Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Speaking of MAC: If My Neighbors Want Their Backs Scratched, They Better Be Willing to Scratch Mine

During his walk with Salemtown residents last night, Mayor Bill Purcell iterated past news that the Metro Action Commission would be moving out of Salemtown. He also divulged that a new HeadStart Building is slated to be built behind the old Fehr School Building currently housing both. He told the group that while the next Mayor would determine the fate of the school building, he would like to see it sold to a private developer for condos.

The news that MAC would be moving to another building was good for all us insofar as we would no longer have to deal with the traffic jams and the resulting trash that MAC patrons tended to dump out of their cars and onto our streets and properties.

However, not all of us are happy with the idea of selling an old school building to private developers. I am starting to see splits emerging in our community over the future of this neighborhood. That split has to do with lifestyle vs. children : the empty nesters (whether they have had children or not) do not seem too jazzed by the idea of a neighborhood school; those of us with children cannot think of anything that would be more important for this neighborhood's development.

This is what I see. On the one side, are those who believe that Salemtown should be a lifestyle-hip neighborhood without respect to families. On the other side, are those of us who believe that families and hipness can fit together; in fact, diversity demands that they live together. And in many ways, they come together in places like East Nashville. So, why not North Nashville, too?

I don't have to strain to imagine the eyes of my empty nest neighbors either glazing over or rolling back in a "there-Mike-goes-again" expression of disinterest, because I witness it more and more whenever I try to talk to them about generational diversity. But I do want to make one thing perfectly clear to everyone else who says that they are concerned about the neighborhood: I will not be supporting any efforts for or against zoning changes or appeals if my neighbors do not support the idea the Fehr School should not be sold to private interests.

The logic is clear to me: converting that building to lofts is no different than the duplexification that we are fighting now, and I will lose all my interest in fighting these battles on behalf of quality long-term development if we lose the opportunity to locate a quality public school within walking distance of North End neighborhoods, and if Nashville reliquishes this community resource to money-hungry private interests. Selling Fehr is the same to me as chopping up, cul-de-sacking, and gating Morgan Park and then selling the subdivisions off to trendy little haute couture developers.

At some point in the future, the empty nester eyes will stop glazing and rolling and they will look my way for support on a zoning or overlay issue. They will do so not because I'm so special, but because they are going to need all the help that they can get to make these things happen. Whether they get my support depends on how committed they to fight for the pet project of families with children in Salemtown, families with children everywhere: good, accessible schools.

That's my gauntlet, Salemtown. And I'm throwing it down. I am fully prepared to lose and to leave for the sake of my children. It is the kind of sacrifice and loss that parents grasp.

Some causes are fought on principle; others are fought as favors are called in and as certain conditions are met. So, just so we are clear: I will be growing less and less willing to support the causes--no matter how noble--of empty nesters unless they are willing to support mine, too.

Let the eyes glaze and roll, but let the mind be clear: the vision for our neighborhood should be broad and inclusive, not myopic and unreciprocal. That can only happen when there is mutual back-scratching going on, and I have told you where I itch.


  1. Speaking for this empty-nester, I would love nothing better than the Fehr building being a school again. We want families in this neighborhood.

    I don't know who the empty-nesters you are referring to in the post, but Lynn and I would love to see the neighborhood develop so that families want to stay or new families move in.

    I also whole-heartedly endorse moving the MAC to the Howard Campus. The mix of the MAC folks and the Head Start kids never seemed to be a good idea.

  2. The Van Hoesens and the Harveys are right there with you as well. Its not only important to us because we have children (or will have a few in the future) but we understand that a thriving community requires diversity on all levels. People tend to forget what goes into making a "great place". They just see the cool people in the cool coffee shops, and completely forget that the "cool" came from a union of many people groups working and living together. To be great, we need to be well rounded. To be well rounded, we need children, the elderly and everything in between. Without diversity, we have no future.

  3. We moved here for the sake of diversity. Not just ethnic diversity, but age and lifestyle and everything in between. I spent 6 years in a neighborhood where everyone was basically the same and that's just not what I want for my kid. I'm with Mike. If Fehr is turned into condos it will imply to me that long term investment in the neighborhood from families isn't considered to be important here, and we'll move to East Nashville.

  4. I have no children and no plans for children, but a school would be an ideal use of the space. Developing it as housing would be short-sighted.

  5. Sorry that I haven't known about this before. However, my first thoughts are that it is a little arrogant to say that MAC doesn't belong in the neighborhood -- when it was there long before many of the present residents. Has there been a neighborhood planning process or at least a discussion that involved both long-term and newer residents? (Certainly possible, as I don't claim to know anything at all about this issue, other than what I have read on your site.) Perhaps the Howard School site will be better for MAC, but it smacks a little of gentrification moving out whatever the new folks don't like, even if it has been a part of the neighborhood for years.

    And I agree that I'd hate to see an old school be developed without some real neighborhood involvement in planning what it might be.

    Just out of curiousity, is anyone trying to keep any part of Salemtown affordable to those who have lived here for years? Or affordable to others of more modest means?

  6. It's not that MAC doesn't belong in the neighborhood. It is that urban neighborhoods shoulder an unfair bulk of the social services (both public and private) compared to other neighborhoods. I don't think that any one neighborhood should be required to host MAC--which brings in people from all over Metro--for a long-term period. In fairness, it should be moved around periodically and neighborhoods everywhere--including suburban ones (given that suburbs have increasing numbers of residents requiring social services)--should accept their responsibility for hosting MAC.

    This is not NIMBY. It is AIMBY.

    I would not be glad to see MAC go if either the people using it did not trash out Salemtown or Public Works cleaned up the mess on our sidewalks and streets after the needy came through. And frankly, on the longevity score, the building was a school first, not a MAC building. So, even if I were less glad to see MAC go, I would still argue that a public school for families here is a better use of the building.

    There are many of us who live here who are interested in encouraging affordable housing builds to protect economic diversity, but as more and more people move in, those voices are being outnumbered by those who could care less. But even with the destructive effects of gentrification, the absentee property owners who sat by and harbored drug dealers, gangs, and prostitution in this neighborhood and waited for gentrification are more destructive than the people who have moved in so far and redeveloped the community and fought crime in this neighborhood at times at risk to their own safety. Don't blame gentrification for neighborhood ills that grow out of long-term systems of urban renewal and absentee property owners.