Thursday, July 23, 2009

Those darned "neighborhoods"; always in a reporter's way

I live on infill property. My neighborhood is becoming mostly infill. So, I don't have an issue with all infill; I do take exception to the kind of infill marketed by journalist Nate Rau in this morning's City Paper. His conception seem less interested in community events as they unfold ground-level and more interested in what the ruling class at the Metro Courthouse is saying about those community events.

Rau seems to scold council members for not promoting infill in their districts while opposing May Town Center. What Rau fails to report, acknowledge, or perhaps even see is that these CMs have to deal with organized neighborhood leaders, some of whom have participated in the community planning process that happened before Rau came on at the CP. Those leaders attempt to hold Metro officials accountable for the liberties they take with developers under the auspices of "SP." Even so, Rau naively encourages the CMs to "work with Nashville's development community," as if there are not already value-laden incentives through campaign finance and with paid lobbyists to do so.

Rau could apparently care less about the checks and balances that neighborhood leaders bring to the political process of zoning and rezoning, regardless of the regressive implications for residential life in the neighborhoods. (I encounter few young reporters who express an interest in boring old residential life anyway). Once again, his one-sided analysis makes him look more like a page for Downtown elites than someone who actually spent time pounding pavement, talking to people in the neighborhoods he wraps quotes around. As such it is difficult to draw the line between reporting and spin in his analysis. At best his views are not balanced or fair, hence, they lack grassroots credibility.

One example is his treatment of the push and pull over the proposed Valerie Crossing development in Green Hills:
Developers were proposing a multi-family housing development for the Green Hills area called “Valerie Crossings.” The proposal included about 300 units, and naturally the neighbors balked.
While Rau goes on to acknowledge the traffic problems that is a concern to neighbors (not to mention to everyone else who drives through Green Hills), he says nothing about the fact that the amendments to the community plansought by developers render it pointless (to quote one Abbott Martin road resident). However, that plan was formulated by Green Hills property owners in 2005 at the behest of Metro planners.

Woodlawn Area Neighborhood Association President Bell Newton put it best:
The fact that developers can come in and ask for amendments to the adopted Community Plan that would then enable them to proceed with obtaining zoning changes that would allow increases in density for their projects without consensus of the residents included in the plan is most disconcerting.
Nate Rau seems to have no conception that working with Valerie Crossing developers undermines public participation in the Planning process itself. Or maybe he doesn't give a crap about public participation. Either way, simply supporting the high-density infill is directly at odds with both the democratic process and the encouragement that planners once showed to Green Hills residents. Rau effectively calls for further empowerment of the Courthouse crowd and less participation by the common rabble in the process.

Rau reserves his praise for CMs who work with developers on infill, but who don't necessarily communicate their intentions to neighborhood leaders:
District 17 Councilwoman Sandra Moore is expertly navigating a complicated development proposal for the neighborhood. The proposal would bring 14,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space to what is currently a strictly residential street. It’s essentially 12South bleeding into 10th Avenue.

The proposal would use existing infrastructure and it would do so by fitting into the character of the neighborhood. Still, neighbors are split on the project.
Contrast that to the less than laudatory assessment of CM Moore of one long-time Waverly Place resident to the Nashville neighborhoods e-list. How does increased automobile traffic that won't fit into a designated parking lot and thus will spill over on to almost exclusively residential streets fit the character of Waverly Place? We don't know because Rau doesn't tell us.

Are we to conclude that CMs are doing the right thing only when they communicate with developers regardless of the lack of consensus in the neighborhood? If not, then what exactly does Rau mean in encouraging CMs to work with developers on infill? And does he mean any infill the developers and planners approve with or without regard to the neighborhood plan?

As I said, my neighborhood is increasingly an infill neighborhood, but having lived through part of the development process I can tell you that there is nothing inherently good about infill, and the quality of infill must not be left up to developers or reporters alone. We've seen some infill that is bad and some that does not promote the highest quality of life in a diverse community. The best infill we have has been that which incorporates community feedback. The best reporting I've seen considers community perspective. Nate Rau's "neighborhoods" analysis fails on both counts.

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