Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Saving the Ancient in Nashville

The fight for Bells Bend has me working through Wendell Berry's decades-old compendia on protecting the "culture" in "agriculture." Berry engages the "Save the" communities and identity groups given rise by the reduction of everything economic to money and growth equations.

One such "Save the" community continues to grow in Nashville in reaction to the Bells Landing Partners' proposal to sprawl May Town Center, a "second downtown," across extant farmland as close to an American metropolitan city as farmland can get. Betsy Phillips joins the fight to "Save the Bend" by demanding important research on the historic and prehistoric significance of relatively untouched Bells Bend.

Phillips went to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology to unearth information that ought to give us pause before demolishing green space to fabricate a "green development." The state's archaeologist told Phillips:
"There are just over 60 recorded archaeological sites on Bell's Bend. This total does not include historic cemeteries or historic properties older than 50 years (50 years is the federal threshold for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places). These recorded sites span the entire prehistoric sequence (roughly 10,000 BC to AD 1500) as well as the historic period."

He said, "There have been several prior archaeological investigations within Bells Bend, although the Bend has not been comprehensively surveyed." I don't want to put words in [the archaeologist's] mouth, but I have to believe that when you're talking about twelve thousand years of habitation and the Bend not being comprehensively surveyed, you're talking about the potential for finding more than just the approximately sixty sites archaeologists are aware of.
To my shock, Betsy divulges that there are no laws requiring that developers allow archaeologists to examine historic and pre-historic sites before moving earth, unless human burials are involved. Sadly, but predictably, no one with the Bells Landing Partners, the May family, or Tony Giarratana's development "team" has contacted the state to request examination of a site that could hold thousands of years of undisturbed records of human civilization in the Bend.

But the stinging irony is that Tennessee State University, which stands to inherit a nice chunk of flood plain with MTC construction, has not encouraged its sugar daddy developers to launch scientific study of the layers of history laying just under pasture and farmland. TSU is supposed to be a university, my people, a university whose vested interest should be in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding first and money second. TSU is pushing ahead to demolish vast tracts of Bells Bend as vigorously as the life-sucking developers are. There is nothing redemptive in that.

Betsy levels some stern questions that both developers and Metro government (Planning Commissioners, council members, and Mayor) should be addressing before pushing the MTC proposal through in the coming weeks:
[H]as anyone heard any accounting of how they're planning to deal with [Native American burial sites]? Will they work around the sites in order to preserve them? Will they work with the state to resolve archaeological issues? Have they figured in potential delays while dealing with this stuff? And what happens when the protests start, which they will, when you start to pave over and build on people's ancestors?
How the various parties answer the questions are the test of their character. Nashville itself is about to be sorely tested on how it preserves the ancient and historic records of those civilizations that preceded it and perhaps made its founding possible. Bells Bend provides a context and an ancestry for this city that can either be preserved by the community or exterminated by the earthmoving equipment of developers. Whether we acknowledge or deny that legacy as unbroken and inviolable is the test of our character.


  1. For someone who prides himself on accurate facts there is a simple eror in your ranting attempt to stoke the fire against MTC.

    The MTC proposal does address this subject and in specific terms regarding known sites. Recognition of known sites and their care and acknowledging the fact that these do exist.

    I would nave thought these facts would not have escaped "your" investigation of MTC and not have relied on another persons' assessment of the facts.

  2. Oh, really? So, why haven't developers brought state archaeologists on board to survey and study and make recommendations on protecting the record? Acknowledging sites is not the same as conservation.