Sunday, July 31, 2011

Journo-a-journo on "West Town" neighborhood

Charles Maldonado, who is headed out of Nashville to write for a New Orleans publication, calls out the Tennessean's Bill Lewis for undoing the distinction between advertising and reporting in this morning's edition.

Here's how Lewis gives a leg-up to realtors and brokers who would otherwise have to pay for exposure as wide as the newspaper's readership:

Homeowners and real estate agents are holding a neighborhood-wide open house today that will showcase 15 homes for sale.

Homes range from a restored 1899 Victorian at 4800 Illinois Ave. to new construction, such as a 2006 cottage at 4906 Illinois Ave. Prices in the neighborhood range from the $90,000s to about $260,000, says Kay Hunter, a Realtor with the Realty Association. A number of vacant lots have signs promising future construction of new single-family houses ....

Potential investors overlooked the neighborhood, says Alice Walker, president of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, who helped organize the open house ....

That’s changing as momentum builds in Historic West Town and small neighborhood businesses move in along Charlotte Pike, she says.

“That’s what makes urban living so great. You have your own little neighborhood,” says Walker.

Indeed, there is very little in this article that has to do with broader issues of community development or cultural legacy. Everything is reduced to the economic development tools that Realtors and real estate brokers use to make money off neighborhood life.

Here is Maldonado's response to the Tennessean pieced together from his Twitter stream:

Okay, the Nations or Historic West Town or whatever is a perfectly fine neighborhood. No reason to be scared by it or anything .... But it still has plenty of problems. And this article which declares its "rebirth" in a nonquote, is barely distinguishable from an ad .... Furthermore, the name. Just because there's like one house from the (extreme late) 1800s, that a realtor pointed out to the paper .... That doesn't actually make this neighborhood as a whole historic. Basically it's an ordinary suburban neighborhood .... Lots of post-War tract housing. And plenty of houses wherein whatever "historic" elements there once were have been renovated into oblivion.

Isn't speculation on real estate part of what brought us a bubble and then the housing crisis of the past half decade? It seems like a contradiction of the journalistic mission for a newspaper to aid and abet wealthy special interests that inflate expectations and buying frenzy without regard to facts or local history.

Maldonado points out that this story simply gave real estate developers the benefit of the doubt without any digging behind the image that they project for the commercial purpose of selling property. Bill Lewis was helping out the privileged few more than he was doing the local community favors, especially if home values are artificially driven up with contrivances like "historic". The more influence Realtors have, the more likely they are to do what they want regardless of what's good for all West Town residents.


  1. My prediction:

    We'll see a few more stories on "Historic West Town," in The Tennessean and perhaps even The City Paper.

    These two papers will focus on "issues," in HWT like crime, building codes not being met, late property taxes being paid by residential and commercial property holders, etc.

    A picture will be painted that HWT is being "held back," from becoming a prime, "urban" neighborhood for the folks who would consider moving in, but don't yet feel "comfortable" that their investments will be "protected" should they do so.

    We may even see a Nashville Scene article (The City Paper and Scene are owned by the same company) that focuses on some "Historic West Town Pioneers."

    This story will feature the obligatory cross-section of pioneers: A song-writer fixing up an old house with a studio in his "carriage house" (an old, fancy tool shed); a caterer specializing in local vegetarian fare; a used book-store/coffee shop and an unwed mother who peddles cloth diapers.

    Once McNeely, Piggott and Fox have spun their web via these publications, Mayor Dean will announce a "special plan" for this part of town.

    Who knows what it may be, but I bet something is in the works.

    The name change has already been put in place. I smell something else just around the corner.

    As a sidebar:

    Why not call East Nashville, "Jamesville?"

    Jesse James lived in East Nashville for a short while. Jamesville is certainly more historic sounding. And cuter.

  2. I understand the end game of the post above - pre-emptive pushback against an attempt of the Mayor's office to spend money in the Nations, presumably to benefit the Mayor's moneyd interests.

    But, there's no need to downplay what are real "issues" - crime, codes violations, taxes unpaid.

    If those items were highlighted in the Tennessean puff piece, it would no longer have been a commercial advertisment masquerading as a news item.

    Shining the light on real issues should be welcomed. That you belive there is some masterplan to funnel money to insiders shouldn't make them into "issues."

  3. Anonymous,

    I pretty agree with what you say above. I'll note, that I said nothing about money be funneled to "insiders." I'll also note there was no pre-emptive pushback motive against the Mayor's office with my post.

    My "beef" is the "grand plan" approach to sections of the community.(And I sense one is coming to The Nations).

    I've made the point before, that the organic growth of such areas as 12th South, East Nashville, etc., bring the optimal results.

    Where I've seen the city help best (and I'm using the 12th South district as an example) is the improvements at Sevier Park, sidewalk and lighting improvements along 12th Ave. S. and the recent addition of marked cross-walks in the area.

    No grand plan was needed. No new moniker was proposed to "designate" the area.

    With the help and guidance of local residents, business-owners and council members, these improvements were gradually put in place by our Metro government (and perhaps with some private funding).

    Granted, such organic growth is not as exciting as grand plans and ribbon-cuttings. And it's also not much of resume builder for those wishing to make such a note on their personal bio.

    However, organic growth has successfully served many parts of our community.

    I wish the Mayor's office and local media weren't so compelled to sell us these grand plans when all that needs done is coming in and working at street level with the local communities.

    THEN, the word will get out.

    And it will be real and genuine.