Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A beautiful wreck

The very day that Metro IT touted its pretty spread in the paper
I could not find overlay documents I searched for.

Metro's IT Director Keith Durbin is very proud of his department's online makeover:

“We had a number of goals .... One was to make the site simple enough so that visitors don’t feel like they need to understand the organizational structure of Metro government in order to find what they need .... It looks great and it works great [and its function is] based on marrying today’s website technology with information we gathered from surveys and focus groups over the last two years.”

It also looks like a big promotion for the Mayor's future political aspirations based on the subsidized capital projects and corporate tax breaks he has doled out over two terms. It sets links to Mayor's Office flackery and their email subscription service above most everything else.

This is no sour grapes. The winners are the ones who write history (and the code), but just from a pragmatic point of view it looks like one of the other IT goals is to sublimate user-friendly and practical links for Metro service delivery under huge banner pictures that appear to be striving for Hizzoner's glossy feel-good portfolio.

Likewise, many helpful links that I have linked over the years on this blog that brought Nashvillians closer to the halls of governance are moved elsewhere. I've heard grumblings from various quarters by those who came to rely on ease of access of important information. Now it is a scavenger hunt obstructed and sidetracked by huge banners and air-brushed mayoral portraits. Did those focus groups really care to contemplate a Photoshopped mural of the Music City monument to tourists instead of riding a straight shot to a rezoning proposal or a Public Works contact form?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Werthan Packaging demo begins

The demolition of the sprawling 1950s-era plant (here's to hoping there is no asbestos given the dust clouds blowing around 5th Av N and Hume St) started a few days ago:

What will replace the old packaging building.

UPDATE: David Kleinfelter, who is with the development group of the Werthan property, tells me that there was some asbestos in the building, but it "has been removed and properly disposed of by RC Mathews Contractors and its subcontractors" before the demolition pictured above began.

Despite expressed reservations, Salemtown overlay moves on

I received word that the overlay will be one of the matters up for discussion at tonight's Salemtown Neighbors business meeting. Here is what current association president, Freddie O'Connell, has communicated about SNNA's stance on the overlay:

Councilwoman Gilmore took the next step in an SNNA initiative that began last year: pursuit of a conservation overlay for Salemtown. She signed off on the initial application for the historic zoning change with the Metro Historic Zoning Commission. As currently planned, it would cover 3rd-7th Avenues North for the area between (but not including) Hume and I-65. The proposed design guidelines are here:

There will be a number of opportunities to weigh in on the guidelines (everything from suggesting changes to expressing support or opposition) as this process plays out over the next few months. SNNA voted last year in favor of an overlay, and I'm sure this will remain a topic of important discussion until it's either in place, postponed, or withdrawn. I plan to keep the association informed throughout the process. Let me know if you have any questions.

Other neighbors have approached me with their concerns. One forwarded me his letter to Erica Gilmore with pointed expectations:

I am not against some form of overlay for the Salemtown neighborhood. In fact, I support it. However, I believe the process has been rushed and the stakeholders haven't been provided adequate time or information to make an informed decision on the future of our neighborhood property values.

Furthermore, I do not think a walkthrough with a small group of homeowners and the MHZC is appropriate due diligence to circumvent height restrictions and other regulations ALREADY COVERED BY METRO CODES ....

I urge you to delay sending this proposed zoning overlay to metro council until the following steps have been taken.

1. MHZC makes the latest draft of the overlay available on their website, and sends notification to each stakeholder.
2. Stakeholders should have a minimum of 14 days to review the latest draft.
3. MHZC should thoroughly document their decision criteria for "contributing/non contributing" properties, as well as their block by block criteria for the arbitrary determination of the "feel" of Salemtown.
4. Another public meeting, this time with a minimum of 10 days notice, should be held. This should give you a better feel of the neighborhoods view on this overlay.

I have been one of the opponents of this conservation overlay not for the usual reasons that it limits the earning potential of rising property values or that it discourages development. I do not agree that overlays necessarily do either one.

I have plainly opposed this overlay because it is based on a survey that was not objectively or transparently conducted by last year's SNNA executive board (while this year's SNNA leadership expresses more openness to community feedback, there are holdovers from last year's board). I helped found SNNA (8 years ago next month) with the idea of being an inclusive, process-oriented, civil association that involved people in determining government policies that affected them. The survey on which the conservation overlay is based is a total betrayal of that principle.

Until a new, more honest survey is conducted, I cannot support this overlay. And I surely do not believe that the ends (conservation of neighborhood character) justifies the means (trampling on and discarding democratic process). There need not be unanimous buy-in for an overlay, but the process to determine buy-in must be authentic and free from the appearance of bias of the views of the few. As it is this proposal is a farce without due diligence, and I support those who call for starting the process over again with honest and inclusive communication.

For her part, Erica Gilmore responded to my concerns 2 weeks ago:

As always, thanks for your email. I missed you at the meeting. The concerns that you expressed have been expressed by another neighbor or two so the point is well taken of not wanting to ruch [sic] any type of legislation. However, I did want to make you aware that Robin Zeigler at the Historic Commission is more than happy to discuss any questions or concerns that you may have as it relates to the Conservation overlay.

And I as always you can count on me to listen to what your concerns are. At this point, the bill has been filed, but it will probably not come up for first reading at the late February early March so there is plenty time to continue to discuss the concerns you have about the overlay.

I do not understand why the council member would push this ahead without making sure that community buy-in is firm on the front end. I agree with those who argue that it appears that a small number of people are determining this project. If that is true, then I expect what I have seen in the past: the potential for an overlay/rezoning issue to blow up at public hearing.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

URGENT: East Nashville leaders urge Planning Commission meeting attendance today on Midtown rezoning

From an email blast sent out to East Nashvillians earlier today and forwarded to me:

As you may be aware, the Metro Council reached a compromise 4 months ago on the proposed Midtown rezoning (BL2012-195), which maintained the current rules for development in midtown, but also acknowledged that some of those guidelines could change IF if other protections for quality of life were added instead. The Council ordinance, which was unanimously supported by the Council, including every East Nashville councilmember, directed the Planning Department to engage the community and begin the process to resolve these issues before the end of 2013. Midtown, like East Nashville, has a long history of weird commercial development standing next to historic buildings. Getting the design properties right for that area of town is, as Martha says, a good thing.

Specifically, the compromise Council legislation stated the following:

"Be it further enacted that the Metropolitan Planning Department staff shall prepare Urban Design Overlay Zoning Districts (UDOs) to achieve the goals of the Midtown Community Plan Update and other public policy goals. Such UDOs shall provide additional development incentives in exchange for a higher level of building and site design in regard to the provision of additional pedestrian amenities, context sensitive considerations, the provision for work force housing and historic preservation, and other community goals or by the purchase of transfer development rights. The Metropolitan Planning Department staff shall further submit proposed legislation to the Metropolitan Council to provide for the transfer of development rights from historic properties deemed appropriate by the Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission. The Planning Department staff shall prepare such UDO and transfer of development rights legislation, and plans for incentivizing the construction of work force housing to the Metropolitan Council not later than December 3, 2013."

Unfortunately, Metro Planning staff and Councilmember Langster, contrary to the compromise unanimously approved by the Metro Council in BL2012-195, are bringing 163 of the previously proposed 455 acres of property contained in the Midtown rezoning proposal back to the Metro Planning Commission TODAY without any of the design guidelines or other stipulations that were agreed-upon last September.

Why should this matter to you? Because if a single councilmember and the Planning Department can circumvent the unanimous agreement of the rest of the council and ignore the need for public involvement in major rezoning issues in West Nashville, a single councilmember could do that here. Community input matters. One Councilmember should not be able to bully through major changes to our collective rules, on behalf of one or two developers and against the voice of his or her constituents.  I would encourage you, if you're able,  to attend the meeting today at 4:00 p.m. at the Sonny West Conference Center (old Howard School Building on 2nd Avenue) and voice your concerns. You can also e-mail Metro Planning Commissioners at: [unlinked].

Please take a minute to support our neighbors on the other side of the river. There are thoughtful, responsive ways to balance development, historic protections,  and neighborhood interests, but they're best identified with public input and a transparent process.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Whither the MetroCenter levee?

Two years ago reporters were writing about the "what ranks among the most significant levee projects in Davidson County history":

Mike Wilson, Nashville District USACE deputy district engineer for project management, said Wednesday that Mobile, Ala.-based DRC Emergency Services recently was awarded an approximately $1.4 million contract to finish work on the three-mile segment of the MetroCenter levee along the Cumberland River.

“This is one of the, if not the, single-most significant levee improvement projects the corps has overseen in Davidson County,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the main focus is to remove trees from within 15 feet of the toe of the levee, the point at which the sloping face of the levee interfaces with natural elements and intersects the river.

Work on the massive levee, which is made primarily of impervious clay, initially began in 2001 and ran through 2004. Some additional updates have been done since then.

Unless "impervious clay" has a specialized, technical meaning at odds with the common understanding of "impervious" as "impenetrable" or "unaffected by", a look at this video shot on Sunday, May 2, 2010 of deteriorating soil (start at 2:42 for a close up of erosion in process) indicates to this untrained layperson that at least the top layer of this levee was not impervious to large amounts of water:


Lately, I can find no follow-up or other indication in the local news media that the historic project had been finished as per planning. Anyone aware of any follow-up stories on the MetroCenter levee renovations? Via private contractor website, the road was resurfaced. Here is a local blogger who posted last November first-hand descriptions of some of the levee reinforcements.

On a related note, this week the Army Corps of Engineers issued a "presolicitation notice" for private companies to submit bids on more levee repair by March 1, 2013:

The Nashville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to issue an Invitation for Bid (IFB) for a firm fixed price construction contract for slope repairs to the Metro Center Levee ....

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The scope of this project is to repair and reinforce a section of levee embankment and clear an area of vegetation located at Metro Center .... The landward side of the levee has settled in the direction of a chain link fence which belongs to an adjacent property owner. The project includes excavation, installation of a gabion retaining wall, placing fill, clearing, grubbing, seeding, and an erosion control to be cleared and grubbed is approximately 320 feet in length and is located on the riverward side of the levee.

Any other links you know of on the progress of this project would be greatly appreciated by those of us who live near the levee.

UPDATE: Related article: Deficient Levees Found Across America

Nashville Scene blogger drawing criticism from other quarters

SouthComm's Betsy Phillips catches some more heat today for her brand of blogging at Pith in the Wind:

I think the point is that using one medium to critique another is an excercise in non-sequiturs.  Which is not to say that there aren’t some people who can write eloquently and informatively about music, just as I am sure there are plenty who know what they are talking about when they write about architecture.  But whoever it was who described Nashville’s new Convention Center as “the Christmas sweater of buildings” either does not have a particularly deep grasp of the subject matter – or has just never been inside the place.

While the style of the Music City Center does not suit my personal taste (which is a diplomatic way of saying it strikes me as hackneyed and unattractive in a big-boxed way), I'm much more concerned about its lack of long-range vision (in not including mixed-use development on such a large plot) and its inaccessibility for most Nashvillians who cannot or will not pay the price of admission (hence, its dedication to tourists and out-of-towners and the wealthy money changers who collect their tributes).

Attractive or not, we are stuck with this monument to a convention center industry on the wane, a structure that only marginally connects to life in Nashville. And we are stuck with it for decades. How will it look to Nashville in 20 years?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Nashville City Paper missed the memo

I have already posed questions about the quality of Andrea Zelinski's recent interview with StudentsFirst zealot Michelle Rhee. But for the sake of fact-checking the City Paper reporter let's compare and contrast her observations about Rhee being relocated to Tennessee to those of Anthony Cody, a public education advocate who lives on the West Coast.

First, Zelinki:

A Tennessee transplant, she is turning her attention to schools in her new state.

The polarizing former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor heads up StudentsFirst, an education reform organization she founded just as she began setting roots in the Volunteer State. The group has already handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to state-level political campaigns and a handful of local elections here, positioning itself as a force to be reckoned with.

Next, Cody:

Michelle Rhee has made her home in Sacramento, ever since she married the city's mayor, former basketball player Kevin Johnson. Since landing here, she has been working to expand the influence of her lobbying group, StudentsFirst. Last fall, a school board member resigned in nearby West Sacramento, too late to be replaced in the fall election. School board members appointed a replacement, but an ally of Kevin Johnson, West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon, mounted a campaign to force a special election, which will cost of $100,000. And guess who is running to fill the seat? Francisco Castillo, an employee of none other than StudentsFirst.

Local school board races used to be small town affairs. But recently, as money has flowed into education reform across the country, we have seen local races take on national significance. And StudentsFirst clearly cares about the outcome of this local election, right in Michelle Rhee's back yard.

Zelinski might have been able to clear up the confusion had she been willing to ask Rhee to clarify whether she is a Californian or a Tennessean or both rather than running with the "Tennessee transplant" lede headlong into her interview. As things stand, I'm not convinced that she is transplanted here at all.

Thanks, SouthComm, for inducing more disarray into local perceptions in education reform.

Middle Tennessee's own Jim Cooper votes with Republicans, against hurricane victims

Nashville's Jim Cooper turns away from Rockaway (NYC)
So, Congress's response to the disaster along the east coast caused by Hurricane Sandy has been late and limping, very much unlike their response to Middle Tennessee in 2010 after our "1,000 year" flood. I fully expected most of the Republicans and maybe a few lunkhead Democrats to kick some recovering northeasterners while they are down.

But take a look at the identity of the only Democrat to vote against relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy:

A very big thing happened last night in the House of Representatives. For the second time this month, Boehner broke the Hastert Rule. The issue was Hurricane Sandy relief, a follow-up vote to a smaller package approved earlier this month. It passed, but the important thing is how it passed:

Yeas: 241 (192 Democrats, 49 Republicans)
Nays: 180 (Rep. Jim Cooper + 179 Republicans)

For his part, Congressman Cooper issued a press release:

Congress should make at least some effort to pay for a portion of disaster relief. I voted for federal aid for Nashville flood recovery in 2010, and that bill was partially paid for. So were the Hurricane Katrina bills I supported. And Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Wilma, and Hurricane Ivan, and Hurricane Isabel. Why can’t we find even partial offsets for Sandy?

Yesterday’s votes came during a national budget crisis while America is officially out of money.

Jim Cooper is so set on "fixing" Congress and the national debt that he is willing to cast a symbolic vote against the welfare of one-time disaster victims. Okay. So, he got to send his message of fiscal responsibility and dealing with deficits one more time. How is that supposed to help someone whose life has been arbitrarily destroyed by a historic hurricane? Seriously. He cannot make any exceptions in extreme cases to his pay-as-you-go rule?

A couple of years ago, Mr. Cooper went ballistic when the Army Corps of Engineers chose not to produce a report on Nashville's 2010 flooding due to budget considerations. In another press release he said:

This is completely unacceptable. I am stunned the Corps doesn't feel it is necessary to investigate their response to a multi-billion dollar disaster.  The people of Middle Tennessee deserve answers.

This shows a serious lack of accountability and leadership at the Corps.

So, when the Corps makes a decision not to spend money on the Nashville flood follow-up due to budget considerations, it is "unacceptable".  However, Mr. Cooper voting not to support federal aid for stricken eastern seaboard communities based on budget considerations is acceptable. Using budget considerations as a strict rule obviously cuts both ways.

The precedent for federal aid to disaster victims, as he points out, has already been set. Using the budget crisis as an excuse for neglect of nature's latest victims looks like he is treating them as a means to serve his own ends in Washington. Heaven forbid Jim Cooper let human suffering stand in the way of his Blue Dog Beltway axioms.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A largely forgotten Southern history

Myles Horton & Paulo Freire at Tennessee's
Highlander Folk School. Highlander was
an organizational midwife to the
Civil Rights Movement.
I am a recovering electoral politics nerd, so I am less interested in what The New Yorker's George Packer has to say this week about the slipping grip the South has on partisan brinksmanship in Washington than I am in his comments on broader cultural politics:

Solidity has always been the South’s strength, and its weakness. The same Southern lock that once held the Democratic Party now divides the Republican Party from the socially liberal, fiscally moderate tendencies of the rest of America. The Southern bloc in the House majority ... has no chance of enacting an agenda, and it’s unlikely to produce a nationally popular figure.

As its political power declines, the South might occupy a place like Scotland’s in the United Kingdom, as a cultural draw for the rest of the country, with a hint of the theme park. Country music and nascar remain huge ....

Southern political passions have always been rooted in sometimes extreme ideas of morality, which has meant, in recent years, abortion and school prayer. But there is a largely forgotten Southern history, beyond the well-known heroics of the civil-rights movement, of struggle against poverty and injustice, led by writers, preachers, farmers, rabble-rousers, and even politicians, speaking a rich language of indignation. The region is not entirely defined by Jim DeMint, Sam Walton, and the Tide’s A J McCarron. It would be better for America as well as for the South if Southerners rediscovered their hidden past and took up the painful task of refashioning an identity that no longer inspires their countrymen.

In the gaps that open between doctrinaire red-state conservatives and torpid social progressives there is an understated legacy of left-wing populism in the South that needs to be rekindled for the sake of social change regardless of who has control of Congress.

A local reporter interviews Michelle Rhee and fails to clear a bar set for her by a colleague

Last October local SouthComm blogger Betsy Phillips introduced new SouthComm reporter Andrea Zelinski in an interesting way. Yes, full disclosure counsels that Phillips' wrote some "homer" PR fluff on behalf of the news corp she blogs for. So, take the cheers with a grain of salt and then verify for yourselves. And yes, it is remarkable that Phillips dropped a double-edged sword of praise for Zelinski qua woman (saying males "don't really know a lot about the reality of women's lives" even as she also argued that women's issues are not different than issues, like jobs, that concern males). Yes, it can be argued that Phillips takes away with one hand what she gave with the other.

Those questions are not nearly as interesting in the wake of Zelinski's recent interview with lightning-rod education reformer Michelle Rhee. Move to Phillips' conclusion, where she sets a soaring bar for Zelinski's work to be judged by: she insists that Zelinski may help "fix" the problem of reporters who "play into the way politicians frame their arguments".

Given the track record of collusion of reporters and the communications machinery of politics (evinced by the lateral professional pipeline between news and PR), such an achievement would be a dizzying prospect for Zelinski or any other journo.

Having granted that, I'm not sure she came close to the bar in her Rhee interview. Rhee, a politician in her own right, was permitted, nearly invited, to frame the arguments on her own terms.

Start with national public education advocate Diane Ravitch, who read Zelinski's interview and blogged on it. Ravitch's analysis suggests to me that Rhee effectively framed her argument without follow-up or challenge from Zelinski:

The story describes her thus: “A Tennessee transplant, she is turning her attention to schools in her new state.” It also refers to the “roots” she is “setting” in Nashville. Apparently, she never told the reporter that she lives in Sacramento, not Nashville. She describes herself as a “public school parent” because one of her daughters attends public school in Nashville. But she did not acknowledge that her older daughter goes to an excellent private school, Harpeth Hall School (“Nashville, TN’s only independent, college-preparatory school for girls, grades 5-12”).

One can hardly blame her for choosing Harpeth Hall. It has an 8:1 student/teacher ratio, with a median class size of 13. Class sizes in public schools in Nashville and other cities are much, much larger.

I bet that Harpeth Hall does not give standardized tests and does not evaluate teachers based on their students’ test scores.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Michelle Rhee became an advocate for small class size, and for the same goals and purposes for all children that she wants for her own child?

So, Zelinski did not do much to challenge Rhee's framing her brand as a Tennessee public school parent. In fact, Zelinski's primary follow-up on the question of Rhee's children was framed as "public or charter", not "public, charter or Harpeth Hall". If we apply Betsy Phillips' own standard about challenging dominant framing of issues and values, Zelinski lobbed no critical questions that would have basically challenged Rhee's frame job.

Where Rhee actually lives and her status as a private and a public school parent are both critical points that deserve follow-up questions by any reporter, man or woman. Either the reporter did not know that information or she chose (or was editorially prompted) not to disclose that information and follow-up accordingly.

In the end, to what "different perspective" (Phillips' term) does Zelinski's interview allude?

Zelinski describes Rhee in nearly favorable terms that the latter would probably not disagree with: "an icon of the education reform movement .... [who] pushed to hold teachers more accountable for students’ performance, busted open the doors of school choice and shaken up the education establishment." The framing here is ridiculously uncritical and by no means distinctive.

Loaded, but unpacked reform vernacular like "teacher accountability", "student performance", "school choice", and "education establishment" is hardly neutral. In fact--without acknowledging exaltation of standardized testing, without analyzing the actual choices framed by privatization and without observing that the education establishment is bankrolled by corporate philanthropy and massive government funding influenced by campaign finance--this interview is biased toward education reformers like Rhee.

Zelinski's interview comes on the heels of a PBS Frontline documentary that shows Rhee, having invited cameras into an exit interview with a principal, unprofessionally firing that principal as the video rolls. Zelinski could have raised questions about the impropriety, if not the viciousness of that, but instead, the reporter herself frames Rhee's mean behavior more favorably in a general sense: "she's thrown a few elbows". Educators losing their jobs in humiliatingly publicized fashion is hardly analogous to getting whacked on the basketball court. I still struggle to see the "different perspective" Betsy Phillips tells us Zelinski will be bringing to SouthComm reporting.

In fairness to Zelinski, Rhee is a tough cookie, a veteran of news interviews who knows how to dodge land mines. When Frontline sent Rhee some follow-up questions based on a principal who claimed to have witnessed school employees erasing and changing test answers after students turned them in, Rhee simply did not reply to PBS reporters. So, if Zelinski had asked more critical questions that actually challenged Rhee's dominant framing of her reputation, Rhee might have refused the interview.

But that still leaves the problem of the lofty bar set for Zelinski in the first place. If Rhee would not allow Zelinski to ask probing questions that might actually challenge her framing of education reform, then Zelinski cannot help but ask the questions she did, and those questions (to use Betsy Phillips own word) "played" uncritically to Rhee's advantage.

The bar had simply been set too high.

UPDATE: At her personal blog, Betsy Phillips responds to this post. I have two three replies:

  • Phillips never lifts a finger to answer the primary question of my post: what "different perspective" did reporter Andrea Zelinski bring to the Michelle Rhee interview that helped her refuse to "play" into Rhee's framing of the education reform issue? For Phillips to maintain that she was merely supporting another woman is disingenuous. She made a specific claim: that Zelinski would conduct herself differently as a woman when faced with the framing behavior of powerful people. The question still stands: where is the difference in the Rhee interview?
  • Phillips speculates that I see conspiracies in women "writing positively" about other women. First, I do not. What I am responding to on a material level is branding of the SouthComm product; what I am responding to on a less tangible level is the predisposed tone of SouthComm writing. I previously posted on that predisposed tone regarding the writing of one of Phillips' other colleagues (who is male) on the subject of education reform. Likewise, when Phillips blogs under the Pith in the Wind masthead, particularly when she showcases the work of other SouthComm writers (as has been the established practice at Pith for years) the writing has a marketing life of its own. Why else does Pith exist, but to promote the brand? Second, why is it acceptable that, when a critic observes continuity between the writing and the brand, s/he is opened to charges of conspiracy? (And outsiders are not total dolts. We know that writers, editors and reporters inside news companies interact with one another agree on their own frames of interpretation). By the way, at least one local journo (who is male) has responded to similar criticism with the same hyperbole that they are not told what to write. As I explained two years ago, the brand is not a bunch of disjointed pieces wrenching themselves away from each other. There is organizational and interpretive cohesion. Hence, it is legitimate to judge the SouthComm news brand as a whole. That does not mean I see black helicopters.
  • Phillips seems to resort to passive-aggressive criticism over my use of the term "tough cookie" in describing an all grown up Michelle Rhee who influences policy at a national level. It was a nice try on Phillips' part, but she failed to add that the context in which I used the term "tough cookie" is an all grown up one: Rhee is a veteran who dodges land mines. There is nothing symbolically childlike or diminutive about that metaphor. On the contrary, in that context, "tough cookie" means hard-nosed, strategic, battle-wise. Phillips, who concedes she has her own agenda, seems to be reading a gender agenda that I do not have into my observations of Rhee.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Local news scraper/occasional blog falls silent for months

We local observers who stick out the vagaries of online publishing (especially gratis blogging) know full well that it is a rather transient endeavor, a field-in-flux where efforts disappear as quickly as they emerge. Local, popular website Nashvillest, which aggregated local news and marketed deals for consumers daily for several years, appears to have fallen silent for the last 6 months. I do not know whether the project has been shuttered and shelved, and I could not find anything online to clarify the status of Nashvillest is at this point in time.

Given the push in pro journalism to emphasize "local coverage" (the quality of which is open to debate) especially via reporters' social media and to aggregate local coverage on news media sites, I'm not surprised that Nashvillest has ground to a halt. News corporations generally co-opt everything. We will see if the break is permanent if its founders, Morgan Levy and Christy Frink, ever make public comment.

Nashvillest played a positive role at trying times. Other times, they left something to be desired. One thing I will absolutely not miss about them if they have called it quits is their failure to acknowledge the community that I have blogged about for nearly a decade:

North Nashville neighborhoods did not exist at Nashvillest

I totally get that a lot of energy (and money) flows west-to-east in this city. But if the Nashvillest authors made an effort to list South Nashville, how could they logically fail to list North Nashville on their site? When news scrapers ignore news in certain neighborhoods, they render the happenings in those communities invisible. On the flip side, websites like Nashvillest prove to be irrelevant for North Nashville when they ignore us.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Draft of the Salemtown Conservation Overlay proposal is online

Jump to the draft. (If you have problems opening the document, keep trying. Metro has been revising their website).

I'm hearing that developers are not happy with this (in other news, dog bites man!), and I understand that CM Erica Gilmore met this week with leaders at the the Historic Zoning Commission to talk about shrinking the boundaries of the participating property owners in response to the opposition.

I'm not opposed to overlays as such, but I'm not happy with the inappropriate mess that was the 2012 survey to collect the community's feedback on this overlay proposal.

I welcome your thoughts and questions in the comment section below after you read the draft. Unlike some, I'm an advocate for transparency in gathering feedback on this proposal.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Overlay communication more shoddy than I thought

I already posted on the poor communication of last Monday's conservation overlay meeting, given its impact on our neighborhood. Since then I have looked over the notice more closely and found what appears to be an error in the boundaries (noted below with red underline):

Monroe Street is in the heart of Germantown, 2 or 3 blocks from the southern border of Salemtown.

Area between Monroe & Hume already overlaid
Germantown already has a historic overlay, which was sponsored by CM Gilmore in 2007 and approved by the Metro Council in 2008. It includes many properties from Hume south to Monroe (the largest of which are the Werthan footprint and Morgan Park). So, extending a conservation overlay into Germantown to include properties already protected more stringently with a historic overlay makes no sense. Doing so seems either redundant or regressive.

I'm going with the simpler explanation here that whoever generated the flyer is responsible for the boner. The mere fact that CM Gilmore is listed as the "Host" does not mean that she produced it, and I'm guessing that the the persons responsible for producing it (and throwing it late on my porch) are the leaders of "Salemtown Works". Last February one of those officers sent out erroneous information about a development at 6th and Garfield, mistakenly referring to their style as "Baltimore brownstone".

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


When last we saw former "progressive" council member Erik Cole, he was having what looked like a celebratory dinner with Hizzoner and facing questions about his "grassroots" efforts to help the Mayor pass a budget. That capped a council track record of carrying the Mayor's water and polishing his apples and running media interference at Dean critics (including comparing, and speciously so, the banal project of building a new convention center with Civil Rights Movement nobility).

"Fealty with love .... Disloyalty with vengeance."
Now Mayor Karl Dean is showing how important unquestioning loyalty is to him by hiring Mr. Cole to run a new office funded by a foundation connected to controversial New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. No word on whether Mayor Dean held a formal job search and interviews with multiple candidates, but that is not the MO (including the previous hiring of Mr. Cole's wife to a prominent post in his office).

After Mr. Cole tottled off the public service radar at the beginning of last fall, I let drop my own questions about his leadership of a "grassroots" organization to support the Mayor that seemed primarily funded by the Mayor (Cole has yet to divulge Moving Nashville Forward's donor list). Now that he is back with the administration, and set up to work on future Dean campaign efforts, I believe it is entirely fair to pose questions again: what happened in Moving Nashville Forward that prompted such a lack of transparency on Mr. Cole's part?

A carnival of contrasting perceptions of Nashville's Mayor in the wake of the NYT's "Nashville Itself"

Consider the analysis of New York Times southern bureau chief, Kim Severson, looking at Mayor Karl Dean with hindsight and outside-in in 2012:
Mr. Dean, a former city lawyer who became mayor in 2007 and led the city’s recovery from historic floods in 2010, said the [new convention center] project, which got under way during the recession, has been a fight every step of the way. “The gains for the city are real and tangible,” he said.
My observations and reflections on the Mayor's involvement in 2010:
I distinctly remember the Mayor laying low and putting news conferences and non-profits like Hands on Nashville...between himself and the relief effort. HoN did a lot of good, but it also took a lot of heat from some of us that Hizzoner chose not to face ....

Even as East Nashvillians mobilized 1,500 volunteers on their own to rescue neighbors and bring relief to their community, they watched Metro resources head west. Karl Dean may be Tennessean of the Year at 1100 Broadway, but he had very little impact at Moss Rose or near McFerrin Park outside of photo-op appearances when ... he decided to shed his "businesslike" style to get out and walk the neighborhoods ....

I watched TV reports of volunteers and Metro officials streaming into West Nashville, but then I drove Bordeaux neighborhoods that had huge piles of debris stacked at the curbs with no volunteers or Metro officials in sight. We took a car load of food and supplies to an Egyptian Coptic Christian community in South Nashville, where we saw few relief workers from Metro or Metro's non-profit contractors. It seemed like Metro-lead relief arrived late to and left early from poorer northern and southern neighborhoods ....

Less than a week after the 1,000-year flood, Karl Dean was on NPR whitewashing the destruction by claiming that 80-90% of Nashville was "untouched" by the disaster in an attempt to maximize future tourism revenue. It bears asking at this point: if only 10-20% of the city was "touched" by floods, why was the Mayor's performance heroic enough to be lauded as "Tennessean of the Year"?

That was 2010. Today local pastor Jay Voorhees blogged his own views of the Mayor's seeming blindness to disposable people with no power in the wake of the Music City Center construction:
For all of the hopes of some of my progressive friends back when he was elected, Mayor Karl Dean has had a dismal record of failure when it comes to dealing with the issue of homelessness in Nashville. One would think as a former public defender that he would have some sense of the issue and some of the needs of that community. Yet, outside of some basic lip service, Mayor Dean has not seemed particularly interested in the social safety net side of governmental services, and certainly not the challenges of the homeless community. In the days after the 2010 floods the mayor’s office was noticeably missing in trying to address the needs of the former tent city residents, leaving the question of how to deal with this population to a set of dedicated volunteers and clergy. The Metro Homelessness Commission has languished during the Dean administration, some of which can be attributed to its members, but part of which is reflective of a mayor who is more concerned with creating new business opportunities than assisting those who are down and out.

Those comments are consistent with my perception that Hizzoner may not really care about people who do not have campaign cash to give or influence to lever. No doubt the MCC will provide a lot of wealth for a few tourism industry big shots to hoard without regard for Nashville's outcasts. To her credit at least Times journo Severson touches on some of the local perception of Karl Dean's benign neglect, even as the bare mention does not scratch the surface of the challenges Nashville faces:
“People are too smug about how fortunate we are now,” said the Southern journalist John Egerton, 77, who has lived in Nashville since the 1970s.

“We ought to be paying more attention to how many people we have who are ill-fed and ill-housed and ill-educated,” he said.

The paradox here is that the local social media (as well as the news media) that I see is running with smugness about the New York Times piece and its ingratiating airbrush of Music City. Instead of revealing something insightful--nay human--about Nashville, the piece is just another arrow in the branding quiver of self-conscious marketers and neurotic hand-wringers regarding Nashville's "image". Karl Dean and the journalistic tributes that continue to follow him will one day be gone and Nashville will be left with some stubborn facts about who is in and who is out in this city. We continue to deny those facts at risk of our own self-delusion.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

CRIME ALERT: Woman stabbed last week near Bicentennial Mall

From NewsChannel5 (no updates from Metro Police on their website in almost a week):

A homeless woman was stabbed near Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park on Wednesday morning.

Police were called to the scene off James Robertson Parkway around 8 a.m.

Laura Wilson was the one who called 911.

"I work here at the Farmers' Market and I was driving to work and I was driving the roundabout at Bicentennial Mall, she flagged me down and covered in blood and obviously upset," said Wilson.

The woman got into her car, and the witness drove to the Farmers' Market where police were called. The victim was believed to have just left the nearby Rescue Mission.

Police said the woman had been approached by a man she had seen previously in the area and he demanded sex at knifepoint. When she refused, he stabbed her and fled on foot toward 3rd Avenue.

The victim was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center by ambulance where she was treated and released. Her identity was not released.

Officials described the man wanted in this crime as a black man between 30 and 40 years old, with no facial hair, 5' 8" with a stocky build, and solid black hair. At the time of the crime he was wearing dark parts and a white coat.

I used to get alerts on crime from the Salemtown association. They do not seem to be communicating these much any more.

If by "redefining" he means "not growing any more waist-high weeds on their vacant lots" then, yes, the developers have redefined Salemtown

Journo William Williams published a puff piece for realtors a few days ago on the new development at 6th and Garfield, and he gushes that developers are "redefining Salemtown". I continue to be skeptical about Mr. Williams' grasp on our neighborhood as I have for years.

The current designs attached to his article do not look much different than those that stirred up controversy last year on the Salemtown Neighbors online discussion group. I do take solace in the fact that, now that the developer has broken ground and is laying foundations, he won't be allowing weeds to grow to ridiculous heights as had been allowed on the property in 2012.

Monday, January 07, 2013

When did you find out about tonight's conservation overlay meeting in Salemtown? Me? 48 hours ago.

In just a few hours Metro Council member Erica Gilmore and a couple of representatives from the Metro Historical Commission will be meeting with some residents from Salemtown to discuss the important question of a conservation overlay for the neighborhood. Why am I just now blogging this meeting? Why won't I be going? Because I just found out about it the day before yesterday when someone tossed an announcement flyer on our porch.

Note to event organizers: expecting stakeholders to show up to an important meeting with 2-day-lead notice is impractical (unless organizers actually do not want certain stakeholders to show up; in that case, poor communication would be self-serving).

There is background to tonight's meeting. Last April the Salemtown neighborhood association's president Molly McCluer and SNNA's executive committee generated a slanted survey straining the limits of objectivity. Tonight's meeting, billed as "hosted by" CM Gilmore, is based on the results of that survey, so I felt it necessary to send an email this morning to CM Gilmore to wit:

Someone tossed a flyer on our porch on Saturday, January 5 with the announcement of a community meeting tonight regarding a conservation overlay proposal for Salemtown. I will not be able to attend because the news was communicated late to me. The manner in which the news was communicated to me is also troubling, given that the flyer could have easily blown off our porch altogether.

At this point I oppose a conservation overlay for Salemtown, because of the way the April 2012 survey on this question was conducted by former SNNA president Molly McCluer and the association's 2012 executive board. In my opinion, an honest survey on the overlay should have asked stakeholders straightforwardly whether they supported or opposed the question on its merits. Instead, the conservation overlay question was "double-loaded" in the survey with a separate proposal for mixed-use zoning along with insinuations of getting a coffee house or a nail salon as a result. Hence, this survey seemed to me to be a push poll that linked attractive small businesses and mixed-use with conservation overlay, even though there is no necessary link between boutiques, coffee houses and mixed-use; and, to suggest such a link between specific businesses and a conservation overlay, is even more farfetched. In sum I believe that the survey could have created false impressions about the overlay and improperly influenced the votes of some in Salemtown.

I also believe that the survey reduced conservation overlay to a trojan horse in order to allow what had been a push by last year's SNNA executive board to seek preemptive mixed-use rezoning for large sections of Salemtown absent any specific mixed-use requests by developers (alleviating prospective developers of the obligation of public hearings for each mixed-use plan they have). If the conservation overlay proposal that you intend to discuss tonight is the result of the flawed survey, I continue to have concerns that cause me to speak against the proposal. A conservation overlay should not serve as a tool for implementing preemptive mixed use to sections of Salemtown.

I am not opposed to mixed use in general. I have supported a number of mixed-use proposals. Hopefully, you will remember at the most recent community meeting at Morgan Park, I expressed to you personally strong support for the rezoning of the Werthan Packing property to allow residential and commercial. I am also not opposed to conservation overlay proposals in general. Indeed, we have explored this possibility several times since we moved to Salemtown in 2004 and we have discussed it with neighbors since we helped found SNNA in 2005.

I wish I could tell you that I support this overlay proposal, but I am troubled by how the survey on which it was founded was conducted, and at this point I am inclined to oppose it and I reserve the right to speak against it publicly if necessary. The fact that information about tonight's meeting was so irresponsibly and carelessly communicated to me--a Salemtown resident with honest reservations about it--is consistent with the slapdash and biased April 2012 survey. I was on the 2012 SNNA executive committee for a short time last year before the survey was generated, and I was struck by how my questions seemed unwelcome even then.

One curious addendum to this event: association minutes of the October 2012 business meeting report that one of the historical commission leaders who will be at tonight's meeting "took a bus tour with developers around the neighborhood to discuss criteria". I guess common residents were not invited. But that seemed to be standard operation for last year's association leadership: preferential treatment for and exclusive meetings with developers and realtors; a survey for the rest of us.

If my council member follows up, I'll update.

UPDATE: Here is response I got from my CM


As always, thanks for your email. I missed you at the meeting. The concerns that you expressed have been expressed by another neighbor or two so the point is well taken of not wanting to ruch any type of legislation. However, I did want to make you aware that Robin Zeigler at the Historic Commission is more than happy to discuss any questions or concerns that you may have as it relates to the Conservation overlay.

And I as always you can count on me to listen to what your concerns are. At this point, the bill has been filed, but it will probably not come up for first reading at the late February early March so there is plenty time to continue to discuss the concerns you have about the overlay.

Kind regards,

Erica Gilmore
Council Lady District 19
1022 10th Avenue N
Nashville, TN 37208