Monday, April 30, 2012

Nashville's first ever "Jane's Walk" this Saturday in North Nashville

On Saturday a small group of North Nashvillians will meet at Morgan Park (corner of 5th Av N and Hume) at 10:30 a.m. and walk to Bicentennial Mall State Park (corner of 6th Av N and Jefferson)  in commemoration of the life and influence of urban activist Jane Jacobs. After the walk, we will have a picnic (bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages) and engage in kid-friendly activities like kite-flying and chalk art. The event will end at 12:30 p.m.

Our community has a strong history of holding kid-friendly events. One of those events we called "Kid Klatch," which has been operating off and on for the past two years among Salemtown and Germantown parents, their with pre-school and school-age children and other adults who are children-at-heart. We tend to gather at various places in our community to underscore the importance of the local community and the priority of Metro programs and infrastructure to support families.

This year our first Kid Klatch supports Jane's Walk, which has grown into an international event but has yet to be held in Nashville as far as we can tell.

There are two Jane's Walk organizations, one in the US and one in Canada (Jacobs lived both in New York City and in Toronto).

What Saturday's event is:

Jane’s Walk is a series of free neighbourhood walking tours that helps put people in touch with their environment and with each other, by bridging social and geographic gaps and creating a space for cities to discover themselves.  Since its inception in 2007, Jane’s Walk has happened in cities across North America, and is growing internationally.

Jane’s Walk honours the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Jane’s Walk helps knit people together into a strong and resourceful community, instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership.

Jane Jacobs was a community organizer who helped save her neighborhoods from destruction by the hands outside interests.  She invited everyone to see how cities actually work through experience, to go out and see what makes a neighborhood thrive, or to see what makes a neighborhood struggle.  And she opposed those who insisted on the same solutions to fix the unique challenges in cities.

We honor Jane Jacobs by helping people leave the isolation of their homes to come together to experience areas of their city outside of the automobile.  Our mission is to help people walk, observe, and connect with their built environment.

Photo credit: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
There is a point of contact between Ms. Jacobs' writing and our event in the shadow of Capitol Hill. Ms. Jacobs once mentioned Nashville in a 1958 Forbes piece called "Downtown is for People":

What will the projects look like? They will be spacious, parklike, and uncrowded. They will feature long green vistas. They will be stable and symmetrical and orderly. They will be clean, impressive, and monumental. They will have all the attributes of a well kept, dignified cemetery.

And each project will look very much like the next one: the Golden Gateway office and apartment center planned for San Francisco; the Civic Center for New Orleans; the Lower Hill auditorium and apartment project for Pittsburgh; the Convention Center for Cleveland; the Quality Hill offices and apartments for Kansas City; the downtown scheme for Little Rock; the Capitol Hill project for Nashville. From city to city the architects' sketches conjure up the same dreary scene; here is no hint of individuality or whim or surprise, no hint that here is a city with a tradition and flavor all its own.

These projects will not revitalize downtown; they will deaden it. For they work at cross-purposes to the city. They banish the street. They banish its function. They banish its variety.

We want to celebrate a walkable North Nashville and show our local children a fun time in an urban environment. While Jane's Walk happens once a year, Kid Klatch events will continue throughout the season as weather permits.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

2012 Country Music Marathon men's winner was just behind the leader into North Nashville, ahead after

Eventual marathon winner Ryan James was on the heels of leader Steve Slaby as he headed north on Rosa L. Parks Boulevard at Werthan Lofts toward MetroCenter:

On the leg from MetroCenter back by Germantown toward Downtown, James took the lead:

2012 Country Music Marathon women's winner also first in North Nashville earlier this morning

Keeping with my past tradition, I got up early this morning to take photos of the Country Music Marathon as it passed through Downtown Nashville to North Nashville and back again after MetroCenter. I'll post a lot of photos this weekend, but in keeping with my past practice, the first photos are of the leaders and eventual winners as they passed Salemtown at around 8am. The eventual women's winner was Erin Sutton, who was also first as she passed Salemtown and flashed me a smile:

Several minutes after making the MetroCenter loop and passing Werthan she seems all business in this series of stills:

I'll post photos of the men's winner next, and afterwards, lots of general photos I took of both the half marathon and full marathon. You can also see past marathon photos by clicking on the "Country Music Marathon" label below.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Former Salemtown association president expresses opposition to SNNA mixed use proposal

Tuesday, Freddie O'Connell, recent past president of Salemtown Neighbors spoke out against the association's executive board plan to request rezoning of unspecified sections of Salemtown from residential to mixed use. He sent his feedback to association elist:
Here are the reasons I'd personally oppose additional MUN zoning in the neighborhood:

  • Perhaps most importantly, it runs counter to the North Nashville Community Plan, which specifically recommends, after much community input, preserving commercial activity for corridors. Salemtown is recommended to be a residential neighborhood with part in maintenance and part evolving (basically, southern Salemtown is anticipated to benefit from slightly higher density of residential development). In fact, they recommend rezoning some existing MUN to conform to the plan. Dozens of meetings with Planning staff were held throughout last year, and erasing that plan would be a shame, especially since it involved many long-time residents who have not historically been involved in SNNA.
  • The retail establishments that have existed in the almost 5 years I've lived here have not, in my opinion, strengthened the neighborhood. What is now Amin's Market (and has operated under two other names since I've lived here) continues to be a source of vice (one shooting, multiple incidents of sex crimes at the intersection, multiple reports of drug activity, and enough of a general nuisance that a police camera was installed). There was a closed door / closed shades beauty parlor at the corner of Garfield and Rosa L. Parks Boulevard when we moved here. It did not have the neighborly atmosphere that Germantown's Gloss does. And there's a BP. I know some people enjoyed the market near 4th and Coffee. I never got a chance to go there before it closed, in part because of its unusual operating hours. But it never struck me as the sort of anchor that the Germantown businesses at 5th and Madison have been for that area. Non-retail establishments (Plumbers of Nashville, Franklin Finishing) also do not do much to improve the quality of either character or life in Salemtown (This isn't a knock against the businesses themselves, just a suggestion that they are here in some cases against zoning).
  • Nearby retail establishments of the variety bandied about when this topic comes up for discussion (e.g., "coffeshops") have had to curtail their operating hours as a result of a lack of business. Namely, both DrinkHaus (a coffeeshop I'd prefer to patronize over Starbucks, which is technically in Salemtown at Rosa L. Parks and Dominican) and Zackie's (whose owner, Mike, lives in Salemtown) have both cut back their hours over the past year. They're both in Germantown, which is closer to downtown, almost completely gentrified, and fully walkable from Salemtown. If we're not keeping good local businesses vibrant a few blocks away, how are we going to convince good businesses that Salemtown is a better bet? I suppose it's possible that Salemtown residents could consider Germantown "too far," but that position would make me more concerned, not less, that good businesses would fail here.
  • I have yet to hear a plan about how we will prevent shady businesses that offer undesirable services from taking advantage of laxer zoning or, the positive alternative, how we will recruit good businesses. Beyond that, I haven't heard much other than generics about what exactly we want in Salemtown. Personally, most of the things I could want in a livable neighborhood (including good food and drinks) are in Germantown or at the Farmers' Market. So I'm interested in what's missing and why it makes sense to invite very broad commercial uses into our neighborhood without a strategic plan preceding the zoning.
  • Werthan will continue to redevelop. Just across Salemtown's souther[n] border, Werthan packaging is slated for relocation and, ultimately, redevelopment. When this happens, it will bring mixed use to our border, under the purview of Germantown. I think waiting to see (and participate in) this redevelopment would be a much more reasonable time to consider whether MUN within Salemtown would be of benefit to the community.

I'm a former SNNA president myself. I echo everything Freddie wrote in his open email. I would also add that there is nothing, including the North Nashville Community Plan, that stops small businesses from requesting rezoning of houses to "Commercial" if they desire to start a coffeehouse or nail salon à la Berry Hill. Mixed use requests from businesses should be judged as they arise rather than jumped at prematurely. However, mixed use is not the only means of allowing commercial use in Salemtown, and any request should either be consistent with the community plan or have some ironclad, irrefutable reasons for altering the plan.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Road Trip to Manchester?

I recently gave Starbucks' art designers permission to use one of my photos from a previous blog post. They tell me it will be included in the artwork at the store in Manchester, TN in a few weeks (renovations to the shop are about to begin).

I do not see myself headed to Manchester anytime soon, but if any of you reading this stops by that Starbucks in the not-to-distant future, please let me know how it looks.

If we rezone it, they will come: about Salemtown's Field of Dreams myth

The Salemtown officers have been holding meetings during the first quarter of this year with developers and real estate people to leverage a mixed use plan for sections of our neighborhood. Recently, they decided to open the question to the membership and to other neighbors at the back-end of the process. Their survey is not the most objective information-seeker and members have not been prepared to respond with open consideration of all the facts--good, bad, and indifferent--before taking the survey.

For the record, in the half-a-dozen or mixed use requests that I have encountered in the 8 years I've lived here, I have supported some and opposed some, but I have never dismissed the idea of mixed use.

However, I have to say that I have never seen such enthusiastic, blind faith in mixed use as recently expressed by the Salemtown association's Executive Board. They seem prepared to embrace any and all mixed use around the neighborhood regardless of consequences that are clearly observable in other North End neighborhoods.

They sent out a survey that misleads about what will go into mixed use in Salemtown and that double loads mixed use with a conservation overlay, which itself opens a host of other problems and questions before the mixed use issue is even resolved. Here is the first 2/3rd's of the survey with some of my responses written in:

Yep. I called the survey exactly the way I see it: push-polling (a poll that does not really poll but instead biases people's responses).

Even the small amount of space for comments limits feedback. A couple of sentences in the comment section can barely express the empirical evidence around us weighted against claims that mixed use without businesses-at-hand will enhance our quality of life.

But I have this chronicle on Salemtown with all the space I require to cite the plain evidence that weighs against blind rezoning efforts.

Boarded- up retail space in mixed-use development, corner of
4th Av N & Monroe St.,  Germantown (Google Maps, 2009)
In the first place, you can plan mixed use--absent business demand for mixed use in Salemtown--but simply rezoning is a leap of faith that does not guarantee takers. In fact, even building mixed use ahead of time does not guarantee that a business will respond to the empty space. Germantown is often mentioned as a model of mixed use for Salemtown. And yet, not all of their mixed use is thriving as hoped. A corner shop at 4th Avenue North and Monroe Street constructed 4-5 years ago sat boarded up for years after completion. Only this year does it look like interior work is being done by the property owner, but there are still "for lease" signs up in the windows. I am aware of no demand for the space.

Given that a mixed use property can sit idle and boarded for years in Germantown (very near very popular City House restaurant), why should we assume that Salemtown would fare any better? In fact, I would assume that it would take us even longer than renowned Germantown to attract clients for any mixed use built here. Other small businesses in Germantown in mixed use properties (including a coffeeshop) have cut back their business hours for lack of customers. Why would we assume that Salemtown would provide enough foot traffic to keep such businesses open if Germantown cannot? It seems to me we should be supporting and patronizing struggling Germantown businesses, within walking distance of our homes, rather hoping that demand for businesses will pop up simply because we rezone properties here.

Bail bonds business will be mixed use
less than 5 blocks from Salemtown.
In the second place, there are no guarantees that when we set aside mixed use absent demand for it, we will get the kind of stores we want: the ones that enhance the overall quality of life beyond the simplistic calculus of property values. Hope Gardens is a cautionary tale for Salemtown. They have dense mixed use coming to the vacant corner of 10th Avenue North and Jefferson Street. The problem: the anchor of the development is a party-busing bail bonds business which profanes a noble idea of Martin Luther King, Jr. in its name. It's not the kind of small business I would feel a connection to if I lived in Hope Gardens regardless of the mixed use mantra. We can dream all we want to about building to attract "coffeehouses and nail salons" but then be slapped by the reality that it attracted payday loan merchants and tattoo parlors. If we rezone it, anyone can come.

Let's consider mixed use. But let's consider the merits of each request as they come from developers rather than putting the cart before the horse, as this "Salemtown Survey" does. And for Pete's sake, let's hope that our association officers can send us more objective and neutral future surveys to live up to the appearance of gathering information.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

BREAKING: Erica Gilmore announces that the Fehr School Building will receive historic designation and protection

CM Erica Gilmore just called me to say that a rezoning bill to preserve Salemtown's historic Fehr School building is now being drafted thanks to Metro Action Commission Director Cynthia Croom's change of heart on the question. The director originally opposed a historic overlay for the civil rights landmark at the corner of 5th Av N and Garfield St, which brought the overlay to a grinding halt unless MAC got an exemption from the legislation. However, according to CM Gilmore, Ms. Croom now "enthusiastically supports" the rezoning measure without exempting MAC.

Once CM Gilmore's bill is drafted she tells me she will forward a copy to me. Once I get my paws on it, I'll post it here.

Thanks to Ms. Croom. Thanks to CM Gilmore. Thanks to everyone who made this important progress happen.

Whoopee! Now let's make the most of this opportunity and lend popular support when it is introduced in council!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Old San Juan

After we docked at the Port of San Juan (Puerto Rico), we joined one of several lines of tourists from our ship waiting to depart on excursions throughout the city and the local countryside. We probably stood in line 15-20 minutes before I eavesdropped on a couple from Florida behind us who were complaining about the wait and the lines. "You would never see this in Orlando", one quipped. He added, "We know how to get tourists in and out efficiently". I restrained myself from pointing out that mainlanders probably would have torn up the gnarly, narrow streets of historic San Juan a long time ago to allow multi-lane automobile traffic and demolished inveterate architecture--some hundreds of years old--just so fast-food-oriented, plastic-coated tourists would not have to wait in line past the point that they are convinced they are entitled to move.

I was content to stand in line to see a rarity in our disposable era, a venerable, old city: