Wednesday, May 05, 2010

2010 Nashville flood: we are Nashville, so let's keep community before commodity

By focusing on music festivals and tourism before the Cumberland River has given Nashville its neighborhoods back, NewsChannel5 is not just putting the cart before the horse. The local CBS affiliate is putting commerce ahead of the human scope of this tragedy. They are ignoring the recovery that must happen at structural and infrastructural levels before we can begin to talk about the luxuries of money-saturated parties for out-of-town guests. They are taking their eye off the ball.

The receding flood waters are going to give up more dead Middle Tennesseans in the next few days and weeks. Before we party we need to mourn and bury our dead. We've got a bulging population of homeless families whose houses and lives are underwater now. We're faced with the prospect of growing numbers of Nashvillians suffering injuries and illnesses from this catastrophic floods. Before we party we need to heal the sick and ease the suffering. Is the local health delivery system prepared to do that? I was hearing of oxygen shortages at hospitals during the floods. Can we square away our hospitals and clinics before we crank up the tunes?

Streets and roads have been washed away. Buildings and other structures that have not been destroyed or irreparably harmed by flood waters will need to be repaired and renovated. The industrial areas on both banks of the Cumberland released petroleum and toxic chemicals into the water and the soil and we will are going to have to clean that all up to protect Nashvillians as well as tourists. Before we can join in a festival to celebrate and support the music industry, we have to be able to play safely in and enjoy our own nontoxic neighborhoods again.

Only one of three water treatment plants is operating. Water reserves are at half capacity while people still water their grass. (There may be some justice in that those with the most grass to water in the suburbs will lose water before urban residents if reserves go down). We don't know how or to what length taxed Metro services may function. Once the waters clear, how are we going to clean up the tons of debris and still assure regular garbage pick up? We do not know the degree to which clean-up is going to sap the Metro budget. We also must consider the transportation needs of many more people who lost vehicles.

And how will a vigorous bid for tourism tax our law enforcement services? If initial reports are correct, the Central Police Precinct almost went down to floodwaters itself. The CMA Festival occurs in the Central Precinct. I'm sure officers are working longer shifts through this. Is the music industry going to demand even more of our cops for the June festival?

I hear stories that in the early stages of the Downtown floods, some building owners thoughtlessly rushed to pump out basements and subterranean garages without stopping to think that those flood waters would end up in someone else's garage or down the storm sewers only to be pushed back out into the streets by the Cumberland River. Asking Nashville to hurry and prepare for CMA when the river hasn't returned to it's banks, when people are still being plucked from flooded homesteads, when we have not addressed the human cost (let alone the economic cost) is just as shortsighted and premature as pumping your flood into everyone's flood.

In fact, the demand is callous. We would not expect an employer to demand employees who have been flooded and injured by historic storms to return to work mere days after a tragedy. Why should we accept attempts by local tourism industry leaders to go on TV and leverage Downtown and Greater Nashville back to the task of preparing for the CMA Festival? By airing this story so soon on the heels of disaster, Brent Frazier and NewsChannel5 are enabling an arbitrary and capricious mission to move us away from the sense of community engendered by shared tragedy and toward the commodities of an industry that does not yet have firm footing.

This story is nothing but putting commodity before community at the worse possible time. Just when the community is beginning to pull together to overcome this disaster, we do not need this distraction so early. There will be a time for tourist-scale celebrations that fill industry coffers, but I will be shocked if that time is June. Let tourism protect its financial interests, but let Nashvillians aspire toward a more common, more human interest. If "We are Nashville," the "We" should include everyone affected by the storm's aftermath. All of us need help, but some more than others.


  1. A story is a story. Would these people be trying to market Nashville as a tourism destination if NewsChannel 5 were not filming them? Yes.

  2. Sounds like you could use a day at the steeplechase to get a grip.