Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The signifying tug-o-war in North Nashville

One thing that I did not touch on in my previous minority-report response to Jason Powell's Tennessean op-ed on Sulphur Dell was his reference, which remains unresolved in a larger context, to our area as "uptown." Jason opines:
With the addition of a ballpark in Sulphur Dell, you would have a winning environment to make the uptown area one of Nashville’s treasures and gateway to a revitalized North Nashville.

I have engaged this issue several times before when it arose, most recently a little over a year ago. I have not changed my mind. "Uptown" is goofy:
Calling this area "Uptown" makes no geographic sense .... Historically, "uptowns" were those areas at the opposite end from "downtowns" with "midtowns" in between. Or "uptowns" were parts of towns where the street numbers rose (like "above 59th St." in Manhattan). By both of those definitions, Nashville's Uptown should not be in the north end of town, but in west Nashville.

So, if we're going to call the area we live in "Uptown," one of two things happens. One improbable scenario is that Nashville's Midtown moves to the Bicentennial Mall area (formerly "Sulphur Dell," now "The Market District," in hackneyed-haute fashion), and streets above Broadway should be numbered instead of named. A more likely scenario is that we acknowledge that we name communities now with no meaning or purpose, other than that which people contend over. To paraphrase political scientist Jean Bethke Elshtain communities are "floating signifiers." In that vein, you could call this area "Rural Free Delivery" and enough power and/or money could probably make it stick ....

But if logic won't suffice and you truly require someone more "official" to legitimate the name "North End," look no further than Metro Planning. They used the term "North End" on one of their 2005 maps (look left). And I played no advisory role in that process (read my inset disclaimer). In fact, I liked their use of it, I thought it logical, and I simply followed suit.
Hence, not only do I disagree with Jason on his views of a new ballpark, but I also disagree with his labels for these downtown-proximate neighborhoods to the north.

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