Sunday, January 29, 2012

But I thought Salemtown was the "next hot spot" 5 years ago

In 2007 real estate reporters called Salemtown the next hot spot, so hot, we were already "on fire":

Up-and-coming 27-year-old developer Jeremy Gearheart seems like a good match with Salemtown, an emerging neighborhood near downtown where he's building single-family homes and putting down roots by buying and rehabbing an old home.

Gearheart is finalizing plans for eight upscale brick brownstones at Fifth Avenue and Garfield. He recently finished three new homes with historic designs at Clayton on Sixth Avenue North.

Those homes go from $289,000 to $348,000 and recently won the city's Preservation Award for infill projects from the Metro Historical Commission of Nashville and Davidson County.

"This area is on fire," Gearheart says. "I'm fully invested in it."

Apparently, our status as the next hot spot in 2007 was just a false alarm. This morning the Tennessean reports that now it's for real; we are the next hot spot:

Salemtown [is] a long-neglected neighborhood near downtown Nashville being discovered by residents and home builders who see it as the city’s next redevelopment success story ....

“This is a very cool, exciting place. It’s the next hot spot,” says Josh McLean, a principal of Kenner McLean Development, who compares Salemtown to other neighborhoods that have experienced a renaissance, including Germantown and, across the Cumberland River in East Nashville, Lockeland Springs.

As I hear it, the real estate reporter at the Tennessean did not even know that Salemtown existed before he was contacted to do this story. We moved to Salemtown in 2004, and I can recall the news media discovering us at various times over the years: 2005, 20062007, etc. So, perhaps the journo is referring to himself as being neglectful of Salemtown. Nonetheless, they have discovered us again.

Pioneers & Manifest Destiny
More troubling to me as a Salemtownie is the reference in the story to our neighborhood as "pioneer territory" along with the screaming colonial headline: "'Pioneers' take over Salemtown". The idea of "pioneers" summons other ideas like civilizing natives and subduing frontier. Pioneers do not just settle, they also drive out other indigenous communities. Because of those connotations, I find pioneer metaphors for urban community redevelopment appalling.

Salemtown is not the wild west or Fort Apache. When we founded a neighborhood association here we sought to acknowledge and to celebrate the class, ethnic, and social diversity of Salemtown. The idea that those of us who have moved here more recently are "pioneers" is at odds with that purpose. I am fortunate to share Salemtown with people who have lived here all their lives, who can remember working at the old Werthan Bag factory, who remember walking to class at the old Fehr school, who have looked at the block-by-block march of hip Germantown northward with a keen sense of loss of their own community. I have no desires to "take over" the neighborhood from them. Recently I found working side-by-side with folk who have lived in Salemtown for decades on our 3-year streetscape project very meaningful. If I were a pioneer I would not even see the value of their perspective or at least I would extol economic growth as the value that trumps all other values, especially "old-fashioned" ones.

Salemtown has a community character beyond that of the "urban core" exalted by lifestyle wayfarers who see the neighborhood as a pass-through from one stage of their life to the next. Some of us have stood in front of the Planning Commission and the Metro Council and defended that character against homogenizing tendencies of the housing market. Whether or not it is (or was or will be) "the next hot spot" promoted by real estate reporters and developers, it is (and was and will be) our home, too. Any so-called "revival" or "renaissance" is always influenced by the past as well as the present and the future.

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