Monday, February 28, 2005

Let There Be Light! (Even If We Have to Wait For NES to Turn It Back On)

I am somewhat fanatical when it comes to lighting our house at night. I do not need a specialist to tell me that turning on lights at night discourages criminal behavior. It is common sense. I am simply hard-wired to turn on the lights come nightfall.

We have three porch lights, a deck light, and four external spots strategically placed on our house. I have a one-and-a-half million candlelight, hand-held spotlight sitting by a back window just in case, multiple flashlights and a couple of lanterns. And that is still not enough for me. I will not rest until we have a couple of industrial-sized halogen lights attached on the sides of our house and a powerful street light in our back alley. The electric bill is no object.

So, you can imagine my horror when the streetlight in front of our house went out recently. I was well behaved for a while; I spent a couple of weeks pacing in front of street-side windows before I filled out an on-line form with Metro Public Works. I received a quick, polite response from Customer Service saying that my request for repair had been sent to an inspector in charge of repair.

That inspector did not call me back for several days. I started chomping at the bit. The night seems to get darker and more imposing when the streetlight in front of your house is out. When his belated call came, he apologized for being late. He assured me that he had turned in a request to NES, which fixes streetlights.

So, I continued to pace, but patiently so. I watched everyday for one of those big white NES trucks with the cherry-picker arms that unfold and reach to heaven in order to bring us the blessing of light. But no open arms were forthcoming.

On the evening of the ninth day, we were awakened by gunshots somewhere close in our neighborhood. While gunshots are alarming enough, our alarm was magnified by the sight of a pitch-black street. If there was a victim down or a perpetrator to be fingered, we could not tell.

On the morning of the tenth day, I sent an angry e-mail to Public Works demanding an explicit time for streetlight repair, begging for the sake of my family’s safety. The righteous indignation flowed.

A few hours later, I received a fuming phone call from the belated inspector reminding me of his request to NES. He told me with some audible irritation that he had no control over how long they took to repair a streetlight.

I told the inspector that the bureaucratic process was his problem and not mine. “All I care about is getting my streetlight fixed as soon as possible. Waiting weeks on a dark street and worrying about my family’s safety in the dark is intolerable,” I replied.

He asked me if I called the police about the gunfire. I told him I had and that the police had already promised us increased patrols beforehand. He asked me if our neighborhood had formed an association. I told him that we were, because we needed greater numbers to deal with problems like malfunctioning streetlights and bureaucrats slow to respond to requests to fix them. I made clear that public safety was a war fought on multiple fronts. He need not worry about the other fronts we were fighting when his duty was to help us wage the battle for functioning lights.

The inspector then told me that he lived outside of Nashville, so that he could buy and pay for his own streetlight. He said that he did not have to depend Metro or NES when it needed to be fixed. I bitterly thought to myself, “So what?” I barked out, “Why should I be punished for living in the city when my streetlight goes out? You pay for your streetlight. But I pay for mine, too; with taxes.” I restrained myself from asking him why exactly did he work for Metro if he does not even trust them to take care of his streetlights.

Even with restraint, I was about a bob away from Fight Club mode. I lectured him that Metro was responsible for being an advocate for Nashvillians to contractors like NES if they drag their feet in making our communities safer. I told him something he already knew: that NES would not give me the time of day if I called them about my ten-day old request. I made it clear that, if we did not get either the light fixed soon or a firm idea of when it would be fixed, I reserved the right to go over his head all the way to the Mayor’s Office if I had to. That’s where it ended.

I am not saying my demeanor during the phone call made a difference. I am not saying that my fanaticism for lighting made a difference. But the next day the NES cherry-picker arms were rising up to the heavens in front of my house to make certain that the street in front of our house had light once again. I do not feel victorious; I only feel troubled that it took a tumult to turn on a light.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

More COPS for cops.

Here are three US Department of Justice COPS grants that were bestowed to Metro Police over the past few years:
  1. Assault Intervention-Risk Reduction School-Based Partnership Grant -- Police partnered with Juvenile Court, Nashville Public Schools and the Oasis Counseling Center; purpose was to gain insight into working with individuals in school who tend to assault others.
  2. Perspectives on Profiling: A Police-Community Partnership -- Purpose was to develop a training initiative that disseminates research-based information about police and community perceptions of bias of the police; increases public knowledge of police behaviors during traffic stops; increases police officer’s knowledge and awareness of minority community perceptions, beliefs, and norms.
  3. Two (Count them! Two!) Motor Vehicle Theft Grants -- (local cops won an award for this; reduced auto thefts by 53%) Collected data that showed that a portion of the problem with police response to auto thefts was the time lapse between when a vehicle was stolen and statistical information was available in determining crime patterns. Implemented a system to keep the staff better informed with more timely information.
With all this progress in community policing, we're bound to ask, "Who is the genius in the Bush Administration that came up with the idea of cutting community policing programs?" I guess we just can't stand success.

Graffiti Gone

Well, it's been a week since our fence was defaced with gang-related graffiti. I think we were finally able to get most of the paint off with graffiti remover, bleach, stiff brushes, and finally, a sander. It actually doesn't look half bad. The western cedar already had a red hue, so any remnant paint blends in.

Before. Posted by Hello

After. Photographs by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Threat of Federal Budget Cuts to COPS Brought Home Last Night

So, last night I was writing a reply to a commenter who claimed that I knew very little about federal deficits in my post on Bush’s cuts to COPS. My wife came in and told me that there was a strange SUV lurking about the alley in back of the house.

Looking out the window, I noticed sure enough an unfamiliar older model Chevy Blazer or Ford Bronco pulling into a neighbor’s driveway across the alley. What caused me concern was that, instead of pulling up to the neighbor’s house or pulling back out to turn around, the SUV stopped at the end of the sixty-foot driveway behind a huge brush pile another neighbor had stacked for the chipper service.

My inner-city instincts piqued as I saw no motion resembling people getting out of a vehicle. They just sat there. So I went out in the backyard to a point about thirty feet way, pulled myself up our fence so that I could see what was going on. But they only continued their off-a-dark-alley quiet activity.

Growing more suspicious, I went inside, called the police, and asked them to send a cruiser down the alley just to be safe. If there happened to be nothing bad happening when I was watching, nothing bad would happen when the cop drove by.

The phone call ended and I returned to stand on the back deck, which allowed a pretty good view of the SUV. Two minutes passed. Then three. I began to wish that I had called the police earlier to give them a chance to confront before the SUV left.

Suddenly, the SUV turned on it’s lights, backed out of the driveway, and exited the alley by turning onto a cross street and driving off. I resigned myself to the belief that I had not given the cops enough time and I turned to go back in the house.

Just as suddenly as the SUV departed, the sounds of high torque and of skittering gravel shrapnel spilled out of the alley and into my backyard. A cruiser dashed down the alley from the opposite direction. I figured that the cop had probably seen the SUV pulling onto the cross street as he was pulling into the alley, because he was hauling ass.

Now, I do not know for sure whether the cops had seen the SUV. And I do not know for sure that the occupants of the SUV were up to some shady dealings. I am only guessing.

But there is one thing I do know: as I watched that blue-striped Impala turn the same direction of the older model SUV and push pedal to metal, and as I pumped my fist in the air as a salutatory “Get the SOB,” I understood there is no monetary price too high to pay to get such an immediate response when a family senses that its security is threatened.

I may or may not know much about deficits, but I am able to sense when something threatens the security of my family. Those who lurk in dark alleys threaten our security. President Bush’s cuts to programs like COPS, which support community policing, also threaten my family’s security. Last night brought those facts home to me.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Deep-Seated Insecurity: President Bush Plans to Cut Power to Police Neighborhoods

Anybody who lives in urban neighborhoods understands all too well that security and police response are vital to protecting the community.

Nonetheless, President Bush stands ready to slash the strong community policing program, COPS, in order to stay on top of the mounting deficit caused by imprudent tax cuts and by the drain of the wartime Pentagon budget.

The crime wave that recently hit West End neighborhoods, which are not exactly low income areas, shows that urban neighbors can never have enough community policing. It is the same for north-by-northwest neighborhoods. We will be the biggest losers if Congress approves Bush's cut against COPS.

According to the Center for American Progress:
[A]lthough the president often cites state and local law enforcement as America’s first line of defense against terrorism, his fiscal year 2006 Department of Justice budget cuts vital funding for these very agencies. The budget not only increases the burden on communities already suffering from crippled state budgets, but weakens our national security at a critically important time.
The budget slashes aid to state and local law enforcement by 46 percent, from $2.8 billion to $1.5 billion. Entire programs are eliminated or substantially scaled back. The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which provides grants for state and local agencies to hire new officers, is cut from $499 million to $22 million, while the administration proposes to eliminate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which provides critical assistance to states housing criminal aliens; the Edward Byrne Grants, which provide general assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies; and the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG), which assist communities in improving juvenile justice programs.
Does the idea of less cops on our streets sound like a good idea, Nashville? Probably sounds great to criminals, thugs, and "gangstas." If you like more lawlessness, you'll love the Bush cuts.

Leaving a Lot to Be Desired: President Bush Plans to Slash Funds for Neighborhood Services by Cutting Block Grants

Almost two weeks ago I wrote a little diatribe against President Bush’s planned budget cuts for 2006. Two cuts that will hurt neighborhoods like those of north-by-northwest Nashville are cuts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and the COPS Program (supporting community policing).

Since then, I poked around some sources and found the following details and facts about proposed cuts to the block grant program and the magnitude of the possible damage for neighborhoods like ours.
Those of us who live in urban neighborhoods are going to face an increasingly tougher time demanding quality services for our communities if Congress passes Bush’s proposed cuts. Many of us stand to lose our chances to enhance the quality of life in our communities altogether.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Salemtown Neighbors Continue to Organize

Salemtown neighbors met at the Morgan Park Community Center on February 23 with Metro Planning Dept. Neighborhood Planner, Anita McCaig to discuss the details of organizing a neighborhood association. They resolved to begin block-by-block neighborhood audits.

Their next association meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Morgan Park Community Center.
Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"The Plan of Nashville": Whose Plan? Which Nashville?

Looking northwest across I-65 from Salemtown to Salemtown. Is the interstate
a neighborhood scar or a community wall? It depends on whose three-hundred-pound
gorilla is being gored. Photograph and mixed metaphor by S-TownMike. Posted by Hello

The northern loop of I-65/I-40 moving westward sure did a job of carving up north-by-northwest urban neighborhoods. I-40 sliced the old music district around west Jefferson Street nearly in half. I-65 seemingly lopped off a small corner of the old Salemtown neighborhood just east of Mount Vernon Gardens. The question of how to repair the neighborhoods is an important one.

In response, the Civic Design Center introduced “The Plan of Nashville,” which recommends--with much ado and media parade--converting the inner highway loop to an “urban boulevard,” essentially undoing the interstate system around the immediate Nashville neighborhoods. The Plan proposes recreating the loop as a “high street” surrounded by “medium-scale development” with the idea of re-integrating them back into the “urban fabric.”

This seems a great idea from the birds-eye view of Nashville and perhaps from the perspective of west Jefferson Street residents and merchants. But from where I live in Salemtown it does not necessarily put my concerns to bed.

The Metropolitan Planning Department’s plans put the north loop of I-65 as Salemtown’s northern border. While that may leave the four or five blocks between Dominican Dr., MetroCenter Blvd., and I-65 orphaned and nameless, it also essentially gives Salemtown a firm, unequivocal north boundary. The north urban neighborhoods do not tend to sprawl like those in the east and west ends because of such definitive boundaries.

While The Plan of Nashville provides the positives of converting I-65, it does not consider the possible problems. One possible problem is that northern Salemtown will diffuse and the northern neighborhoods will lose some of their unique and bounded character.

A second, more critical downside for Salemtown proper presents itself in the form of the three-hundred-pound gorilla that hulks to the north of I-65. That gorilla is MetroCenter, which is not locally owned. A property investor based in Dallas, Texas owns that vast commercial development.

That Dallas investor has purchased many of the available lots in that small sliver of land north of the interstate already. MetroCenter may be eating up residential property--as it becomes available--to develop it exclusively for commercial purposes. I-65 may currently stand as a barrier to MetroCenter expansion. If so, it also stands as a proverbial “city wall” for Salemtown and the other northern neighborhoods against further corporate acquisition of residential properties.

But what if the interstate is converted to an urban boulevard? What if the large footprint of land on which I-65 sits gets developed? What’s to stop the Dallas-based investors from moving farther south, buying properties, and keeping them unkempt to drive down property values of the residents who choose to continue to live in north Nashville neighborhoods?

MetroCenter does not show any interest whatsoever in encouraging residential components, as The Plan suggests they should, else they would be doing so on the historic part of Salemtown that lies north of I-65. If I were a betting man, I would wager that these outside investors have a lot of clout and enough legal savvy to exempt themselves from sanguine visions of planners and architects.

And that’s what this issue comes down to for me. "The Plan of Nashville” ignores the power formulas that are implicit in design equations. As it is, the only thing standing between Salemtown and the three-hundred-pound gorilla to the north is the interstate. Right now our neighborhood seems to need that wall to keep the ostensible beast of MetroCenter at bay.

INFO: From the Nashville Downtown Partnership

Regional Traffic Plan Public Meeting: The Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) wants the public's input on identifying the region's traffic hot spots.

The MPO will host a series of five public meetings between March 1 and March 3. The downtown meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 2, at the Main Library in conference room 3 beginning at 6:00 p.m.

For more information and additional meeting dates, visit the Nashville Area MPO website:

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

INFO: From the Nashville Jazz Workshop

Greetings from the Jazz Workshop,

Just wanted to remind you that our next Snap on 2 and 4 Friday night jazz will feature:

The Barber Brothers, February 25th/ 8:00pm
  • Roland Barber on Trombone
  • Rahsaan Barber on Sax
  • John Birdsong on bass
  • Bruce Dudley on piano
  • Marcus Finney on drums

We will start taking reservations on Monday, February 21st. Seems like everyone is liking the reservation thing, so lets do it! Call 242-5299 for reservations. This will be sure to be a great performance by these guys so we hope you canmake it out. $8.00 admission. $5.00 for students with I.D.'s and seniors. BYOB.

Thanks gang! Lori Mechem, Director of Nashville Jazz Workshop

Graffiti Update

Here are a couple of photos of defaced properties that were not included in yesterday's gallery and an updated photo of one of the defaced properties I posted yesterday.

Graffiti on apartments on the 1600 block of 6th Ave., North. Sprayed yesterday. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Graffiti on more apartments on the 1600 block of 6th Ave., North. Also sprayed yesterday. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Update: owner of this business at the corner of Buchanan and 5th has removed the "Salemtown" graffiti. Quick removal discourages more graffiti. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Monday, February 21, 2005

Gang Graffiti Sullies Salemtown

The two evenings I spent scrubbing the gang-related graffiti off our fence--or at least nearly off our fence--motivated me to put together a photo journal of all such graffiti I have seen while living here.

This gallery of houses is by no means representative of most houses in Salemtown, which is by and large a desireable place to live. By the same token, the gallery is probably not exhaustive, as I have no doubt missed some defaced properties in the neighborhood. In fact, the owner of two houses that I overlooked in the 1600 block of 6th Ave., North called me this afternoon to say that his houses had been spray painted just today by these minimalist mural masters.

I am not entirely sure whether Metro (whether the Office of Neighborhoods or law enforcement) is doing something about or formulating a strategy for this problem, but it does require response, both proactive and reactive. Neighbors can only do so much.

"Salem B Da Hood": empty house in the 1600 block of 7th Ave., North. Note the star prominent in other gang graffiti. "Bdog" & "CK" might be the sprayers. No idea what "5150" means. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

"BLife or No Life": Empty House on the 1700 block of 6th Ave., North. Note "Salemtown" written with the typical star symbol. Lots of RIPs, probably for dead gang members. "BLife" and "Blood Set" may refer to gang called "the Bloods." Not sure what "Skyline Perv", "3000," or hieroglyphic symbols mean. Also, note "Fuck the police." Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Business on the southwest corner of Buchanan and 5th Ave., North intersection. Sprayed just as it was on my fence. Note the star replacing the "o." Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Plumbing Company on the northeast corner at Buchanan and 5th Ave., North intersection. More RIPs to go with "Salemtown." "B's" may refer to "Bloods." Backward, crossed-out "C's" may refer to the rival gang, "the Crips." Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

5th Avenue Market on the northeast corner at Garfield and 5th Ave., North intersection. Along with "Blood" and ubiquitous "Salemtown" is the term "Bosnia." Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

5th Avenue Market at 5th Ave., North entrance. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 20, 2005

5th Avenue of the Arts

In the past week, there’s been a good deal of focus on and debate about the plans for the new Demonbreun Street viaduct, for the continuing re-development of the Gulch underneath the viaduct, and for the "5th Avenue of the Arts." I want to tease out one factoid from last week’s Nashville City Paper.

Brokers with Southeast Venture LLC are planning to build a “Plaza for the Arts,” which would include 300,000 sq. ft. of office space, a suite-type hotel, and an 80,000 sq. ft. residential building on about 3 acres of land. One of the developers was quoted as saying, "There are tremendous things happening. [Demonbreun from Downtown to Music Row] is truly becoming an 'avenue of the arts.'"

The Demonbreun artery from the Country Music Hall of Fame to Music Row is a testimonial to the power of that industry in Nashville’s economy, but the original plan, according to the company that completed the feasibility study was to “broaden the cultural vision” of the city beyond the country music industry (click HERE to see the Cultural District Master plan for 5th Avenue of the Arts).

I hope that the plans for the new Cultural District are more than just rationalizing further development of the Demonbreun artery. If this is a serious attempt to broaden Nashville’s cultural vision, then more attention needs to be focused on the 5th Ave. artery all of the way past Bicentennial Mall to Salemtown. Building more hotel and office space to capitalize off of the music industry’s success will do nothing to broaden our collective vision. In fact any art that goes up around new hotels and residential high rises is more likely to be secured within gates. Hence it will be a lot more private than public.

To the contrary, putting public art along the Downtown thoroughfare on 5th and creating a cultural campus around Bicentennial Mall provides greater opportunities for cultural expansion than does Demonbreun development. Jefferson Street, which borders the north side of the Mall, has a cultural and artistic history at least as rich as Music Row’s, if not more so.

The Civic Design Center also commissioned a report in 2002 that called for expansion of 5th Avenue of the Arts north of Jefferson into Salemtown. Plans for 5th Avenue included street mosaics by students and a series of small public parks where each street terminates at the north loop of I-65. Those parks could display more public art.

The music industry is going to have its players working to try and pull the cultural district down Demonbreun. Hopefully, Downtown, Germantown, and Salemtown residents will play just as hard to keep 5th Avenue the Avenue of the Arts, for all of Nashville’s arts.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Graffiti, Punk-Style Vandalism, and the Durable Power to Build a Better Neighborhood

Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
In the movie HUD, ranch owner and family patriarch, Homer Bannon, has to put an entire herd of cattle down because of incurable hoof-and-mouth disease. After destroying and burying the herd, he sadly tells his grandson (and I paraphrase), “It takes a long time to create something. It don’t take any time at all to destroy it.”

I spent the better part of two hours this evening stripping spray-painted graffiti off the back of our privacy fence. It seems that a couple of Salemtown’s best and brightest young men took a very short period of time to deface our fence with some of the gang-related graffiti they have previously reserved for less private spaces.

While it took Madison Fence Co. days to build the attractive fence and while it took me hours to clean it up after today’s "mural," vandals did their ugly work in a just a few seconds. What they probably don’t realize is that there is more power in the effort to create or build something and a lot less power in the attempt to tear down, even though the latter is more convenient.

Look at the picture above. This way of spray-painting “Salemtown” is related to a group of neighborhood kids trying to be a part of a gang. Whenever you see it, you’ll know that some kid somewhere is not living to create, but living to tear down. Take a close look, because this kind of graffiti is a dying breed in a neighborhood that’s organizing to improve the quality of life.

I’m committed to a greater power than vandalism. And the vandals don’t get it. Every time they strike, I only grow that much more committed to the constructive power of cleaning up this neighborhood. It may take a while to clean it all up, but it takes a long time to build something.
And I plan to stock up on plenty of graffiti remover for the long haul.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Is Belmont University a Partner or a Power Broker?

This morning’s Tennessean had a story of neighborhood interest. It seems that the residents who live around Belmont University—particularly those on 15th Avenue—are beginning to organize to fight the university. Belmont’s legal counsel reportedly told the Tennessean,
I don't have an explanation for their anxiety. There have been personal calls and personal letters to folks (in the neighborhood) well in advance. We're available to meet any time with any group or any of the neighbors. We've sent students out into the community to rake leaves and wash windows. We're involved in the neighborhood.
Universities can be involved in neighborhoods in many different ways. One is as an equal partner who treats its neighbors with respect and without trying to take advantage of others. Another is the way that Vanderbilt treated its neighbors in the 1970s by using urban renewal to take chunks of real estate and by driving down property values to take more land from residents. It was legal, but it was not very savory. The question in the Belmont situation: are they closer to treating their residents as partners or are they closer to behaving as disgracefully as Vanderbilt did?

Belmont cannot use urban renewal to change things, but the university is going to the Metropolitan Planning Commission to ask for re-zoning. Are they approaching the MPC with the welfare of their entire neighborhood in mind or as the biggest power broker in the neighborhood, acting merely on its own behalf because it can?

And Belmont’s legal counsel’s comments concern me. Is he suggesting that Belmont is an equal partner and neighbors should not be concerned? Or is he suggesting that the neighbors should not be concerned about being steamrolled simply because Belmont has sent students out to rake leaves? (That is not exactly a one-sided benefit; fraternities and sororities are required to participate in service projects; the neighborhood provides a readily available service field for Belmont's student life). Is he suggesting that philanthropy comes with strings attached?

Perhaps the lesson for the rest of us who do not live next to Belmont is to be prepared and be organized so that we can be sure that our own power brokers will treat us as partners, not as pawns.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Daughters: What's Not to Love?

She's my little writer's block. But the distractions are always welcome.

Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Study in Contrast: A Business That Appears to Be More Responsible to the Neighborhood

A mere stone's throw from the litter and tall grass on the south side of Jefferson Street facing 5th Ave., North lies Overton Distributors®, a business that seems to understand its responsibility to Germantown to provide a well-kept and attractive yard.

As you can see below, there is not a speck of trash to be found, and their lot is huge. The grass is mowed and edged. No debris or building materials. Standing next to it gave me the urge to spread a blanket and have a picnic, excluding, of course, Strickland's Supreme Salads®.

Lot owned by Overton Distributors® across Jefferson Street from Strickland's®. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Private Businesses Also Contribute to Trashy Look of 5th Ave., North

While the State of Tennessee seems lax about 5th Ave., North upkeep, private businesses like Strickland's Supreme Salads® seem to have their own problems keeping their plots neat. While I have found Strickland's® products somewhat palatable, the next time I go to the store and eye their cole slaw, I'm only going to think of tall dead grass and get irritable.

Besides the high, uncut scrub and grass, the picture below shows unstored building materials or junk or debris. Does that violate Metro codes? Also, outside of the picture frame the ground around the fence is just as trashy as that of the state property farther south.

Strickland Supreme Salads® property at the corner of 5th Ave., North and Jackson near state employee parking. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Sorry State of a Neighborhood: More Abiding Trash on State Property

State employee parking lot #6 at the corner of 5th Ave., North and Jackson. The big white block in the center of the picture is Styrofoam. It's been there for months. Also, fall's leaves remain piled on top of the grass even though it's almost spring. Can't be good for the turf. Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

Sorry State of a Neighborhood: Trash Abides on State Property. Baseball Does Not.

Yesterday I waxed nostalgically on historic Sulphur Dell, an homage to baseball. Today I want to address some of the unsightly aspects of the land on which the venerable old ballpark once sat.

Most of the block between 4th Ave., North, 5th Ave., North, Jackson, and the railroad tracks at the foot of Capitol Hill is occupied by state employee parking lots now. I do not find the parking lots themselves unsightly, as parking lots go; and, after all, state employees do need some place to park.

But let me back up. Since moving to Salemtown six months ago, my family takes regular strolls around the Bicentennial Mall area, including the area where Sulphur Dell used to sit. The unsightly things I notice each time I pass State Employee Parking lots #6 and #7 (which sit in the block I have already mentioned) are the piles of trash on the small grassy areas that border the lot.

For litter to appear in the city is not news. In my cynical, more suburban moments, I use “trashy” and “urban” synonymously. However, what is news is the same litter sitting in the same spots for six months on public land a few blocks from where neighbors are fighting an ongoing war against litter. That's right. I am a weekly witness to the same trash lingering for half of a year on the otherwise grassy islands around lots #6 and #7.

Below is a photo I took of some longstanding litter last week as I took one of my leisurely strolls. If you look closely you might be able to see that the beer labels are faded with age. If you cannot tell from the photo, just drive or walk by and look for yourself. They were still there yesterday; they'll probably still be there tomorrow.

The 5th Ave. side of state employees' Parking Lot #7. The state could be a better neighbor. Photography by S-townMike. Posted by Hello

I am all for voluntary litter clean up and taking responsibility for your neighborhood and what not. But, honest to goodness, I spend enough time picking up litter around my Salemtown neighborhood. I go through latex gloves like they were going out-of-style. (Not that they were ever in style). If I have to volunteer to pick up all of the trash that stretches from downtown to the north bend of the inner interstate loop, then I will not have any more time to spend with my family.

Besides, Tennesseans pay remarkably and regressively high sales taxes; the governor and legislators are bickering over what to do with the lottery surplus. Is there not enough money to police the grounds of public properties? Is it too much to ask that the state pay somebody to clean up the litter around state employee parking lots?

I know that old Sulphur Dell is paved over now to serve state employees. However, the state of Tennessee could at least honor the old ballpark’s heritage by keeping the place tidy. Save the haunt for ghosts, not garbage.

02/23/2005 Update--I drove down 5th Ave. yesterday and noticed that the bottles in the picture above were gone. But there was still trash on the grassy areas, including beer cans and the big piece of Styrofoam that has been laying around for months. Still looks trashy to me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Shut Off the Hot Stove and Warmly Welcome Baseball Back.

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. ---A. Bartlett Giamatti, "The Green Fields of the Mind," Yale Alumni Magazine, November 1977
No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined. --Paul Gallico
I see great things in baseball. It's our game - the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us. --Walt Whitman

Today is the first day professional baseball players report to Florida and Arizona for spring training, so I wanted to make sure that I paid tribute to our annual national ritual and pastime.

Baseball is old to north-by-northwest Nashville, as "Baseball's Most Historic Park," Sulphur Dell, once sat in the middle of our neighborhoods. When I was born in 1963, Sulphur Dell was the oldest professional ballpark in America. Older than the "House that Ruth Built." Older than Wrigley. Older than Fenway.

I love to take our toddler for walks around the old site and dream about the baseball ghosts that haunt the area. For pictures of the old ballpark click on Historic Nashville.

Looking southeast across 4th Ave., North from the former
location of Sulphur Dell, Nashville's historic baseball park. The gravel lot in
the foreground is where new highrise condos are going to be built. On the
horizon are Riverfront Apartments, Stockyards Restaurant, and the Greenway's Downtown Connector. Photography by S-townMike.
Posted by Hello

02/17/2005 Update: The new highrise condos are to be called "Harrison Lofts." For more info about them click HERE.

WKRN's Log of Blogs

Enclave finally made it; we made WKRN's best of Nashville blogs (click on the title above to read the list). I have no idea what qualified our little neck of the blogosphere to be among the "best," but I am happy finally to have Neil Orne's mojo working for me. How does he do it? What kind of connections must he have at WKRN? ;-)

Monday, February 14, 2005

Flipping the switch on two strong federal programs for neighborhoods.

For those who do not know, the Bush Administration plans to eliminate two successful federal programs, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and the COPS Program, which will affect our neighborhoods.

There is a short, but informative article in today’s Nashville City Paper on the impact of Bush’s elimination of CDBG on our community. CDBG currently funds summer youth programs, home rehab programs for the elderly and disabled, homeless outreach, library improvements, and commercial revitalization in urban areas. According to the NCP article, CDBG money has been used for neighborhood upgrades such as playgrounds, parks, sidewalks, and drainage projects.

COPS provides grants to local law enforcement agencies to hire and train community policing professionals, acquire cutting-edge crime-fighting technologies, and develop innovative policing strategies. Their emphasis is on generating community policing.

If President Bush is successful in eliminating these programs, chances are that north-by-northwest neighborhoods would be among the most adversely affected.

Click HERE to see the CDBG website. Click HERE to see the COPS website.

Gardens of Babylon at Farmer's Market

According to the weekly publication of the Downtown Nashville Partnership, Gardens of Babylon (900 8th Avenue North, 226-4114) opened in the Farmer's Market in December.

Gardens of Babylon is a nursery that originally opened on the East End. When we lived in Edgefield we relied on their expert advice for plants to make our yard look great. The word I heard in East Nashville was that the Farmer's Market store will now be their main nursery. Now that we've moved to the north end, it's good to know that they'll be our neighbor once again; and just in time for Spring!

The nursery's hours are Monday - Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the winter and Monday - Sunday, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the summer.

Please be encouraged to support this neighborhood merchant.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

You Be The Judge.

Photography by Battle of Nashville Preservation Society (

An exceptional specimen of Egyptian Revival architecture in downtown Nashville or pre-civil war era “replica-lite?”

Okay. I think I'm finally letting go of "Tomorrow's Landmarks."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

INFO: From the Nashville Jazz Workshop (in East Germantown)

    [W]e have a great week of student performances. Here is the lineup.

    MONDAY- FEBRUARY 14TH -SPEND YOU VALENTINES WITH US! 6:00- Harold ArlenVocal Literature class Featuring, Jonathan and Jocelyn Kasper, WeldonStice, Louise Barnes, Rene Copeland, Chris Szalaj 8:00- Monday NightRhythm Section featuring Robert Wolfe, Kandice Dungey, Allison Kerr,Graham Gerdeman, Brian Kelly Advanced Instrumental Ensemble Featuring-Larry Seeman, Andy Robinson, Jennifer Daniel, Greg Germony and LoriMechem

    6:00pm Harold Arlen Vocal Literature ClassFeaturing- Wayne Dowell, Darden Purcell, Hal Stephens, Jay Slobey, SeanHorenstein 8:00pm- Lyric nterpetation class Featuring Jocelyn Kasper,Candice Asher, Karen Johns, Barry Yarbrough, Graham Gerdeman WayneShorter Class Featuring- Andy Robinson, Denis olee, Peter Gunn, JimDepriest, Graham Spice

    WEDNESDAY- FEBRUARY 16TH 6:00- Wednesday night Ensemble classFeaturing- Linda "Rose", Ned Ramage, Jarod Bryans, Bill Vinett Harold Arlen Vocal Literature class Featuring- Margaret Smith, BrianParker, Monica Ramey, Kristin Cothren, Sara Carmody, Amy Powell Wes Montgomery Ensemble- (They will go on about 7:30) Featuring- KevinWakefield, Tommy Bolles, Hiromi Ohta, Jim Depriest, Ralph Henley Come and support these students. They are great!

    Hope to see you.Regards, Lori Mechem Director of Nashville Jazz Workshop.

If you want to learn more about the Jazz Workshop, go to: I haven't been able to get over to catch any performances at the old Neuhoff Plant on the Cumberland, but I've heard it's a great experience to go to the "Jazz Cave" (formerly Neuhoff's fallout shelter fitted now for performances). These are great neighbors to have!

"How I learned to like my cement fiberboard" or "I didn't want to be an advocate for Hardiplank®, but an urban design critic left me no choice."

I wish I could let go of the whole issue of “replica-lite,” but I have got a couple of other replies to make first in order to dislodge it effectively from my craw.

I have to hand it to Christine Kreyling. She concedes that defining what counts as “good” in architecture is not easy. However, that also lets architects off the hook; they can proclaim many things as “not good” about contemporary architecture without ever having to say what exactly is good. Where’s the vision in that?

And what if contemporary style is nothing more than mechanical replication? If so, I confess that one thing I consider "good" about affordable contemporary architecture is that while it mimics older styles, it also innovates along more practical lines. Hardiplank® siding is a case in point. It looks like wood while minimizing the ecological damage caused by rising demands to harvest forests for wood, because it is a composite. Furthermore, because it is a composite, cement fiberboard protects houses from fire and other threats better than wood (here’s a report to that effect from the company’s website).

These pragmatic goals may not be cardinal virtues in the pantheon of the highest architectural goods, but perhaps they should be considered part of the virtues of the art, if there are such things (I cannot tell whether there are because defining what is "good" in architecture is not easy). Otherwise, architects run the risk of becoming irrelevant to those of us who cannot afford to side our own landmarks with more vulnerable and more precious materials.

I am no architect, but I live in architecture. So, let me suggest to urban design critics that pragmatic concerns are also merits worth their consideration. Contemplate what you will, but please come back down and talk to us neighbors afterward.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Architects talking trash about my rusticated concrete!

The Nashville Scene has been my newspaper of choice for fifteen years. Christine Kreyling’s articles on urban design are one reason for that. She has a knack for helping her readers understand the significance of the design of lived space. Heck, I even cite her a couple of times in my 1997 Vanderbilt dissertation on community-based organizing, simply because I tend to agree that built space makes a difference in all aspects of neighbors’ lives, including the more political aspects.

However, other times when I read her work I am left with the distinct impression that her “caste and station” (nod to Charles Dickens) unduly influence her reportage and commentary. Her tone in this week’s issue of the Scene is a case in point. In an article called, “Tomorrow’s Landmarks” (click HERE to read it), Ms. Kreyling seems to have two purposes: 1) to characterize the debate over new builds in historic and conservation districts as sharp (her reportage); and 2) to claim subtly that Metro’s preservationists are obligated to encourage architecture that is “worthy of the architecture around them” (her commentary).

I believe that she achieved her first purpose. I was somewhat less than satisfied that she even attempted the second. I reserve the right to be wrong, but I get the impression she has a dog in the fight on which she is reporting; and that dog is a blue-blood best in show. It is the breed of high culture (vs. low culture).

She seems to take aim at various targets. Some of her shots are true. I lived in Historic Edgefield for two years, and I agree with her that in the context of Edgefield, the City View Lofts are “U-G-L-Y.” They look like architecture that would fit Hillsboro Village or Green Hills, but in East Nashville they look out-of-place. No argument there. In fact, I would also include the mini ranch-style houses that are converted into bungalows by CPR Solutions LLC, which then jacks up their prices because of the demand for bungalows. (Click HERE to read about it).

I do have a bone to pick with what I consider to be potshots at newly built (a.k.a., “in-fill”) houses that she associates with the snobbish label “replica-lite.” I have to admit that I am talking out of my own more modest station as an owner of one of these “replica-lite” homes built last year near Morgan Park. I confess that I live in what seems to be the illegitimate child of conjugal relations between late Transitional Victorian style and a bungalow. A retro retread.

Ms. Kreyling expressed the concern that “pseudo-old” houses like mine run the risk of giving old neighborhoods the “artificial aura” of a theme park. It is in the “rusticated concrete” and “cement fiberboard” (both of which I have) that new builds do not live up to the older architecture around them. (By the way, calling Hardiplank® “cement fiberboard” is about as romantic as calling flagstone “slabs of hardened inorganic and organic waste sediments.” I do not know the lineage of fiberboard, but just for the record, long before cement became gauche for contemporary architects, it was invented by the Ancient Egyptians and concrete was used by the Assyrians and Babylonians [Source]).

The issue of “living up to landmarks” is the point where sirens and flashing red lights go off for me. Irrespective of the number of imitators in a neighborhood, neighbors generally do not need architects and designers around to tell the difference between the historic landmarks and the houses that mimic older styles. For those of us who don’t have $500K or $600K to slap on the barrelhead for stately landmarks, consistent but not identical replicas come as a more modestly priced compromise. We may not be able to have the best, but we can have “the good enough.” They are good for the owners, good for the builders, and good for the “pioneers,” who still enjoy the elevated status of “the original.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that whatever sells most in the market is intrinsically good. But what satisfies the aesthetic tastes of architects is not necessarily intrinsically good, either.

Please understand me. Perhaps cement and fiberboard are not the best architectural materials for in-fill. Perhaps retro is not the most commendable style. But until the cadre of architects Ms. Kreyling interviewed gets beyond the lavish visions of architecture as high artistry, and until they address common people down below whose choices are subject to the marketplace, the rest of us are going to have to make due with what builders offer us.

In the best of all possible neighborhoods, architectural definitions of beauty ought not just involve the preciousness of building materials, but the inclusion of diverse groups of people into a built community where art is appreciated. Besides, if every house in the neighborhood is a landmark, then no house in the neighborhood is a landmark.

The question of inclusion of many cultures begs another point: artificiality is not the unique ken of low culture. For better or worse, we live in a world of “artificial auras.” Preservationists have their own more expensive “artificial auras”: there are homeowners of century-old Victorian façades who “patina” newly installed hardwood floors to make them suit the age of the house. Other preservationists wire entertainment rooms for surround sound to compliment their plasma televisions, which can be discretely hidden in antique armoires. Every time I drive through Franklin, I get the impression that they are trying to make it look more like a Mayberry-vintage town square than like the booming edge city and bedroom community it has actually become.

There are enough artificial auras to go around. There is enough artistry to go around. When architects start meeting people where they actually live and not where they think people should live, it will be a landmark; perhaps even tomorrow’s landmark.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

INFO: From the Downtown association

Urban Residents Association
Monthly Meeting Notice

Location: The Nashville Downtown Partnership
One Nashville Place
150 4th Avenue Suite G-150

Wednesday February 16, 2005
Time: 6:00pm

Topic: Neighborhood

Guest Speaker: Captain Garrett
& Sgt. David Rueff
Of the Metro Nashville Police Department

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

INFO: Upcoming Organizing Seminar

From this past Monday's Nashville City Paper's "Local Briefs" section:

Organizing seminar offered
The Neighborhoods Resource Center will hold a leadership training seminar about neighborhood organizing 9:30 a.m. Sat., Feb. 12 at St. Luke’s Community House, 5601 New York Ave. Topics to be covered include organizing your neighborhood, defining neighborhood strengths and weaknesses, recruiting new membership and running effective meetings. The event is free, but registration is required. Call Blaine Ray at (615) 782-8212, ext. 25.

If you want to learn more about the Neighborhood Resource Center click on this URL:

INFO: For Salemtown Residents


A Meeting
To Establish A
Neighborhood Association
For Residents
In Historic Salemtown
And Around Morgan Park

Date: Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
[that's tonight!]
Place: Morgan Park Community Center
(Corner of Hume St. & 5th Ave.)
snack foods will be served

Why "A virtual portico for actual neighbors ...." ?

The term “portico” is a swank, perhaps pompous, expression for the common front porch. (Here I admit that I am ambivalent about using the term, because I do not care for pretension). A front porch is a boundary between the privacy of the home and the public street. The front porch or the stoop or the landing is the personal space where people gather and find a public way to express their otherwise private concerns. It’s a halfway point of mutual sharing, debate, and common vision.

Enclave is meant to be a virtual front porch for those interested in personal exchange. Comments to all posts are welcome.

However, the idea of a virtual “portico” is also broader than that of the front porch. (This is where I do not feel so ambivalent about the term). A portico is also a walkway or ramp or causeway where people can not only stop and interact, but move to important places. “Porch” and “portico” share an etymology: both come from the Latin porticus and from the Italian porta, meaning gate (Source). Gates represent access and passage.

Enclave is meant to be a passageway or an access to the everyday life, culture, and politics of north-by-northwest neighborhoods near Downtown Nashville. Comments are welcome but not necessary. All are welcome to peruse the dynamics of urban living and to consider the issues that affect urban life.

My intended audience includes neighbors in these urban enclaves, organizers, planners, or any other interested persons. Enclave is intended to be a resource for that audience.

And your resource is my outlet.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The past is real and present somehow

Photograph by S-townMike.
Posted by Hello

Launching This Blog

As one walks or rides down any street in Nashville one can feel now and again that he has just glimpsed some pedestrian on the sidewalk who was not quite real somehow, who with a glance over his shoulder or with a look of a disenchanted eye has warned one not to believe too much in the plastic present and has given a warning that the past is still real and present somehow and is demanding something of all men like me who happen to pass that way.
- - The Narrator in Peter Taylor’s novel, A Summons to Memphis

I love living in the city. To be more exact, I love living in the urban enclaves that ring downtown areas. The closer in I live the better I live.

The warning about Nashville from Taylor’s Narrator is not insignificant: in spite of the scoring, gouging action of the passage of time and our attempts to mask the weathered result or to flee away from the center, urban enclaves summon the past out from behind the present. More precisely, city dwellers live in thrall to the city’s past, which breaks through the present like sunlight that knives and dances through the flapping leafs of a thick shade tree.

It’s in the layout of the streets and in the time it takes to walk from one enclave to another. It emanates from the crumbling buttresses and infuses new houses built to look renovated. The past is real in the size of the yards and the half-conscious reference to the river. It’s a warehouse turned lofts. It’s the other side of now out-of-service tracks and of older racial divides. The past warns us in continuing partisan struggle between rival factions. However, it’s also a keen density and communal sense that suburban sprawl cannot distill. Terms like “enclave” and “district” convey the past, which is why neighborhoods choose them over the official sounding terms like “subdivision.” Official terms seem intended to level, smooth over, and gloss the past.

So, I have named this weblog Enclave, because it seems to fit the bounded identity of living in the various streetcar neighborhoods and “first suburbs” around Downtown Nashville. It certainly fits the character of my current neighborhood, Salemtown. Other clearly defined enclaves bound my neighborhood. So do Downtown, an interstate highway, and the river. It’s locked rather than sprawling. Accordingly, there’s no escaping the past.

I am pleased to launch this weblog with an eye on the past. Elsewhere in A Summons to Memphis, The Narrator’s mother explains that the demands of the past were the legacy of an old Native American curse put on the first settlers who slaughtered the local tribes around the Cumberland River. She may be right. The past may hang in urban Nashville like a curse; but many times I only see a world of curses because curses challenge me to get beyond the veneer of the plastic present, which has made me complacent and foolish.

When I strip the window-dressing, the façade of the present, I can often see that the curses were not so accursed after all. To live in an urban enclave is to welcome the challenge of the past as a blessing. With an eye on the past, I see life in north-by-northwest Nashville as a blessing, even if a blessing at times in the disguise of a curse.