Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I was an Obama voter in 2008. Why I will not be voting for him again this time

My daughter has gone with me to vote since I toted her as an infant to the polls. She is now 8, and she looks forward to going with me. Barack Obama is her favorite for president, and she looked on last time when I voted for him. She will be going with me again this week to vote, and it will be hard because I will have to let her down gently and explain to her why I will not be voting for President Obama for re-election.

When I think of the choices determined for me in this election I feel a fatigue very close to that I hear in the voice of this 4-year-old, whom I met this morning on YouTube:

I'm tired of them, too, Abby. Indeed, they are tired choices. And yet, the politically-plugged-in adults chat up Obama's race with GOP challenger Mitt Romney as if they are so far apart on so many issues that this is a clear, black-white moral decision. The reality is that regardless of which two of these privileged men take the White House, little will change.

I believe that because I see that little changed from George W. Bush to Obama. It was not like I was unaware of this risk in 2008, but I put my concerns aside and enthusiastically voted for Obama anyway. Risk realized.

No bankers went to jail for the 2008 economic melt down. In fact, the banks are bailed out and bigger than ever. Obama did nothing to make them smaller and to shelter us from Too-Big-To-Fail Syndrome. Obama has not even reformed his own economic policy, continuing the Bush practice of hiring advisers from the finance sector, some of whom dismantled the regulations under Clinton that paved the way for our economic crisis and malaise. Obama's is a conservative economic policy. He did not spend as much on economic recovery when he had the clout to act boldly as great presidents have, choosing instead the failed path of trying to entice resistant Republicans to join him. I consider any chance he had to be a great president gone.

Given where we've been
where else could he go?
Bush's human rights abuses are not only still in play with GITMO detainment, but Obama doubled down by signing a defense appropriation bill that gives him and any president who follows the power to arrest any American without recourse to their constitutional and universal right to a trial. Likewise, Obama has out-Bushed Bush on the use of drones: the Democratic president does not share Dubya's relatively thoughtful concerns that using drones opens us up to grim political consequences in the future. So how wrong I was 4 years ago when I bought the logic that Obama was less likely than John McCain to use unmanned drones on Muslim targets and manufacture more terrorists in the process. And Democrats in general have been a lot more negligent in counting Obama's drone kills than they were in tallying Bush's Iraq War causalities, which smells like cynicism to me. In his three bipartisan debates with Romney, Obama refused to address his use of the "flying robots of death", but Romney said he supported Obama's droning practices, even though it has caused civilian casualties. That endorsement tells me all I care to know on the abuses of this president's foreign policy.

On the domestic front, Obama did pass healthcare legislation, although it was modeled after healthcare legislation that Romney passed when he was governor of Massachusetts. And Obama has departed from the Bushian ineptness of disaster response, choosing instead the Clintonian realism of generating political capital by quick and decisive aid and relief. Given the side that Romney's bread is buttered on as well as his recent red-meat tirades on FEMA, I suspect a Romney White House would return to crass indifference in disaster relief. Obama is funding charter schools and privatizing public education around the country at a clip that must only dissatisfy Republicans insofar as it does not include the next logical step: vouchers for private schools. Outside of his foreign and justice policies, Obama's education policy is the biggest failure of them all and disconcerting to me as a public school parent. His commitment to charter schools is an abdication of progressive principals on education open to all. Stylish and in-fashion business models of innovation do not guarantee equal access to education for all and behind them lays the Republican will-to-kill public schools.

Hence, I am tired of this choice. I want to be able to say to my daughter, "We have a game-changer, someone who will shake up the board, not just shake up the etch-a-sketch." I long for a choice whom I believe will follow up on progressive campaign promises rather than governing toward the fence-straddle, and hence, toward the Republicans, like Obama has. There is no chance I'll ever vote Republican, and President Obama is not the viable option for me that he was in 2008 because his GOP-lite approach is realized. The last (but not only) straw for me was Obama signing away our civil liberties.

Try to convince me that a vote on a third option is a vote for Romney and a vote for things to get worse than they have the past four years. That is no less an attempt at voter suppression than is requiring a picture ID. If enough people are persuaded by your argument then they won't vote for more progressive candidates and liberals stand less of a chance of winning and influencing the political process. Hence, we keep our status quo. That is not change we can believe in.

Some of the same Obama supporters who claim that things would get worse under Romney claim that Mitt is a flip flopper. But they can't have it both ways: either he is an dangerous extremist who will use more fully Obama's fleet of flying robots of death or he is a equivocator who, like George Bush the Elder, is opportunistic and willing to sacrifice his scruples on the altar of expediency. I tend to think that Romney is more of the latter, and I think we would see a retread of patrician Bush I with the same sort of Bush II we have seen with Obama. Outside of disaster relief and vouchers, I just do not see the vast difference between Obama and the Republicans that Democrats project, and part of that is Obama's fault for stubbornly striving to embrace rather than to fight the GOP even when he had numbers on them in Congress.

I intend to vote for someone. Most likely it will be Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, who is saying what I want to hear from a presidential candidate on ending the drone wars, resurrecting habeas corpus, human rights and social justice, correcting and regulating Big Finance, guaranteeing healthcare for everyone, and pursuing diplomatic solutions first in foreign policy. Rocky Anderson, of the Justice Party, emphasizes many of the same course changes as Dr. Stein, plus he was a two-term Mayor of a major American city, so he will likely be keen to the affects of federal policy on metropolitan issues. Those are the two I've narrowed down to. Those are the two I endorse in 2012, and if I vote for either one my vote will not be wasted because it will be cast for change I can believe in, change hoped for in 2008 and change that can be achieved.

The hard part will be trying to explain the complexity of my vote to my daughter somehow when she has been influenced already by the false dichotomy of this two-party system.

UPDATE: Well, I voted for Dr. Jill Stein, who was arrested on Tuesday for trying to take food to protesters in a sit-in protest against Big Oil's Keystone XL pipeline in Texas. Dr. Stein, again a bona fide presidential candidate, was arrested previously for trying to attend the presidential debates. Third parties may get no respect in our flawed system, but at least one of them got my vote for the first time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

That 2010 chip is still on your shoulder?

Photo credit:
Anthony De Rosa
New York City (and several other East Coast cities and towns) suffered one of its worst natural disasters yesterday when Hurricane Sandy barreled ashore. The "frankenstorm" killed a number of people, flooded subways, knocked out the power in Lower Manhattan, caused neighborhood destroying fires in Queens, and created a toxic spill of a designated Superfund site in Brooklyn. Well-known boardwalks were destroyed in Atlantic City and Rockaway. Countless building in multiple communities were flooded. Tunnels in and out of Manhattan were inundated and obstructed by floating cars.

Many of us here in Nashville watched from afar, expressed concerns and sympathies for New Yorkers and other east coasters. A few here filed on to social media and used the occasion of the spotlight turned on the Big Apple to vent their spleens about what little media attention Nashville got in 2010. As if Nashville's flood did not have to contend with the largest oil spill ever caused by BP off the Gulf Coast in 2010 as their platform hemorrhaged crude for days.

Nonetheless, some here chose to make the catastrophe in the northeast all about us while Gotham fell into cold darkness.

New York City is an international city. People from every corner of the globe live and visit there. If you travel the world over, you'll meet all kinds of people who know what New York City is but who may be more challenged to say what Nashville is. That's no slight against us. It's a simple reality. When one of the world's major cities is flooded it is paramount news. When a large city in Middle Tennessee is flooded it is big enough to warrant national attention, but to compare it to the attention New York City should get is unrealistic, whiny, and foolish.

And given that a big-city broadcasting corporation has given Nashville's music industry a gratuitous spotlight via a primetime weeknight soap opera, the resentment over someone else's tragedy makes us look like ingrates.

Mayor Dean insists that we look on the bright side of personal tragedy

Homicides in Davidson County this year have surpassed the total number of 2011 homicides. Karl Dean, who has showcased two election campaigns with the promise of lowering crime, attempts to draw our attention to his silver lining:

[In a prepared statement Karl Dean told the Tennessean, "]Last year's homicide total was the city's lowest in 45 years, and the number of homicides this year remains below the city's trend for the past 10 years[."]

Hizzoner is adept at side stepping accountability for lack of follow through. If he wants credit when the crime rate is down, he should be willing to accept the responsibility when the crime rate goes up instead of shaking the stats until his own talking points drop out.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The wrong message to send on dealing with neighborhood crime

This year the Salemtown neighborhood association has made a troublesome shift on dealing with suspicious behavior that appears to me more about image-control of the brand than about effective community policing and crimewatching.

In previous years association officers encouraged neighbors to call the police directly at their urgent, but non-emergent phone number (862-8600) if any suspicious behavior was observed in Salemtown. The reason members were encouraged to call police on their own was that it usually got faster response and all calls were logged, which helped MNPD determine where future patrols were needed most. Notifying the association was encouraged as a second step, and I do not recall officers attempting to manage how witnesses reported back to SNNA.

In September of this year a message with the title "keeping it local" went out to the association from the SNNA board encouraging association members to contact board members instead of the police directly. The message prescribed "discretion" without "overreacting", and it advised that the "close contact" that the president had to the MNPD liaison for Salemtown could bring more police patrols.

In my opinion Salemtown residents are better advised to call the police directly at their "urgency without emergency" phone number to make sure that witness reports are recorded at the precinct. I do not believe that the association's officers should be filtering witness reports, soft-pedaling, or otherwise judging the validity of people's perspectives for MNPD.

In 8 years here I have watched crime cycles and police response. With two recent murders in or near Salemtown and suspicious activity on the rise, I would encourage my neighbors to bypass the association whenever they witness troubling activity and go straight to the police. Only afterwards should they report the activity to SNNA. And by no means should they abide insinuations that they are overreacting, unless they actually believe that they are or can be reasonably persuaded otherwise.

CRIME ALERT: Cabbie shot dead in Buena Vista

From WSMV:

A longtime Nashville cab driver was shot and killed early Friday inside his vehicle near the Germantown area.

Henry Moore, 69, was inside his Yellow Cab van just before 3 a.m. near the intersection of 10th Avenue North and Garfield Street.

Police said Moore had just been dispatched to pick up a fare at the intersection, and neighbors then reported hearing gunshots.

After he was shot, Moore's van crashed into a retaining wall nearby.

Investigators have not released any details on possible suspects or a motive in the shooting.

Memphis raises taxes to subsidize privatized schools

Shelby County is raising taxes on the backs of its most vulnerable so that charter school operators are subsidized to ply their trade in Memphis:

The County solution: raise the sales tax another penny, which will push this most regressive tax (which includes taxing food) to over 10% (TN is #1 in the nation for highest sales tax).  Oh yes, and in the meantime, reduce property taxes so that the immeasurably unfair tax on the poor will be even more so.

Projected take?  About $54 million, which would cover the annual amount estimated by the State to cover the loss of revenue to fund the new charters.  Meanwhile, the charters under the new State Recovery School District (RSD) (think NOLA) will get to take over the school buildings that are being closed to create charters.

The corporations that run these charters, then, will have huge advantages over non-RSD schools, so the State, in effect will be the ultimate decider on which of these "market-based solutions" get to thrive as the 21st Century solution to the "white man's burden" in Memphis.

Bill Gates and Tennessee Stand for Children also had a hand in Shelby County's raising of taxes for resegregating schools as orchestrated by red-state Tennessee. Things are getting ugly in Memphis.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The better part of valor is discretion

We have met the enemy and he is definitely not us.
Local blogger Jamie Hollin doses political realism to Metro Nashville Public Schools should they have second thoughts about taking on Tennessee's state education commissioner for attempting to punish their denial of Great Hearts' charter application:

...if the money [$3.4 million withdrawn by the State of Tennessee] is deemed by MNPS to be immaterial and the vote is against litigation, then they will have one heckuva time explaining to the citizens of Nashville why our property taxes went up to fund schools. Their next trip to the Metro Council for funding might meet the proverbial buzz saw in their next budget request—to the tune of at least $3.4 Million.

Public officials should choose their battles. Future fights over Metro funding, complete with public hearings and letter-writing campaigns, look like slow, uphill slogs of attrition compared to the blitz they might launch in court to defend their legal rights.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ingram uses charity as a weapon, and the casualties are likely to be children

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce is now threatening the Metro Nashville Public Schools for denying a charter school. While in my opinion charter schools are usually about class warfare (or at least about class "police action"), the latest Chamber behavior seems to me to ratchet the clash to a visceral level of "shock and awe". Why? Because the gilded blueblood who penned a letter to MNPS on behalf of the Chamber threw down his own personal philanthropic weight:

Ingram elite
The chamber, a key partner with Metro schools that had previously stayed out of the feud, characterized the board’s “mishandling” of its fiduciary responsibility as “especially galling” for those in the business community who have advocated for tax increases to “fully fund” the district's budget.

“...ultimately the accountability for the school system resides with the Metropolitan Board of Education,” reads the letter, penned by businessman Orrin Ingram, who chairs the chamber’s Education 2020 program.

“Accordingly, the school board is responsible for the restoration of the $3.4 million to MNPS from the state in a way that does not waste further effort and taxpayer money.”

Ingram, an affluent philanthropist and CEO of Ingram Industries Inc., concludes with a pointed handwritten note to school board chair Cheryl Mayes: “Until this issue is resolved and the $3.4 million is reinstated, my time, money and support will stay on the sideline!”

The words “time,” “money,” and “support” are each underlined for emphasis.

We live in a climate where schools have been systematically stripped of public revenues (which increasingly go to subsidize business start-ups and relocations, as well as to underwrite lobby groups like the Nashville Chamber of Commerce) and wealthy philanthropists and private enterprises are asked to take up the slack with voluntary donations under the auspices of "public-private partnerships". The Chamber's volley across the public school bow shows the real risk of these partnerships: delivery of underfunded public education to Nashville's children is threatened by the withholding of private donations that those children have come to depend on.

Crossing the line: let the kids eat cake
Given that Nashville public schools are disproportionately working- and lower-class compared to the private schools that Mr. Ingram is now more comfortable supporting, it seems to me that the philanthropist is ramping up class war with his money and power. Whether he cares or not, the public school kids are going to be the casualties of the shots fired. This tirade also exposes the distinct possibility that his charity is a cynical tool for currying influence and leveraging the political ends that he deems beneficial to him and his class.

Such philanthropy belies commitment to Nashville's children; instead, it smacks of venture philanthropy, which is intended to configure the political landscape in one direction and consolidate power in the hands of a few. Ignoring the class dimensions of this threat is to approach it from a sense of denial. MNPS's conflict with the state has spiraled out of control and upset patricians are trying to rein in a popularly-elected, spit-the-bit board, even if kids fall.

Charter schools cinch permanent underclasses who receive something akin to vocational education. "Creaming" (or skimming the best performers off the top of traditional schools for charter schools) along with Nashville's Chamber-influenced founding of "Academies" provide the assist.

Then, the kicker: middle-class charter schools like Great Hearts calcify class stratification and provide one more barrier between the elite, concentrated power of Nashville's wealthy and the unwashed masses. That is essentially what aristocrats like Orrin Ingram defend by threatening to withdraw charity from Nashville public schools. Most pathetically, the gentry are willing to use public school children as pawns, essentially re-victimizing them to get what they want.

The state victimized the kids once by withdrawing $3.4 million. Nashville's elite follows by flexing its muscles, and it victimizes them again by withholding private donations until MNPS backs off its defiance of the state. It is merely the dark side of the public-private partnership: a sinister expression of the union we want to believe is benign, benevolent, and beneficial. We should rethink our assumptions.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A tale of two cities, one of which being Nashville

At the behest of an "invite-only" nonprofit Germantown resident and Cool People Care President Sam Davidson, describes how Nashville is staking fresh claims on emerging, young-adult-oriented industry:

Nashville may be a bit new to the startup game, but it’s growing quickly. Having been known for primarily launching music or health care companies, it’s now growing tech companies, consumer products, and entertainment ideas.

Kudos go to organizations like Nashville’s new Entrepreneur Center, working hard under the leadership of Michael Burcham to provide incubation, knowledge, and pathways to funding for people with a great idea. Chapters like the local Social Enterprise Alliance are also helping to network and support entrepreneurs with a desire to make a profit while making a difference.

Top-notch schools like Vanderbilt and Belmont pump young talent into the local economy. Belmont offers a major in entrepreneurship too. Wonderful climate and affordable living are icing on the cake!

Not sure I agree that we have a "wonderful climate". This past summer was brutally hot, and our extreme storms seem to be more extreme than usual (the 2010 flood, a case in point). But that is not the point on which I want to dwell here.

Instead, I want to draw out a couple of things. One is that Sam evokes the name of the Entrepreneur Center, which almost exactly one year ago took up an extreme right-wing Twitter campaign and called upon Nashville entrepreneurs to protest the popular grassroots movement Occupy Wall Street. People are still scratching their heads over that one. That EC would veer to one extreme gives them less credibility in my book.

The other point is that the startup industry seems to dominate online buzz here in Music City, and the spin is constantly promotional and echo-chamberish. The reality at the moment is that the venture capital enterprise is contracting, spelling a belt-tightening future for entrepreneurs. Hence, the more heavily Nashville relies on startups, the greater the chance our economy will contract with it.

Compare Sam's glowing representation of a wide-open Nashville to The Atlantic Cities' consideration of "slow-and-steady" San Antonio, Texas shortly after that city's Mayor, Julián Castro, gave the key note speech earlier this autumn at the Democratic National Convention. It provides a more sober, chastened assessment about the economic diversity required for recession-proofing:

In our interview, Castro acknowledged that the bedrock of San Antonio's economy was not in bright shiny venture capital industries (in fact, the city's information sector is shrinking), but rather in safe and conservative industries that were largely non-cyclical, and therefore recession-proof. He further conceded that the city was blessed by the most uncontrollable factor of all: geography. "We've got lots of affordable land," he told me, which helps keep housing prices low. The proximity to the border creates a "constant supply of labor [that] feeds the hospitality industry" and keeps wage levels down ....

The upside of slow-and-steady growth is that when the world is falling apart around you, you look pretty good. In fact, San Antonio was perhaps the most resilient city in the 18 months after the crash precisely because so much of its activity revolves around government. The downside of slow-and-steady growth is that, well, it's slow. San Antonio is not a rich metro.

Nashville is not a rich metro either, a fact borne out by declining revenues for Metro services in spite of increasing taxes and the prospect of a budget crisis that a number of locals agree is immanent. Time will tell whether Nashville and its startups are more resilient than San Antonio. But naively buying sanguine assessments about the future of startups here may be self-deceptive and wishful.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The best? Really?

The Nashville Scene writers awarded the Belle Meade Country Club a "Best of Nashville 2012" award for "Best Breaking of Barriers" for slightly eroding its exclusive old rich white boy membership practice and stooping to accept its first token woman.

A country club, which by definition is exclusive, finally does a single thing right after a century of plantationesque wrongs, and the Nashville Scene gives them an award? Might the journalists be dumbing down the meaning of the term "Best of"? And do rich Nashvillians really need any more honors for hubris from the news media?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Businesses lost in Germantown

It has not been an easy autumn for food places that anchored mixed use at the intersection of Madison and 5th Avenue, North in Historic Germantown. At the end of July, the Cocoa Tree closed. At the beginning of September, Drinkhaus closed, and earlier plans owners had to reopen the business in a larger Germantown space folded as well (I had intended to blog on this closing weeks ago). This week a Germantown resident tweeted news that Zackie's hot dog business had closed (they had previously cut their operating hours). Today Zackie's had brown paper blocking the view through its large picture windows.

On a side note, the Silo restaurant recently opened at the same intersection, and it joins several other eating establishments that are still in business in Germantown. However, the retail space at the 4h and Monroe mixed use development is still empty as it has been for 4 or 5 years.

The 3 closures were all businesses that we patronized consistently and we are sad to see them go, especially at a personal level. Their walkability was also an incentive for us. The closing of Drinkhaus in particular leaves Germantown without a coffee shop, which makes no sense to me.

Hopefully, Salemtown residents who were keen to rezone our mostly residential properties for mixed use preemptively, without any developer plans, should take note of Germantown's trends. These closures should give all of us pause before rushing to rezone.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Buh-bye, Med Mart. Look Nashville, you have two convention centers!

Last February, readers, I told you that the Medical Mart, which Mayor Karl Dean promoted as a vital, job-creating replacement for the Nashville Convention Center and virtual compliment for the new Music City Center, was dead according to Cleveland news sources.

And, just like that, eight months later, Mayor Karl Dean is confirming that the Medical Mart deal is dead, with breathtaking lack of query now from Nashville's media, which breathlessly, seemingly unanimously, promoted Hizzoner's plan for a Medical Mart when its staging meant leveraging approval for the new Music City Center.

As bleated by WPLN and no doubt sponsored by the Mayor's Office:

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean sounds like he’s all but given up on the so-called med mart ....

Dean says the Renaissance Hotel, which is attached to the city-owned convention center, is interested in taking over some of the space. Dean says it’s a desirable piece of property that he’s not worried about sitting vacant long.

Not quite the optimistic narrative spouted out of the Mayor's Office and the media when the Music City Center was pitched to us. Now Nashville is simply "moving away" from the Medical Mart (even though 8 months ago we were limping toward it) according to the article by Blake Farmer, as if Karl Dean had never made certain promises under the pretense of building Music City Center. Would Music City Center have received quite as much promotional spin if Dean announced that his vision included the Renaissance Hotel shacking up in part of the old convention center? Doubtful.

Supplement: Jamie Hollin sees IQT lurking in the loss of Medical Mart. Given the Mayor's checkered past with IQT, Holins insights might not be far off.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Revolving sticker shock: unforecasted costs of Music City Center keep rising

I agree [the risk to other Metro services is] the downside of [building a new convention center]. But it's not the thing you go out there and tell people.
--Music City Center chair Ron Samuels in 2009

Despite our red-flag-waving common sense that projected costs for capital projects have a tendency to be low-balled for the sake of selling those projects to a reluctant audience, those of us who questioned Mayor Karl Dean's plan to embark on the largest capital project in Nashville history were scolded for our "negativism". I'm wondering whether Ron Samuels thinks now that it is okay to talk about skyrocketing expenses:

The cost to run the Music City Center in its first fiscal year of operation will be about $4 million more than previously projected, according to a budget approved by Convention Center Authority members on Thursday.

The increase is linked to the expected doubling of the Music City Center’s projected utility bill, which is estimated to total $5.3 million from July 2013 to June 2014. The authority had been working under the assumption that it would pay about $2.5 million in utilities in that one-year period, based on a demand and feasibility study of the Music City Center project generated by hospitality consulting firm HVS in 2010 ....

The variance exists because the HVS study was conducted around a building that had not yet been built, said Nashville Convention Center Executive Director Charles Starks, while the more recent number includes newer estimates from Nashville Electric Service and District Electric Service using more accurate information about the 1.2 million-square-foot building.

Remarkable that unflinching MCC spokesperson Holly McCall was not trotted out again to point fingers at Metro Council (and the constituents whom they represent) for the latest bad news. The traction to that rationalization must be missing.

The revenues to meet these obligations have to come from somewhere, and I doubt the bigshots in the tourism industry are going to take up a collection among themselves to bridge the gap between fairy tale and balance sheet. Besides, they have future election campaigns to finance.

Nashville broke ground on this big box and we bought it. And those of us who were realistic and didn't lose ourselves in the wet dreams of Music City Center boosters were right. Now we can only hope and pray that their fantasies will not continue to endanger the General Fund paying for most of what the people who actually live here enjoy.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Hizzoner casts his lot with the state: not exactly a profile in courage

Apparently, Mayor Karl Dean could not put aside his own personal fondness for the Great Hearts charter school company in order to lead a Metro agency out of a mess the State of Tennessee engendered. A Tennessean reporter tweeted Hizzoner's response to state action in September:

Mayor Dean said in interview that loss of state funds [due to declining one application for one charter school] is [Metro school's] problem. "They created it, and they need to figure it out."

Gadzooks. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the school board made a mistake. If you were the elected head of Metro government, the person who makes all of the budget decisions for all departments and agencies, is it the wisest course of action to cut loose an entire department or agency for a misstep? The alternative expression--"Regardless of what happens, we will find a way through this together. Let's pick up the pieces"--seems the proper course for those looking for a high road even when one has the opportunity to say, "I told you so."

Consider the fact that those adversely affected by the actions of the State of Tennessee are not powerful business interests who should be able to weather the lack of state funds, but the most vulnerable segment of the population: Nashville's public school children. Was it prudent for Hizzoner to take an adversarial posture with the state against a Metro agency when the latter had not violated anyone's civil rights and had not conducted themselves in an unethical manner? Was it wise to endorse the idea that the state should be spending less money on all Nashville children because a few middle class parents, who already have charter options, did not get the plum charter school they wanted close to their predominantly white neighborhoods?

How many times has this Mayor attempted to be our local Oprah with efforts like encouraging us to lose weight or to join his book club? He can weigh in touchy-feely over our personal lives, but he cannot have some compassion over the real risk to kids of red-state action?

And let's not forget one more thing: Karl Dean's campaign claims to fight tirelessly for full funding of Nashville's schools is fundamentally compromised by his stubborn willingness to side with the state and punish Nashville's school kids over a charter school application.

But let's end the dumb assumptions and let's get one thing straight: the school board made no mistake. For once, they did something right with a charter school application. And how much worse does Hizzoner's callous indifference appear in that light?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Did the Tennessean's education reporter tweet her meltdown at a teacher?

Journalistic professionalism ain't what it used to be:

In another tweet, reporter Fingeroot called the teacher and her companion "rednecks", and she seemed to suggest that the teacher was the cause of her son's absences.

Rather than projecting hostilities about after-work margaritas on Twitter, why not play nice while doing some sort of hard-hitting, investigative exposé that substantiates her claims that her son's absences are due to how his class is being taught?

I just joined 360 other signers of a petition asking the State of Tennessee to deliver the funds it promised for Nashville schools

If you like me do not want to see our public school children suffer and our local autonomy eroded simply because one charter school application was denied, then jump:

Don't take $3.4 Million from Nashville Public School Students Petition | GoPetition

Or they packed in charter school friends and students as PR insurance before they honored other "reservations"

East Nashville blogger, Sarah Martin, had a reservation to attend the "exclusive" Nashville screening of the controversial parent trigger flick, Won't Back Down, but co-sponsoring organization StudentsFirst did not honor it:

It was my intention on Monday to attend a private screening of “Won’t Back Down,” sponsored by StudentsFirst, with opening remarks by Mayor Karl Dean and a wrap up discussion panel. Unfortunately, StudentsFirst either miscounted seats or misunderstood what the word “reservation” means because I was one of many people with reservations who were told they didn’t have seats for the show. Oops. Fail.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Salemtown: now a neighborhood of service bays and easy interstate access

Technically, Salemtown extends into MetroCenter, since Dominican Drive (which runs past Starbucks to Rosa Parks Boulevard) is our recognized northern border. And we are getting a new car dealership as a neighbor, according to the Nashville Business Journal:

The 58,000-square-foot planned retail and service center is set on a 7.2-acre parcel. It will offer 61,540 square feet of outdoor display area, an 11,640-square-foot enclosed sales area and 42 service bays. The dealership will include a full line of new and pre-owned car sales as well as a Lexus service center and parts sales.

"Lexus bought this property about four years ago, and their development plans play perfectly into the major new interchange in the immediate MetroCenter area," said Todd Alexander, principal for Southeast Venture, which is the property owner. "It's a great location. You'll be able to see the dealership from the interstate, and MetroCenter's proximity to downtown and Interstates 65 and 40 will give potential buyers easy access into the new dealership."

Southeast Venture brokers Jimmy Pickle and Alexander and brokered the original deal.

"This is the first time that Lexus will have a retail and service center in Nashville's center, and we're very excited to bring Lexus sales inside Nashville's urban core," said J.R. Roper, general manager of Lexus of Nashville. "The finished dealership will provide 80 potential jobs to the area."

Thankfully, the interstate, itself a monument to automobile culture, sits between what remains of the mostly residential bulk of Salemtown and the increasingly commercialized northern section now dedicated to the great American love affair with cars.

Full disclosure: the Salemtown neighborhood association voted to approve the move of a resident's house several years ago to make way for the Lexus dealership. The homeowner requested the move and so we voted to support the request.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Werthan Packaging Mixed Use concept unveiled at community meeting

The site plan

SWH Residential Partners, Smith Gee Studio and Reno & Cavanaugh met with dozens of interested Salemtown and Germantown denizens at Morgan Park earlier tonight to introduce their proposal for the Werthan Packaging Plant property on 5th Avenue bordering the two neighborhoods.

The proposal includes an approximately 280-unit apartment complex (studio, 1 BR, 2BR; averaging 800 sq ft per unit) replacing the 1950s-style warehouse at 5th and Hume. It will also include retail space in a historic building at 5th and Taylor that developers hope will attract clients like the Turnip Truck market or a neighborhood pub. The Werthan Company will shrink to a smaller building farther away from 5th Avenue. The residential units of the main building will also clad a central parking garage for tenants and their guests. A green space will be installed along Hume that could be fit for townhouses farther out in the future.

Avenue elevation

The concept includes a dog park on the green space, a "European-style", pedestrian-oriented plaza with a water fountain on 5th, a sculpture garden with a water feature and small courtyards along Hume. Apartments along 5th will rise to an "industrial" 4 stories, with stoops to convey a "neighborhood-feel". As the building stretches toward Hume, the profile will drop to 3 stories with terraces to integrate with the smaller scale of Salemtown. Common spaces beyond the plaza would include a designated terrace for gatherings that developers told the group would be available for community meetings.

The part of the concept that made me sit up and take notice was a planned extension of 6th Avenue across Hume onto the Werthan property intended to shift large truck traffic serving the packaging plant out of the neighborhood and funnel it from Rosa Parks Boulevard to Hume and then to 6th inside the complex. In a few years when the plant moves totally off the property, the new 6th Avenue could be extended all the way to Taylor.

The apartments

Attorney David Kleinfelter emphasized to the group that the design had to be inspired by the internal design of the Werthan property itself and that developers took their cues from Werthan Lofts on Rosa Parks. Hunter Gee added that the project was also intended to weave or knit Salemtown and Germantown neighborhoods together. John Tirrill commented that the complex was intended to be marketed to various age groups and that they were not interested in merely pulling in party-oriented young people.

The meeting lasted a long time, but afterwards I told the development team that while I am not wild about apartments, I am a realist about what banks require in these times. I emphasized to them that I could support this concept if no drastic changes were made. What is particularly attractive to me about it is that they intentionally focused on street traffic and have what appears to me to be an effective strategy for limiting large truck traffic on our smaller streets. Extending 6th is an impressive solution because it creates residence fronts in the complex on four sides and it efficiently moves commercial traffic away from Salemtown. I did suggest to the team that converting the intersection of 5th and Hume to a 4-way stop (currently a 2-way stop that facilitates truck traffic) would compliment their transportation plan.

Hume elevation

Putting up more stop signs along 5th would also serve their goal to make the avenue more pedestrian-friendly. In my opinion, a number of people here support repurposing 5th away from an automobile pass-through avenue, making it more of a complete street. In turn, that would make Morgan Park across the avenue even more accessible.

I don't have a problem with the scale because Werthan is already industrial and it sits on the border of two smaller-scale residential areas. Their claim that the scale will integrate into the style of both neighborhoods seems convincing to me. If they pull off a tenant for their retail building on Taylor like the Turnip Truck or a pub a coffee house/cafe it would be a coup. But building high-density residential along 5th increases the chances of attracting businesses. There is still the gnawing fact that demand for retail space seems to be shrinking rather than moving in Germantown (excepting a few stalwarts like Germantown Cafe and newcomer Silo). Hopefully, the dog park will relieve Morgan Park of the crush of higher density dog owners who treat it almost exclusively as the place to take their pups for a poop.

Talking over the context

If the developers are indeed serious about the integration with the community, their commitment to providing public access to the plaza and meeting areas, smarter growth and sustainability, I can easily support this concept (unless, of course, it undergoes substantial changes unannounced earlier tonight). They effectively and assertively addressed any concerns I had about development of the Werthan site, which sits but a stone's throw from our home. I do not see any reason to oppose it.