A little character assassination in the mainstream media goes a long way. The Nashville City Paper, this time in the form of pseudonymous rumor monger "Rex Noseworthy," zeros in today on Planning Department Director Rick Bernhardt based on innumendo absent any details. "Detractors," says Rex, allege that Rick is "allowing his personal tastes regarding design and planning aesthetics [of the SoBro neighborhood] to stifle free-market development [of the Westin Hotel]."
And I allege that the self-proclaimed "right-leaning" NCP is attempting to bias readers in favor of the personal interests of developers. Rex makes the goals of developers sound nobler than those of "personal tastes." But few things are more subjective than financial self-interest (at best); and nothing is less noble than greed for money (at worst). Yet, Rex won't probe into the personal tastes of Bernhardt's unnamed detractors who represent the 7 board members who approved building the Westin and deviating from the SoBro neighborhood plan. (Is that because questioning their motives could endanger future advertising revenues?) Rex simply assumes that their commitment to "free-market development" (is it indeed "free"?) is so much more than a single man's personal tastes.
But I am bound to ask: why would we hire a point man for Planning merely for him to impose his personal tastes? Was Rick Bernhardt not hired for the Planning Department in order to coordinate neighborhood planning? Was he not hired because of his credentials and experience in formulating coherent and historically contextual neighborhood plans? Is he just expected to rubber stamp whatever in the hell developers want to do regardless of the neighborhood where they want to do it?
Before any NCP defender rushes in to remind us of how NCP "supports neighborhoods," just keep in mind that the Planning Department has to be involved in the neighborhoods and often acts as an advocate for neighborhood interests when developers and investors merely see neighborhoods as nothing more than an investment opportunity. Some of us actually see the Planning Department as more vital to neighborhood welfare than the entire NCP crew (we are such blasphemers!)
I had a chance to meet Bernhardt briefly on one occasion, and found him to be very much invested and involved in neighborhood welfare. I know that my anecdote probably carries no more weight than Rex Noseworthy's, but one thing we keep learning is that having something written in the NCP about you does not make it accurate. It just means that they have more money to publish their anecdotes in hard copy and to distribute to a large readership. And, in cases such as this, that is money spent on influencing attitudes to lean toward developers.
But before you lean too far in swallowing what Rex is feeding you today, keep in mind that Rex's "free-market development" sounds more like "free-for-all development," which allows rich developers to do anything without any brakes beyond what their personal tastes and personal bank accounts dictate. They are powerful enough to tear down the county's oldest building (1790) on the historical registry to make way for just another Home Depot. Anybody with that much power should not be allowed to build over the SoBro neighborhood without any resistance whatsoever.
So, if Rick is a little cranky in defense of neighborhood planning, it is no skin off my nose. Rex, sit!