Friday, February 15, 2008

May Town Center and the Bells Bend Community: We Need a Little Controversy

When something regarding new Nashville development comes out in the media, the Nashville Charrette buzz usually heats up about it. I've been lurking there the past few days to watch the tenor of the discussion about this new Bells Bend sprawl that some developers are proposing and some "rurban" neighbors are fighting.

Frankly, after a couple of days I was starting to worry that dreamy urbanism and growth boosterism were controlling what was turning out to be a pep rally for developer "Tony G" and the May Town Center planners. And it is hard not to be seduced by MTC's online, helicopter-shot, airbrushed panorama of Bells Bend in which the high-density, mixed-use concept serendipitously materializes into the picture as if Scotty had beamed it down unobtrusively, gently from a geosynchronous orbit, subsidized bridge and all.

What it looks like to me is a grinding footprint of Phase I of the eventual total urbanization spreading to every other corner of Nashville's largest remaining rural enclave. However, I was not reading any Charrette commentary but that which would attempt to disabuse me of my prophesy.

But then, and mercifully, one new Charrette member dropped a stink bomb into what had become an urbanist pep squad's echo chamber in thrall to sprawl PR:
While it is all dressed up real purty to appease the New Urbanists and the Chamber of Commerce, the May Town Center proposal is nothing but sprawl. Period. Bells Bend is the last remaining rural and agricultural landscape left in Davidson Co. with a rich cultural history. It is bounded by two huge parks on the north and south, and has tremendous opportunities to become a breadbasket and rural backyard for all of Nashville. We need to preserve this space and steer the developers to create class A office space on brownfields, not greenfields.

This is not to mention the HUGE public subsidies that will be needed to make this happen, i.e. a bridge, interstate interchange, sewers (there are none in the Bend despite the presence of the Harpeth treatment plant), schools, etc.

The local community is already well on its way to creating a new Subarea Plan that preserves the area's rural character (which doesn't include 5,000 new condos, natch). The planning dept. leadership is behind them (though the rank and file staff has a lot to learn).

If you thought the battle over the Bells Bend landfill was heated, this will be a s#!t storm.
Bravo! This is where the real discussion begins. Instead of dreaming pipe dreams outside of the plans the Bells Bend neighbors have for their community, I think the Charrette should be an actual charrette and dialogue directly with them as part of their discussion of the merits of May Town Center.


  1. What's a brownfield?

  2. And thank you for including a map. Every day I read online articles in the Tennessean, the local news channels, and other blogs, and wonder why the hell they don't at least link to the addresses or areas they are talking about.

  3. What's a brownfield?

    At bare minimum, brownfield is a piece of previously developed land. Conventionally, it is also considered land that once held heavy industry and at worst could be contaminated.

  4. I think we may have found at least part of the problem. The cost to bring a former industrial site up to current EPA standards most likely drives developers to look elsewhere.