A lawsuit against the city could be in store if Metro officials don’t alter a proposed bus rapid transit project so that it steers toward North Nashville, according to a Nashville lawmaker.
“That’s certainly an option,” said state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, who represents a large swath of the low-income, predominantly African-American area and is part of a group of a few dozen North Nashville residents concerned about the issue. “And there has been some discussion about that.
“Historically, North Nashville has just been neglected,” she added, stressing that litigation would be a last resort and that the group hopes to work with Mayor Karl Dean to address the concerns. “It’s pretty clear that wherever BRT has gone across the nation, businesses, housing and amenities have sprung up immediately. We would like to see some of that wealth spread.”
Gilmore, who plans to reach out to Dean in hopes he will meet with the group, said any lawsuit from the group would have an “economic disparity” focus but didn’t elaborate further on a potential cause of action. She cited legal action in Los Angeles she said led to the re-routing of a BRT line to include a low-income neighborhood there.
Even the possibility of litigation underscores what was bound to be a hurdle for a proposal to place the 7.5-mile East-West Connector from 5Points in East Nashville to White Bridge Road by way of Broadway and West End Avenue.
This route cuts through affluent West End-area neighborhoods such as Richland and Whitland – which happens to include some of the project’s loudest critics – but doesn’t deviate from a straight line to include the low-income area north of Charlotte Avenue.
Three things come to the fore in this article:
- We should all acknowledge the lingering effects of racism and classism on the uneven economic development of west Nashville and North Nashville. Prejudice and class consciousness influence the quality of development, the extension of infrastructure and the flow of money across both ends of town even if individuals may not themselves be intentionally prejudiced against people of color or the working and lower classes. It is not unfounded or unsubstantiated to argue that economic disparities endemic to the ebb and flow of capital benefit west Nashville more than North Nashville. Neither is it untoward to argue that individuals are often prompted and limited by such a system. Karl Dean's transit policy perpetuates the racist and classist system insofar as it makes little attempt to serve the masses of Nashville's humanity in North Nashville. In my opinion, North Nashvillians have a case against this BRT plan.
- The Mayor never faces tough buck-stopping questions himself. He always farms out the harder, uglier stuff to underlings. Other people take the falls. Nothing ever sticks to him. Likewise, with BRT. One of his two communications shills on the Metro payroll referred the Tennessean to the Metro Transit Authority, even though Karl Dean treats BRT like a signature policy when credit is involved and when bold vision is the tagline. The Mayor, who is the Tennessean's two-time "Tennessean of the Year", should be more accountable to North Nashvillians left behind by his new transit idea. Given the way he ducks difficulties, I'm not betting he will, especially if a suit is filed.
- In attempting to defend MTA against charges that transit policy is biased in favor of affluent neighborhoods, the CEO unintentionally sustained the point that those neighborhoods enjoy better infrastructure due to their enjoyed wealth. David Lipscomb gets better bus stops because the university has the money to pay over and above what Metro does to provide them. (Recall that Green Hills' Julia Green Elementary got iPads for their 3rd graders after parents raised the funds and Metro matched the donations.) And which stops are likely to be better maintained? Ones that reflect the most basic investments or ones with a bankrolled quality ? Again, the point here, unfazed by MTA spin, is that wealthier west Nashville communities enjoy better infrastructure precisely because they are wealthier. Economic development continues to be uneven and prejudicial, rather than mutual and impartial.