Monday, September 12, 2011

Former council member blogs wistfully as her community is commodified

The former CM from southwest Davidson County's District 34, Lynn Williams, is troubled by careening growth pitching her neighborhood toward economic development at the expense of community development:

Homes have gone from being 2500 to 7000 square feet big on our half-acre lots in the last ten years, so it's not editorializing to say the character of the neighborhood has changed. Instead of feeling pride and welcome, I can't help but see visitors now as possible property investors instead of possible neighbors. Today I am sad and sorry to see another home go. We enjoyed a simple, satisfying way of life here for so many years. We live abundantly, amidst prosperity. When we bought this home we knew it was going to be a good investment anyway. So why do I feel invisible & marginalized today?

Feeling invisible and marginalized are themes often associated with the classic sociological idea of "anomie", or dislocation from communities and social order due to atomistic growth (Emile Durkheim). Even as used in sociology, the idea has wistful overtones about the loss of community ties under the march of modern progress. According to the Oxford English Dictionary a 1951 translation of anomie is literally "de-regulation," which in today's free-for-all, no-holds-barred housing market sounds about right.

We all wish for prosperity with our home purchases, but prosperity need not be confused with absolute maximization of money while abandoning any other values, particularly those constituting the character of our communities.


  1. Also from the linked blogpost:

    "Instead of feeling pride and welcome, I can't help but see visitors now as possible property investors instead of possible neighbors."

    She's about 5 years behind in this realization, or maybe her neighborhood was lucky and spared the runup, the crash, and the inevitable empty houses.

    As a CM, this person had a frontline view on zoning and a say in government moreso than most of us. I can't help but wonder, during her tenure as CM, if this issue was ever presented to her and what her reaction was at the time.

    That's not to say I don't agree with her to some extent. I've spoken at a zoning meeting against a request for a variance to build a bigger and better house.

  2. Zoning regs do not allow design standards to regulate size or mass - just setbacks - so without applying an overlay, Council action could not dissuade a builder's will. While some people on my street will agree with me, many do not having built out their lots to maximum capacity. In fact, one of them said in a neighborhood meeting: This is the type of neighborhood WE want to live in. There was no consensus desire to maintain a balance or historical character. Most homeowner/builders stated that their top desire was to have what they wanted, where the wanted it once they were satisfied more attached homes would not be built in our midst.

  3. Right - an overlay is the solution. Or a partial solution.

    Witness the Tennessean article a couple weeks back about the Belmont area. Despite an overlay, the article found people complaining about houses being too large.

    I'm pretty familiar with one of the neighborhood overlays. Some of the things that have been approved and built - I can't see how it passed Historical. Nevertheless, the overlay provides some constraints.

    There are two points here that I think are important:

    #1 - we don't get to pick our neighbors. Some of them have different views of how they want to live, and their votes count just as much as ours.

    #2 - during the real estate boom, what is described may have been driven partially by greed. Ultimately, though, the decision to muck up the character of a neighborhood in this way is driven by your neighbors (see #1).

  4. Just check out the house at the top of the hill on Wildwood (off of Belmont Blvd). It is UGLY and absolutely does not fit into the neighborhood. And the two homes across from it are not much better.

    Also, the two not so ugly homes mentioned above were sold by a realtor from Franklin. When she put the two homes on the market, she called codes on a neighbor with some eclectic things in the yard.

    I have lived in that neighborhood for 25 years. NO one had ever complained about that particular neighbor that the Franklin realtor reported to codes.

    That realtor, in my mind, was an outsider who had no business, doing business in our neighborhood.

    This illustrates part of the problem.