Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An urban core mindset extends beyond one generation regardless of what developers say

The times Tennessean real estate reporter Bill Lewis has written about Salemtown he shows a habit of going back to the same recently arrived developers rather than talking to different people around our neighborhood. As a result, he tends to write slanted and unrepresentative copy about what happens here.

One of the developers on whom Lewis relies is Aerial's Britnie Turner, who saturated Salemtown with homogeneous three-story "umbilical chord duplexes" in order to attract young buyers. Last September Lewis gave her credit for morphing Salemtown from "fringe" to a "community of rooftop hot tubs". Of course, we are so much more than a community of rooftop hot tubs.

In Lewis's latest piece on Salemtown, he quotes Turner as saying that the "mindset" to move to the urban core is that of "a generation". She does not specify who that generation is, but we can deduce from her comments in last year's article and the context of this one that 20-to-30-year-olds are those to whom she markets her product.

Given that we moved to Salemtown a decade ago and I am 50 years old, the claim that the mindset is exclusively that of the younger generations is patently false. I know Salemtown residents who also do not fit in Turner's one generation.

Although, it may fit in with Aerial Development's agenda: to only build homes for an exclusive group of young adults not looking to lay down roots here and not likely to have children of school age. The absentee developer's agenda for growth in the urban core may be as homogeneous as her building stock is. Aerial also seems to be getting criticism in East Nashville, according to a separate news report:

Jerry Vandiver has lived in east Nashville for 28 years. He owns three homes there and is proud of the area.

"We want the people who move into it to be proud as well," Vandiver said.

But, lately, he said he has seen historic homes replaced by brand new two- and three-story duplexes.

"They don't fit the look of the neighborhood and the charm of east Nashville," Vandiver said.

Now, his homeowners' association is collecting surveys from neighbors and plans to ask Metro for a conservation overlay expansion. It would require special permission and standards before tearing down historic homes.

"You cannot build umbilical cord duplexes once the overall is in place," Vandiver said.

Britnie Turner, the owner of Aerial Development Group, builds those types of duplexes and says they help accommodate growth.

"Nashville is working very hard to welcome newcomers. Where are they gonna go? Most of them want to live within the urban core," Turner said.

She also says growth is a good thing.

"It's better for the city's tax base. It increases the walkability, and that promotes healthier lifestyles," she said.

Salemtown received a conservation overlay last year, so Aerial and other developers have to slow the pace of tear downs and the insipid cloning of their hot-tub towers. Time will tell whether they have taken us to the tipping point of losing diversity.

In her comments about growth in East Nasty, Ms. Tuner mentions nothing about diversity or other quality of life issues as fitting within her priorities. Growth can be good when it is balanced by these other priorities. But growth is not good in and of itself. It is neutral in and of itself. It can be good or bad depending on whether it is allowed to explode in extremes.

Salemtown has been diverse ethnically, culturally, economically and generationally in the time we have lived here. It is getting less diverse, and I am concerned that one of the reasons is the development that has happened recently by companies like Aerial who admit that their offerings are suited to a single generation. Salemtown has been more than just a temporary layover for lifestyle-oriented young adults between their cap-and-gown commencement and the grown-up gravitas of a future home in a Franklin or Brentwood exurb (thus, the Mayor's calls for a regional transit plan to help them to keep transitioning out of town without the cars). I believe that some companies, strictly bent on money, would like to flip Salemtown from a plural community to a stage along the path to somewhere else.

We need developers committed to market to many different types of people, not just one generation. Or maybe we just need more builders to check Aerial Development's attempted cornering of the housing market here. A diversity of developer priorities would be healthier for us. That way people will choose to move here and stay, even when they tire of their rooftop hot tubs or their wishes for a simple place to crash close to their clubbing spots.

There is enough of a niche for a young adult generation here without reducing the entire neighborhood to that niche. One way or the other, Salemtown is not going to survive, let alone prosper, on just one generation.


  1. Bravo - totally agree!

  2. Aerial is also shooting for 80+ units on 10 acres at intersection of Eastland and Rosebank. Want an SP and are promising sidewalks!!! Never mind that sidewalks would be a requirement for an SP.

  3. Glad I have no owners in their 20's at Fifth & Garfield Row Homes. Mine are in their 30's to 50's. I'm also glad none of the homes I built have hot tubs on the roofs although they were built to support them and I would love to crane one up on my home in the development I have done at the corner at 5th Ave North and Garfield Street. I'm proud of my contribution to the neighborhood, live here finally and only sorry it hasn't influenced others to build better quality designed residences. I think Salemtown deserves better both inside and outside what's going up.

    I preferred to align my development along with the suggestions of the North Nashville Community Plan that called for greater density along Garfield Street. My single family development, The Clayton, was also finally completed this past December after a 7 year commitment that I was fortunate enough to see through. Not all developers look as pretty as others do and there are plenty that think differently than others. I wish Bill Lewis would contact me about my thoughts. They are certainly different than his "go to" person on this neighborhood. In my opinion, a UDO can't come soon enough.