Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Metro Council @50" pleads case for smaller Metro Council before offering survey

I received a slide presentation that appears to be that of the supporters of the idea of making Metro Council a smaller body (link at the end of this post). Please note that I have not confirmed its source yet, so take it for what it is worth.

The slant of the presentation is definitely toward offering fodder for minimizing the Metro Council and particularly for slashing the council's expense line in the Metro budget. You will see that it initially provides a lot of historical and statistical data to get heads swimming, but don't get lost in the data. Follow how the data is interpreted, because that is what supporters are trying to get you to believe about details that can be interpreted in many ways.

Page 31 of the presentation is decisive. The presenters lay their cards on the table right before they ask people to fill out their survey (push poll?) on page 32. On page 31 the authors present
  • a "savings analysis," arguing that a "smaller government" will save the Metro budget $312,650 per year or $3.5 million over 20 years
  • an analogy of a smaller council to a smaller classroom
  • the view that bigger districts provide larger pools from which to draw candidates
  • the argument that the council would have "Broader City-wide perspective"
How is this presentation designed to appeal to progressives? None of us want to waste money, but let's be frank: open democracies where all people are fairly represented are typically the most expensive and most inefficient forms of government. If the primary interest in Nashville is to minimize cost of representative democracy, then centralizing more power with the executive to make decisions rubber-stamped by a minimal council may be the better course (assuming the Mayor doesn't blow Metro money on foolhardy projects). But democracies are messy and expensive. If the priority is making sure people have a voice in Metro government, then some level of inefficiency is going to naturally occur. The best deciders budget in leeway for the inefficiencies of democracy.

This presentation's focus on the cost of Metro Council and on cutting their expense line in the budget is a conservative argument. The move to make the council smaller is a conservative move if this is the presentation to do so.

The other three arguments that presenters make expose, in my opinion, that supporters are advocating as much status quo as they are transformation. If the Metro Council is like a classroom, then the classroom needs a teacher. Who is most likely to be the teacher in a strong-executive form of government? The Mayor. Making a smaller council makes a strapping Mayor even stronger, which is fine if the Mayor truly represents everyone. And when he or she does not represent everyone? If the council is the class and the Mayor the teacher, where are constituents in the analogy?

Creating larger pools from which to draw candidates does nothing to guarantee that diverse interests will be represented any more than the current large council does. In fact, it may dilute the power previously exercised by better organized popular movements to elect and to influence their candidate of choice. Observers noted the power of African-American voters in the last judicial election. That GOTV power could be diluted during council elections if Nashville increases the size of districts.

You want to see an example of how well broader city-wide perspectives work in Metro Council? Look at the current crop of at-Large Council Members. Even those who are considered the most progressive time and again voted against organized community interests when the questions came down to the Mayor vs. the community. "Broader city-wide perspective" is a myth that the council and other politicos like to perpetuate, but it is rarely manifested. By way of analogy (better than the classroom analogy), a smaller council is more likely to vote with the Mayor and against actual community interests if that perspective is its priority.

Again, these are conservative arguments that endorse consolidating power with the Mayor and with the wealthy campaign donors who have more influence on local politics than voters do. The move to make the council smaller is a conservative move if this is the presentation to do so.

Regardless of what I believe or of what the presenters intend, don't let anyone tell you what the data says. Interpret it for yourself. But be sure to keep your eye on how they spin the data. Jump to the presentation:

Friday, May 30, 2014

Once you're with the Wizard, no one thinks you're strange

"when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you. The Emerald City was built a great many years ago, for I was a young man when the balloon brought me here, and I am a very old man now. But my people have worn green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think it really is an Emerald City"
-- "The Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum

Oh, what a pair they'll be, the Wizard and It
For approximately the 268th time in the last decade Salemtown is being declared in media as the "newest hottest spot" in Nashville. The "newest hottest" gilding gets old after a while, but something else leaped at me from the latest Realtor® hype:

When Karl Dean, the Wizard of It, announced the nearby Germantown area as the location of the new baseball park – not a stadium, a ball park – he cast a spell upon the neighborhood.

I have to concede, while shoving such overstatement aside, that Hizzoner has indeed used a fair degree of Oz-like sleight of hand during his years in the Mayor's Office. However, there are those who choose to keep their It-City spectacles firmly over their eyes. That helps the illusion, too.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The question was "penetrating" and pointless

NPR journo Blake Farmer received high fives from other journos and school reformers this morning for his "penetrating question" (as Phil Williams characterized it) to Tennessee's teachers union president Gera Summerford:

What about charter schools? Summerford says they haven’t become “labs of innovation” like they were supposed to, though she admits she’s never been inside of one.

I don't know Ms. Summerford, but let's say she had been thinking like a savvy politico and made the anecdotal and symbolic (some might say cynical) gesture of visiting a charter school so that if a journalist asked if she had been in a charter school she could say, "Yes". If only that were enough. If this were to rise to the level of objectivity, Ms. Summerford would have to pick a representative sample of charter schools to visit, and then could she ever truly visit enough? Or would she like most thoughtful people have to rely on the data needed so that she could keep her daytime job and her union responsibilities? She would practically have to become a sociologist instead of a union leader to satisfy the questions and even then, there is the problem of interpreting the data.

Maybe the questions never end, which makes Mr. Farmer's particular query even more premature and pointless. It was an anecdotal question that would have been useless at the level of policy; although for the ax-grinders and red-meat throwers it was an opened gate to "what's wrong with unions". Journos remain gatekeepers of what counts for news.

But on that point about Mr. Summerford's union responsibilities: I fail to fathom why a journo would expect someone who is personally and philosophically committed to the right of collective bargaining to approach charter school corporations, which have committed themselves to dismantling teachers unions, for permission to access their property. The question is not, "Why hasn't she visited a hostile enterprise?" Frankly, why would she do so? Do we expect any other professional alliances to enter institutions bent on their destruction before we take them seriously?

Do we set the credibility of journalists on whether they are willing to enter the machinery of institutions devoted to dismantling freedom of the press? No. That's illogical and moot. We judge them by their stories and by the quality of their questions and many times by their unexamined biases.

Expecting union members to enter environments that are hostile to their collective bargaining rights is also unreasonable. And teachers are not bound to be politicos making staged appearances for the vivid presentation on the news. (An honest journalist will concede at this point the conflict between news media's commercial interest in provocative drama and canned symbolism vs. the journalistic interest in transmitting mundane, unjuiced information to audiences). That a local journo would expect otherwise is biased by definition. Sometimes you have to think outside of partisan politics rather than be captive to it; at least if you want to be considered by some of us as objective.

The problem here is the typical journalistic fallacy of false equivalence caused by strictly defining two polarizing sides of a debate and setting up interview questions at a mean between them, based on the talking points of each. That mean is often assumed to be objectivity or neutrality. Here is what I consider an expression of the fallacy of false equivalence in journalism in the context of a defense of Mr. Farmer's interview:

However, defining two sides who do not share the same in priorities or character, and then creating a continuum on which one sits between them is itself as subjective and as predisposing as the two sides staking out a position.

The angle of interview questions is fabricated by the ideas the journo subjectively considers significant. Setting oneself up as a pseudo-moderate of sorts is no less partisan than interviewees one pushes to the poles. There are a host of other questions and considerations that should come up for discussion and that are relative to the issue of privatization of public education that also go ignored and downplayed under the false auspices of being neutral. And those questions are buried further by self-congratulation when these journos judge their neutrality as confirmed by criticism coming from the predetermined left and right.

So, even to charge a journo with not asking an objective or relevant question in the end gets one dismissed as "liberal" or "conservative", thus vindicating journalism's otherwise subjective projects. That's no way to handle a legitimacy crisis.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stringing North Nashville along

Last week Mayor Karl Dean decided it was time again to grace North Nashville with his presence. So, he joined Sharon Kay on Jazzy 88 WFSK (Fisk University) for an interview about the job he has been doing.

He framed his customary economic development pitch with the statement that he considers his administration's spending on upgrades to the water and sewer system an important part of what creates economic development. That seemed to be a departure from his standard stump about economic development as providing more opportunities and subsidies for business. He even broached the subject of the increase in water service fees to pay for the upgrades.

As usual, what Karl Dean did not say about his spending on upgrades was more significant than what he did say.

First, just like in his recent speech on his new budget, Karl Dean discussed the Metro Water upgrades as if they were his own initiative, which they they are not. Metro Nashville has been mandated from above to comply with state and federal clean water regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency required the Mayor to commit $1.5 billion to comply:

federal and state officials approached Metro about the need for additional sewer investments. Shortly after, the EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation filed a consent decree in federal court requiring Metro to comply with a list of environmental regulations. By March 2009, the consent decree was approved, setting aside a schedule whereby Metro must submit a long-term plan to address the issue.

So, the Mayor can talk as if he has ownership of the clean water issue, but what are the chances the Dean administration would have "spent far more on water mains, sewer lines and storm water projects than it cost to build the Music City Center" if a government mandate had not been imposed? It was not too many years ago that Mayor Dean attacked the idea of government regulations. It seems disingenuous to embrace spending that he has been forced to accept now.

The other thing omitted from his comments to Ms. Kay had to do with his reference to raises in water fees. Mayor Dean failed to acknowledge that his water fee increases are regressive: Metro charges big businesses less for higher volumes of stormwater they shed than Metro charges smaller operations like, well, Fisk University. Those who can afford to pay more actually pay less in Karl Dean's world.

Hizzoner came off dubiously at other spots like where he said that the wealth he has helped business generate in Nashville trickled down to ordinary people during the construction phase of the Music City Center. Explain that one to me.

However, his touting of the money spent on water and sewer is dishonest if not looney. After the 2010 floods he told us that what saved Nashville from the catastrophe was not the federal government but local volunteers helping people. His mantra is voluntarism even when it warps the truth.

In this case, it was not local volunteers who created the stormwater upgrades. And it was not even the Dean administration's own initiative to start forking over revenues for water despite the credit he expects us to give. Water and sewer improvements are the result of mandates from the federal government that actually caused Nashville to break with a past of soiling its own run-off in order to protect the environment.

If he wants credit for ponderous capital projects like Music City Center then let him claim it, even if it does not sell in places he visits outside of Downtown. But the real record on water infrastructure should not go without saying anywhere.

Friday, May 23, 2014

When the testers don't perform

This week it is just plain "outage"
Boy, watching Tennessee's standardized testing regime's derailment this week has confirmed our decision last year to pull our daughter out of Metro public schools. The naked hypocrisy and outright shame of a high-stakes testing regime--which pushes kids into performance anxiety--sputtering and stalling under its own inept weight and low performance are proper payback for the toll the system took on us and many others.

Maybe someone should test the testers.

Forget it. That will never happen. They will just go on bumbling through the future, coercing kids to prove themselves over and over by standards that may or may not have anything to do with teaching kids to think critically or to become functioning citizens in a democracy.

This waiver is good for the Metro public school students who are going to have their grades reflect their actual academic performance in real classrooms for once. That beats being measured by an arbitrary stick imposed upon public education under duress by the special interests of business lobby groups and chambers of commerce and enforced by flawed federal policies.

It won't be long before Tennessee's education apparatus rights itself and this cycle of psychological violence and abuse starts all over again. Our public school children will be reduced again to survivors before long.

In the meantime, payback is a bitch, ain't it?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The online fight over size between current and former council members continues

Again, I am not included in the list of people privileged enough to enjoy the war of words in the email blasts between current and former CMs on the question of a smaller legislative body for Metro, but former East Nasty CM Jamie Hollin has entered the fray. From my Inbox:

[To John Summers:] Are you going to educate the rest of us on why this is not a good idea? I feel if you put me on this list, you at least owe me more. Your email below is simply conclusory absent some fear tactic about developers, which also translates into "voters are dumb." This ain't DC--just ask whomever ran against Amy Frogge for school board.

You also state that your rarely disagree with CM Evans. She can tell you that I rarely agree with her on anything. EVER.

All amped up
However, she has made compelling arguments in support of reducing the council and has the support of the Charter Revision Committee, which illustrates the depth of her efforts. Notwithstanding my past and future disagreements with CM Evans, I know a good thing when I see one. This is one of those times and I'm glad you gave me the opportunity to demonstrate the same.

Besides, it is very, very difficult for a citizen to get involved in a process and attempt to influence the majority of a 40 member body on any matter. Reducing the number will increase the quality of the candidates because weak candidates--even those with campaign war chests--will lose. Moreover, the ubiquity of email, Facebook, twitter and traditional communication methods make contact with your CM easier.

I'll listen to your rationale to oppose as soon as you develop some. And, I earnestly hope you do because I want to learn why this shouldn't be a slam dunk. I know what it takes to beat the executive on the floor of the council and 40 members makes  the Mayor's job very easy. If you want a weak legislative body--like we have--keep the status quo. If you want a check on the executive, support CM Evans.

Between his PR work for the bus rapid transit project to benefit Downtown and West End businesses ("the Amp") and this diatribe against questioning the idea of a smaller council, Mr. Hollin seems to have moved away from his days as a firebrand populist on the council challenging a mayor over a Fairgrounds development plan that would have terminated inexpensive entertainment for Nashvillians who could not afford the Titans or TPAC.

Of course, the former council member does not give many good reasons for why voters should support a smaller council even as he accuses Mr. Summers of failing to give rationales.

  • I've already dealt with the argument that a smaller council would be easier to influence: that's a wash because the rich and powerful class (including developers) would also have an easier time lavishing money and influence on CMs to legislate their bidding. It's not that voters are dumb, Mr. Hollin. It's that ordinary people don't have the resources or time that wealthy people have to influence the process. They don't lack the smarts. They lack the power. The size of the council won't change that.
  • The disappointing quality of the current at-Large CMs is strong evidence against Mr. Hollin's claim that reducing the number of CMs increases the quality. To claim that a smaller group equals higher quality is wishful thinking with no basis in reality. At some level we're going to have to change the soul of Nashville's political culture rather than misplacing trust in rewriting the charter.
  • I'd like to see Jamie Hollin sell his case for "the ubiquity of email, Facebook, twitter" to Nashville's working class who watch their walking-around money, their disposable income being diverted to pay utility bills, loan balances and medical charges instead of going to purchase computers and iPads, which allow access to such "ubiquity". This is the most anemic argument when it comes to convincing me that common folk will have greater influence over a smaller Metro Council.

As a private citizen, Jamie Hollin is entitled to his opinions, but he also invoked his service as CM, so I venture to say that this look is not good for him. He looked much better fighting the good fight for ordinary people as a council member.

In the end, calling a smaller council "a slam dunk" is hyperbole. Even if you believe there is a strong case for it--which I have yet to hear--there have to be risks. Let's talk about those, too.

UPDATE: Jamie Hollin ("@jrhollin") hides his tweets from public consumption, so I'm not sure what he said in this Twitter exchange about my blog post. I gather it was somewhat disapproving, given Justin Mundie's self-defense that he doesn't agree with it himself:

Wondering: why Master Hollin can't make an appearance here and comment his thoughts about my views below rather than shielding them in a private account? Maybe for the same reasons he does not include me in his email blasts?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Size matters?

One of the more unfortunate ideas to be recently advanced in Metro Council is that of amending the Metro Charter to cut the size of council simply because few other cities have a council this size.

Those who have made the case for a smaller council outside the council tend to refer to its hilarity rather than to explain carefully how decreasing the size of the legislative body won't just lead to more streamlined rubber-stamping of the strong executive (who will actually have to spend less time lobbying for votes) and to more abbreviated levels of comedy. All you have to do is look at the current Keystone crop of at-Larges and their pet projects and their obsequiousness to Hizzoner to have a good idea of how a smaller council would function. It would be 24 at-Larges who are just as jealous and territorial as the current crop. Changing the size does not guarantee a change in the dynamic. It just means less messy democracy.

Nonetheless, the council member sponsoring this bill, Emily Evans, is broadcasting herself as a champion of "the public", and she plans for a petition drive if the bill does not pass. I won't sign her petition until she convinces me that it is in my best interest to do so.

On top of that, she's engaged in email blast brawls with former CM John Summers, who opposes significant shrinkage.

I--like many of you--was not privy to this debate (the thread was forwarded to me by Mike Peden). I have been unwilling to give Summers or Evans passes on their mistakes in the past, so I can understand why they would not include me in their grandstanding. Why they might not include you is something you might ponder.

First, former CM John Summers writes:

It’s simple math, you make the Council districts larger, you increase the number of people one Council member has to represent, YOU get less representation.   You have more neighborhoods, farther apart lumped into fewer districts.

Larger districts will make campaign contributions more important.   That increases the influence of developers who are the primary donors that fund Council campaigns.   That means it will be harder for neighborhood friendly candidates to get elected.

I rarely disagree with Councilwoman Evans on issues, but on this one I very much disagree.   She believes to convince voters to change term limits, she has to offer them fewer districts.   And sbe believes longer terms will make the Council more independent of the mayor.  I served under two administrations (Fulton and Boner) without term limits and it made little difference.   Both of those Councils were dominated by the Mayor ....

In the abstract fewer Council members sounds good to many people. Everyone wanted to get rid of Luyde Wallace. But you’ll eliminate as many good Council members as you will not so good.

This is a bad idea. It’s bad for neighborhoods. I hope you will e-mail the Council and express your opposition to reducing the size of the Council.

I doubt Ludye Wallace would like to read that one. As much as I don't care for Mr. Summers, I'd judge his argument against Ms. Evans a strong one. I even agree with him about Mr. Wallace.

Next up, CM Emily Evans responds from the affluent 37205 zip. I did not see Mr. Summers listed among those in her blast audience, so I'm not entirely sure he got her message. Curious:

John has really jumped the gun on this one...and left out a few very important facts.

Shrinkage sponsor
First of all, John and I have never discussed this issue in any meaningful and in depth way so there is no way he can credibly tell you what I do or do not believe about the size of council and term limits. So, let me make a few points:

  1. This amendment is designed to increase the term limit from 2 to 3. I strongly believe that term limits are detrimental to this city and its long term prosperity. Term limits makes it near impossible to address long term and difficult issues like mass transit and poverty. Why? because you need more than 8 years of work to solve these things. A total of 24 members. That's right, 60% of the council is term limited in 2015. Any issue, I don't care which one, will start at zero in September 2015 with a new council and a new Mayor. How can that be a good thing? PS: I am not running no matter what.
  2. This Council action does nothing but put the question to the voters. John and anyone else on this list is welcome to vote no and convince others to do so.
  3. This amendment was approved (a first I believe) by the Charter Revision Commission 5-1.  That Commission includes Dewey Branstetter, son of charter author Cecil Branstetter, long time Metro Law head, Jim Murphy, Hal Hardin, Susan Short Jones and Lorinda McLaughlin largely because they too recognized the damage such an onerous term limit does.
  4. I am asking for a deferral tonight so I have time to get in front of community groups and neighborhood associations to discuss why I think it is important to let the voters consider this question.

Had John contacted me before sending the email below I am certain he would have produced a more thoughtful argument. So, instead of sending me your objections - which at this point are premature -could you please help me schedule a time to visit your group, Neighborhood Association, etc and make a presentation about this proposed amendment? I think I have a good case and would appreciate the courtesy of making it. If you disagree, so be it. But at least give me the chance John wishes to prevent.

It is worth noting that both Mr. Summers and Ms. Evans included a recently deceased neighborhood legend in their email blasts, Germantown's Ernest Campbell. I guess when one is really invested in a charter squabble, sensitivity is a casualty.

I would be curious to see how Ms. Evans herself can explain to associations how cutting their representation on Metro Council actually creates more democratic opportunities for them to influence council members from the grassroots.

It only makes sense to accept the argument that democratically organized groups would have stronger influence on a smaller council if one also accepts the argument that the organized money thrown at CMs by the wealthy would also have greater influence on a smaller council. A smaller council would be a wash for associations from that angle.

If neighborhood associations want greater influence with a smaller council, they are going to have to work on stronger relationships with like-minded associations. Otherwise, their influence will shrink with a smaller council. It stands to reason. It is the simplest explanation, barring the rationalizations of the smaller-is-better crowd. A charter change would mean even more groundwork for neighborhood organizers to task.

Meanwhile, there is still that nagging trump card: the Mayor would have an easier time executing his or her will over a smaller council than s/he does now. In the absence of a "neighborhoods Mayor" that is not good. I don't buy this bill of goods.

UPDATE: Over at her Facebook page, CM Evans is defending her support in the face of criticism from constituents. One comment that questioned whether she should be wasting her time on a charter amendment instead of representing her district stood out to me:

Our NA board and neighborhood advocates that I have heard from overwhelmingly advocate keeping the status quo as far as the number of district councilpersons in Metro. Emily, whether you are right or wrong, the combination that these neighborhood advocates are your root support group and the fact that votes for a smaller council have failed consistently over the years tells me that these efforts will fail, and will be a waste of your precious time that we have remaining with you on our Metro council. Our NA's 2 highest priorities are a downzoning for our neighborhood and the redevelopment of the 70/100 split. Other NA's also want to see this redevelopment. The very fact that we have not advanced as far as these issues is an ammunition in an argument against a larger council. Our fear is that in the next election we will get a pro business candidate who could care less about these issues. You have been a great councilperson and you can really achieve something with the 70/100 redo, but this council size thing will go down as one more failed attempt.

Why can't Emily Evans wait until she gets out of office and then organize people to lobby council to work on a referendum resolution?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Salemtown developer focused on building "tiny" homes

Last month a local business and commerce tabloid interviewed developer, Mike Kenner, who in recent years made waves in Salemtown with tear downs and new builds. The article focuses on "tiny" houses that are being snapped up by the millennial generation, but I am most interested in what the article leaves out:

MiKen Development, is preparing to launch a development of 60 homes ranging from 850 to 1,600 square feet on a 5.5 acre site at 1206 60th Avenue N. in West Nashville across from West Park.

Unlike Baby Boomers, the millennial generation is less interested in large houses in the suburbs.

They want smaller homes in the heart of the city, “not the big McMansion in Brentwood where you drive an hour and a-half to work.

Value systems are changing,” Kenner explains.

Floor plans and home sizes are evolving to keep up with modern lifestyles. There’s no reason to build-in space for a master bedroom sitting area because that’s not where millennials are spending their time. The same is true of dining rooms.

“They want to walk out the door and see their friends at restaurants and bars, not entertain in a formal dining room,” Kenner says.

Smaller houses have another advantage. They have prices that put ownership within reach of young buyers. Kenner expects prices in his small-home development to range from $199,000 to $350,000.

That’s more than the median price of houses throughout the Nashville region, which was $195,000 in March, according to the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors.

I would be interested in hearing from some millennials out there on whether they agree with how they are characterized here.

In my opinion, what slips through the cracks in this piece is the enduring presence (and in some places the increase) in urban neighborhoods of families with children. In one of my previous discussions with Mr. Kenner I mentioned that I have seen an increase in young couples in Salemtown pushing strollers around. Now, I'm a baby boomer who moved to Salemtown stroller-in-tow 10 years ago and there were small children then too (although, the neighborhoods was more ethnically and generationally diverse than it is now).

I'm concerned that these developers seem to ignore the needs of families, even millennials with children, in the name of marketing to empty-nesters. Likewise, I wonder if they conflate millennials and empty-nesters. On the one hand, they claim that the younger generation wants to live in places around West Park and in the North End. On the other hand, their tiny builds seem to assume that millennials are going to move to bigger suburban house when and if they have children.

Their contradiction begs the question that I have posed to Mr. Kenner repeatedly one-to-one as well as at community meetings: why not build a diverse stock of housing in urban neighborhoods that meets the millennials' preference for smaller houses while also addressing the probability of future family planning with larger offerings, including adequate yards (even common ones)? Higher density need not mean either "tiny" or family-unfriendly. Why not build to demands of both empty-nesters and families? Why not commit to long-term quality of life and retention of neighbors instead of merely maximizing short-term gains?

[On a side note: the last time I spoke with Mr. Kenner, he was still moving ahead with his SP in northern Salemtown called Salemtown Cottages. One of the changes that has occurred is that he bought Aerial Development out of that partnership. Since this is "special plan" zoning, we need to make sure that all of the provisions that the community agreed upon in exchange for MiKen getting its requested rezoning are met].

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Erica Gilmore's millennial head fake

In February the Mayor brought his plan for the $16 million Gulch Pedestrian Bridge to council with CM Erica Gilmore walking point. Fortunately, the council deferred, and now we see what is actually motivating the Mayor to earmark so much money to 700 feet of sidewalk when so many other neighborhoods have been waiting on sidewalks for years:

Real estate investor Mark Bloom said he's received inquiries from several luxury brands about a high-profile site he owns, while MarketStreet is thought to be working to bring a luxury Thompson Hotel to property it owns near 11th Avenue South and Pine Street.

Bloom sees SoBro as the convention center and limited-service hotel market, while the Gulch becomes the center for lifestyle luxury hotels.

"There's a heightened influence of the creative class here, and ... it's creating a shift in the urban luxury lodging category. The Gulch is going to be the area where the shift is (most) pronounced," Bloom said ....

[T]he area isn't without its challenges. One need is better connectivity with downtown and Midtown. A pedestrian bridge that would stretch from SoBro near Music City Center to near Pine Street Flats in the Gulch has been cited as a potential remedy, but in February, the Metro Council deferred a plan to buy land for the bridge.

So, it was niche luxury tourism prompting this project. That motivation was not mentioned by CM Gilmore in her defense of the sidewalk last February:

There are 2,000 constituents who live in this area and 2,000 employers on top of that .... That is a very dense area and as we get more progressive we talk about transportation and we talk about bridges more people in this particular community will be using bridges more so than cars. The group of Millennials that are moving into this area do not depend on cars as much as other parts of the region so ... we need to flesh it more if we are not clear about things.

Yes, well, let's be clear. CM Gilmore could have been more clear about the developers' motivations and the Mayor's penchant for pandering to the tourist industry. In this case, CM Gilmore failed to mention that the prospect of luxury hotels and getting tourists from those hotels to Downtown venues--including conventions at Music City Center--are perhaps prime movers of the Gulch Pedestrian Bridge.

Instead, CM Gilmore head faked about Gulch residents (for the record, I do not disagree that Millennials should be heeded). She also discounted other CM's concerns by insinuating that debate about neglected sidewalk projects would eventually degenerate into fights over "north vs. south vs. urban" neighborhoods (along with a not-so-subtle caution that she might withhold support on other bills in retribution).

Each of us have to do what's best for our constituents .... I understand the importance of having sidewalks for your neighborhood .... But know that this is a neighborhood in my district and I don't want us to compare.

I can see now why she did not want to compare. Because then we would have to talk transparently about the luxury hotels planned in "her neighborhood", while Nashville school kids in other neighborhoods have been lacking proper sidewalks they might use for a decade. The Dean administration has constructed or repaired a fraction of the sidewalks that the previous administration did. Pricked by public criticism, the Mayor's Office argued that Karl Dean has "aggressively invested" in sidewalks, despite a recession and the 2010 flood (conveniently failing to account for the probability that today's dollars probably pay for fewer sidewalks than under the previous administration, which likely also spent dramatically more on sidewalks as a percentage of the total capital budget).

We likely would have known the truth about the unstated purpose of the Gulch Pedestrian Bridge too late if the council had voted to approve quickly in a condensed timeline like that of First Tennessee Park. Might the luxury hotel angle have developed quickly since February? Perhaps. But given Mayor Karl Dean's MO of ramming disguised capital projects through with or without debate, I suspect that the prospect of new luxury hotels prompted a luxury pedestrian bridge in turn, regardless of the 2,000 Gulch residents.

We should be thankful that the council at least drew the line somewhere. Too bad--for those of us concerned about the neighborhood impact of the new ballpark--it did not come one project sooner.