Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Public Housing in the North End was once relief from slums

A 2001 Scene article by Bill Carey provides some interesting historical context for Cheatham Place, which sits near Werthan Lofts and Salemtown:
In 1937, Congress passed a national housing act, authorizing millions of federal dollars for public housing projects across the country. Within a year, the Public Works Administration was building two projects in Nashville. One, for whites, was called Cheatham Place and was built in a North Nashville slum previously known as Cab Hollow [blog aside: as I have heard told, Cab Hollow was the former name for Salemtown]. The other, for blacks, was built adjacent to Fisk University. The city named it Andrew Jackson Courts.

With public housing projects now synonymous with high crime, broken families, and illicit drug use, it’s hard to imagine that they were ever viewed differently. But when public housing was new to Nashville, it was touted as a cure for society’s ills. “Like a breath of spring...a new and clean little town within Nashville is bustling toward completion to house people who formerly existed in dilapidated and unsanitary slums,” one Tennessean reporter wrote in 1937. “The spot will resemble a cozy English village covering approximately 22 acres...situated in a flourishing site flooded with green lawns, flower and vegetable gardens, parks, paved sidewalks, and an air of freshness and healthfulness.”

This positive perception of public housing would remain common until about the early 1960s. Decades after public housing came to Nashville, the family of 14-year-old Leo Waters left a run-down house in North Nashville to move into Cheatham Place. “Our house had no indoor bathtub, and the projects seemed safe, clean, and modern by comparison,” says Waters, now an at-large Metro Council member. “We didn’t really feel poor or deprived. We used to jokingly tell people that we lived in the biggest brick house in Nashville.”

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