Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Participate in the plan, but don't be a patsy

Tonight's the night for the "visioning" meeting for the brand-spanking-new North Nashville Community Plan (formerly the "Subarea 8 Plan") where we are being encouraged by Metro Planning and Metro Council to share ideas for "growth and development" in the north-by-northwest passage between Downtown and the Cumberland River. The mainstream media is joining Metro to gin up these meetings now as visioning opportunities; but during the harsh reality of the development process the press caricatured neighborhood leaders' reliance on the plans as an "inflexible" faith in "holy writ" by groups that have too much power over development.

Such hypocrisy is a reason why some neighborhood leaders are circumspect, even ambivalent about enthusiastic invitations from Metro and its twisted sister, the mainstream media (run by corporations that have their own economic stakes in certain kinds of growth over others). Two weeks ago I attended Planning's informational meeting for about 20 or so North Nashville neighborhood leaders. After some sharing exercises and Planning's remedial spiel about their role in the process, leaders were allowed a Q&A time.

Several folks, especially those from the Hadley Park area, expressed their concerns that few of the changes from the last "visioning" plan ten years ago had been realized. One leader asked for assurances that, if she went out again and tried to convince the same neighbors who were suspicious a decade ago whether they really could make a difference, Metro would actually follow through with community-designed plans this time. It is difficult to look back without wondering whether 2010 meetings are not going to be a waste of our busy lives, given the influence that plan-apathetic developers have on the planning process after the visioning ends. It is difficult to take Janus-faced Metro seriously when they ask us to dream.

The criticisms I heard back in early January resonate with my own experience of living in Salemtown. The 2002 Subarea 8 Plan, which arose from community meetings like the one tonight, remains largely unrealized at the Salemtown end. Metro met a couple of objectives: building the wastewater treatment biosolids facility to abate odor problems and completing a greenway spur through Morgan Park (neither upgrade is in Salemtown proper).

Most of the other visions are illusions that were never given a chance but for exceptional situations over which locals had some control. While Metro and media may not have been holding up their end to promote and fight for the plans, some of us seized on the opportunity starting in 2005 to incorporate Salemtown wishes into the Salemtown community development block grant, which was provided by the federal government and managed by MDHA. Fortunately, a critical mass of Salemtown leaders followed through with the plans.

The 2002 plan called for "extensive streetscape treatment" along the civic connectors, Garfield Street and 5th Avenue, North. Thanks to the project, improvements--including traffic-calming curb bump-outs with foliage and pedestrian-scale lampposts--were made. All of Salemtown's street ID and traffic signs have been replaced with decorative signage. MDHA contractors also installed neighborhood ID signs that were selected by the community with designs based on community input. The 2002 plan called for planting more trees in Salemtown. We were able to get a tree grant from the State of Tennessee to do just that, but Metro destroyed those plans by losing our streetscape application, delaying the project past the state's deadline.

But federal block grants are rare and only go so far. The rest of the 2002 plan is largely unrealized because council members and planners fritter away objectives by bowing to developers' will-to-ignore community plans. The plan's map for Salemtown shows it shaded mostly a light yellow designating detached single family homes, even though our neighborhood is zoned almost totally for duplexes. And predictably, Salemtown is saturated with duplexes, triplexes, multiplexes in 2010. The 2002 plan called for a full range of types of housing with a lower intensity residential character. The neighborhood association has had to fight in planning and at council to leverage zoning consistent with the 2002 plans at those rare moments that provide a chance for Metro Planning to live up to the vision.

There are a host of other plans for Salemtown from 2002 that remain unrealized in 2010:
  • Dense landscaping and tall trees along 3rd Avenue, North as a visual shield between the wastewater utility and Salemtown
  • Noise walls and heavy landscaping along Salemtown's interface with I-65
  • Streetscape improvements for 5th Avenue, North all of the way to I-65
  • Small pocket parks at the terminus of streets like 4th & 5th at I-65
  • Reclaiming school buildings for schools
  • Landscaping along the median of Rosa Parks Boulevard between Hume Street and I-65
  • Reconnecting Buchanan Street across Rosa Parks
  • Reconnecting Hume through Metro Water
  • Traffic calming on 4th Avenue, North at Morgan Park
  • Art mosaics along 5th by students

I look at this list of unrealized visions people had 10 years ago and it makes me wonder how much influence we can have tonight or any other night in 2010 when developers and their media megaphones will impugn the plans as impractical and "inflexible" in 2011. And I'm with the Hadley Park leader who is hesitant to stake her standing with her neighbors on Planning's promises that things will somehow be different this time.

Don't get me wrong. I plan to participate. But I don't plan to be a patsy in this process.

1 comment:

  1. Mike: We are your silent readership out here. Agree with frustrations over planning, as you know, and have called about LEDs.

    Just a shout out.