Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tuesday's Canard Is Full of Crap

Today's Nashville City Paper promulgates the knee-jerk, sky-is-falling fatalism of the Tennessee Tax Revolt (TTR):
[Ben] Cunningham said he believes higher property taxes are spurring Nashvillians to move out of the county. "If you look at migration patterns over the last ten years, its [sic] very clear that people are voting with their feet and moving out of Davidson County to the doughnut counties, into Williamson and Sumner and Rutherford and those counties. Or new people coming into the area are choosing not to move to Davidson County, they're choosing to move to these other counties," Cunningham said.
What is "very clear" is that TTR will stoop to broadcast any urban myth that discourages any tax, anytime, anywhere. If it means more signatures for their petition, defamation of urban life is no object to TTR. And blatantly arguing that Nashville is hemorrhaging residents constitutes a false verbal assault on our community; one which should not go unchecked.

So, it is time to debunk Cunningham's fable with some previously published facts:
  • People leaving cities is not news. It has been a post-Depression, post-WWII phenomenon that was most appropriately entitled, "White Flight." Race was the first cause of our overly Caucasian suburban growth. Race got the ball rolling.
  • Now people leaving urban areas for suburbs give various rationales for doing so. Some include taxes, some don't. Reasons include: 1) better schools, which will require higher taxes as outmigration increases size; 2) lower crime, which also requires revenue influx to maintain; and 3) the ability to buy more property for the same money. That last one is the cost-benefit trade-off for outmigration. Land in all urban areas, not just Nashville (which is considered one of the most competitive urban markets in the country), is more expensive than in the suburbs and in the ex-urbs. It stands to reason that you can buy more land the farther you are willing to commute. The cost-benefit trade-off for moving closer in is paying less money and personal time for transportation costs.
  • Relatively low gas prices and affordable automobiles throughout much of the 20th Century gave suburbanites a mode for flight. Of course, that is all changing now, and with a vengeance.
  • The growth of the suburban counties around Davidson is no different than the growth of suburbia everywhere, because of greater demand and higher density closer in. According to market principles, if there is a massive flight away from Downtown Nashville, then urban real estate prices should go down, not up, as demand weakens. Yet, urban real estate prices continue to trend up. That makes it tougher for lower class residents who are squeezed by higher sales taxes, higher wheel taxes, and their inability, unlike upper middle class Nashvillians, to move to outlying suburbs.
  • Lower class residents stand less of a chance moving to a Franklin suburb than they do surviving in Davidson County. Don't let conservatives convince you that lower class residents are moving out in droves for lower taxes. That's just their worst nightmare. If people are moving to surrounding counties from the Metropolitan areas, then greater demand will be placed on government services in those areas, which in turn would call for higher taxes. The logic is self-defeating. I already intimated this point, but it needs to be iterated.
  • Many suburbs are absolutely NIMBY about social services, which are disproportionately borne by urban communities. When urban neighborhoods are oversaturated with services that bring in folks facing transitional stages who usually do not live in the same neighborhood, it spurs greater outmigration to neighborhoods that have fewer or no social services. If services were more equally distributed between city and suburb, then we would see a corresponding slowing of outmigration.
  • There are other variables that critics ignore in their attack on taxes. Population growth leads to upper middle and upper class "overflow" from urban into suburban areas. Gentrification and its sibling, "in-filling," are exploding in Davidson County like in other metropolitan areas. These are almost exclusively middle class processes of revitalization of urban neighborhoods. If the middle class were not returning or staying in Davidson County, then these processes would not occur at all, let alone proliferate.
  • Last but not least: the idea that suburbs provide all their services without someone paying for it is itself a myth. Remember Spring Hill's cut of property taxes to zero while still providing quality services for their residents? Somebody pays for it, and that somebody is the State of Tennessee, you and me. That means that Spring Hill is making it even more expensive to live in Nashville, just by accepting "state-shared" money and cutting their property taxes. And then they have the nerve to treat urban life as a patsy to attract more people to live in the 'burbs and to increase their tax base!
Ben Cunningham may fight against all taxation to his heart's content. But as a proud Nashvillian, I have to say that I wish he would leave our city out of his urban myths.


  1. Umm, if people are fleeing to the burbs and there's no hope for the cities, somebody might want to tell the guys putting up all those towers downtown.

  2. That wouldn't fit in very neatly with the oversimplistic fable that TTR pitches to the mainstream media, which ties it all up in a pretty bow. When TTR and the media start feeding into each other, I feel like telling them to get a room.