetroCenter holding so much of the land in that small area.

Well, I went to the Metro Planning Department’s virtual map room on a fact-finding mission. By the way, the Planning Department’s website is great for tracking information about parcels of land, especially if you need help locating codes violators. It also allows you to filter the map with “layers” to give you any kind of information about neighborhoods. I recommend it.

The facts seem to sustain my concerns about MetroCenter, which is not a Tennessee-based company:
  • MetroCenter owns 26 of 53 parcels in the North Salemtown area cut off by I-65.
  • Most of MetroCenter’s holdings are in commercial zones.
  • MetroCenter owns the largest parcels in the area.
In sum, MetroCenter has increased its landholdings south of Dominican Drive, possessing nearly half of all parcels and probably most of the acreage of North Salemtown. Most of its holdings are zoned as "vacant commercial," and all of its holdings are vacant period.

One does not have to stretch very far from these facts to deduce, as I have, that MetroCenter will more than likely develop most of North Salemtown commercially with or without respect for urban design or for the character of neighborhoods. At the very least we can conclude that MetroCenter's land holdings give them the power and influence to make them the force with which to be reckoned if planners and designers advance visions for redevelopment of the I-65 corridor. Near northside neighborhood organizers defending the community's interest will have to find some counterbalance to MetroCenter's influence should I-65 go away.

In the next part of my commentary about The Plan’s plan for I-65, I’ll breakdown the numbers on the property holdings in North Salemtown. There is actually a slim hope that MetroCenter might not turn out to be the King Kong I worry about and might actually develop residential properties as The Plan wishes. But based on the power MetroCenter already has through its holdings in North Salemtown, things might not fall that way.

If MetroCenter turns out to be a beast gobbling up parcels of land at the rate it has in North Salemtown, I-65 may be the only barrier keeping it from gobbling up even more tracts further to the south in Salemtown proper.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

INFO: From the Nashville Jazz Workshop

Both the Nashville Jazz Workshop and Kijiji Coffee House are unique neighbors to have and provide musical venues unlike any other in Nashville. It's great to have them here.
Greetings from the Jazz Workshop,
Just wanted to give you some performance dates. Mark your calendars!
Sunday, March 6/5:00pm
CD Release Party for vocalist, J'nae Fincannon
J'nae has just recently recorded a great CD featuring:
  • George Tidwell-trumpet
  • Lori Mechem-piano
  • Roger Spencer- bass
  • Chris Brown- drums
  • Dann Sherrill- percussion
  • Pat Bergeson- guitar
  • Special guest- Kirk Whalum-sax
Snacks and beverages will be served. Free and open to the public. CD's will
be available for purchase. Come and hear this great vocalist and her music!

Thursday, March 10th from 7-10pm
Kijiji Coffee House and Nashville Jazz Workshop present
Thursday night Jazz with our very own NJW Vocal Jazz Ensemble

  • Christina Watson
  • Laina Stanford
  • Kristine Mylls
  • Sean Horenstein
  • Jonathan Kasper
  • Luther Ludwig
Under the direction of Jeff Hall. Also joining the group will be Lori Mechem on piano, Greg Germony on bass, Carlos Ruiz on drums and Larry Seeman on guitar. The Ensemble will be performing some new material. Come and support this great group.
The performance will be at the Kijiji Coffee House on Jefferson Street. Free and open to the public.
Friday, March 11th/SNAP ON 2 AND 4/8:00pm
Featuring an All-Star lineup!
  • George Tidwell-trumpet
  • Denis Solee-sax
  • Roy Agee-trombone
  • Lori Mechem-piano
  • Roger Spencer-bass
  • Chris Brown-drums
Admission is $8.00/5.00 for students
Advance purchase for tickets recommended! Tickets will go on sale Monday, March 7th. This will be a great performance not to miss. Hope to see you.

Take Care,
Lori Mechem
Director of Nashville Jazz Workshop

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Same State Garbage For Two Weeks Running

Two weeks ago I took pictures of state parking lot properties on 5th Avenue in North Nashville that had been littered for months. I was back there today. I found the properties just as trashy as ever, including the same trash as two weeks ago.

Same old months-old trash on state property, two weeks later. Click on the link below to see the older photo of this same litter. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

How is it that the state can find $140,000 to pay a conservative Vanderbilt law professor to help clean up TennCare, but it cannot produce a few more measily bucks to pay somebody, anybody (conservative or liberal) to clean up some trash?

Caveat Emptor, With Extra Emphasis on Caveat

Owners of beautiful restored homes in urban neighborhoods have their particular structural problems to worry about.

But it looks like owners of new infills have their own set of issues with builders and codes inspectors. It appears that the market itself is not sufficient enough to force builders to build quality homes. However, those you would expect to be protecting consumer interest, the Codes Department, don't seem to be enforcing codes.

If we cannot trust the entrepreneur and we cannot trust the regulator, whom in the sam hill can we trust? What's the latin terminology for "home buyer be afraid, be very afraid"?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Not Exactly "90210"

This is not the best list to have your zip at the top of. While the number of ex-cons who violate their parole is reportedly low, there are criminal opportunities for those who do. Ever vigilant. Ever precautious.

Precaution unlike that of one of the many recent victims of West End/Elmington Park crime who told Channel 4 reporter Cynthia Williams that she did not have an alarm system on her house. Living in the city without an alarm system? I guess there are still people in the south who live without air conditioning, too, but probably not at ease.

Alarm systems are not 100%, but even the slightest sense of security is better than no sense of security.