Thursday, February 13, 2014

Racism and the "stage-managed narrative" in transit and ballpark plans

Last year I gave Metro Councilmember Scott Davis a pass on his view that a new east-west bus rapid transit line would help "low-income residents" in his district even as it won't help the same classes in North Nashville. Based on the opinions of poli sci professor, Sekou Franklin, maybe I should not have been so quick to concede CM Davis's boosterific points for "the Amp".

Dr. Franklin's recent column is a scathing reflection on the transit injustice wrought by MTA and Karl Dean's administration and the minions supporting "the Amp":

...Amp advocates, backed by the mayor’s office and Metro Transit Authority officials, selectively picked winners and losers for the project. They relied on flawed data, steered federal civil rights officers away from studying North Nashville bus routes and backed zoning changes to boost the appearance of higher ridership in the West End corridor, which stands to benefit the most from the Amp.

The pro-Amp group’s East Nashville angle also has been an insincere attempt to inoculate itself from racial and civil rights scrutiny. Pro-Amp advocates claim that Amp terminals east of the river will help working-class blacks, when in reality, they are located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. The project could actually accelerate the displacement of blacks who still remain in the Main Street-Five Points area.

The Amp debate also has exposed how Nashville’s leading officials exploit the politics of race while lacking any real commitment to systemic racial inequities. Similar to the debate about the Sulphur Dell ballpark, Amp supporters have brought attention to distressed communities and African-Americans, but only to bolster a stage-managed narrative of Chamber of Commerce boosterism — a narrative that is not intended to help African-Americans or distressed communities, but meant to convince urban pioneers that Nashville is the premier Southeast destination.

The irony is that the so-called distressed neighborhoods for both projects (Germantown for Sulphur Dell and Main Street-Five Points for the Amp) are places where working-class African-Americans are being pushed out in record numbers.

In both cases (a new ballpark and the east-west connector) development for the business sector has taken priority over residential interests and social justice. Metro Nashville does not seem committed to balanced, smart and sustainable growth, but seems more bound to a malignant growth that devours quality of life and historic communities. The scales are tipped toward money and power. If you don't have much like the predominantly white Courthouse class does, then you are only in the way.

The truly sad part for me personally, is that there does not seem to be a critical mass of people organized at the grassroots who care enough to speak up for equity in development and in mass transit. The opponents who do speak out are ignored, pigeonholed and marginalized, even by North Nashville council members who are supposed to represent them.


  1. Good grief.

    As much as I will take what is written in that article as true, the line about the Stop Amp activisits and much of their angst being based on having undesirables in their neighborhoods is horses**t. Dr. Franklin took a literal poop on his article with that paragraph.

    People who live in West End neighborhoods don't fear black and/or poor people riding the Amp out past 440. I suppose the theory Dr. Franklin has in his mind has people riding the Amp and then getting off, on foot, and traveling through the neighborhoods causing problems. That's all well and good (and possible, too), but right now, today, those same people can drive to the same locations and do the same things and easily hop on 440 to esape. Escaping on the Amp, rather than via automobile, seems to be a big enough impediment to this nefarious plan that only the stupidest undesirable would do such a thing. Those people, we are not afraid of.

    Know also that the roads in those neighborhoods are all connected; there are few cul-de-sacs like you'll find in areas looking to limit mobility or access. Whitland and Richland invite the city to their neighborhoods for home tours, July 4th parades, and Halloween trick-or-treating.

    After thinking about it, I'm insulted by Franklin's paragraph about the Stop Amp people. Insulted enough that I am suspect of the rest of his thoughts regarding the issue. Poor form, Dr. Franklin. Play the race card more carefully in the future.

  2. Full disclosure: I work with the Stop AMP group. While it has the same issues most volunteer organizations have--it's disorganized, not particularly well-funded, and suffers from "the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing" syndrome, I can assure you that racism is NOT part of the agenda.

    First, there is already bus service along the entire route. The AMP will not increase access to west Nashville--it already exists, and the stops are much more convenient. Every Stop AMPer I know is IN FAVOR OF implementing either a BRT light system along the route or increasing the frequency and otherwise improving regular bus service.

    In short, it's the dedicated bus lanes down the middle of the street we object to. They're expensive, impractical.

    The AMP is also stupidly designed. The stops west of 440, with the exception of the Elmington stop, are in downright stupid locations. Who wants to drive 2 blocks down Bosley Springs Avenue to park and catch a bus? The St. Thomas stop makes no sense in terms of pedestrian access or as a terminus for a major transit corridor. It's not even close enough to the 3 Belle Meade grocery stores to be truly helpful.

    Some StopAMPers oppose the AMP because they oppose government spending. I'm in favor of government spending on things that make sense--public transit that serves the people who need it most (most people on the AMP route have a minimum of 3 cars--they clearly DON'T need it); higher teacher salaries, inviting buildings, smaller classes, and serious early foreign language training in public schools; and (yes) universal healthcare through a single-payer plan (I want a less "rich" version of Medicare extended to every American, including the elderly, who would sacrifice some Cadillac benefits in order to help ensure future generations have access to basic, preventive and catastrophic healthcare that won't bankrupt them and their families).

    The AMP is the equivalent of pouring money under the foundation of that parking garage the AMPers plan to build at St. Thomas. There will be no real return on that investment. The AMP will be a liability for Nashville for years to come, threatening the development of more sensible, cost-effective, less developer-directed and more community directed public transit--which we badly need.

    Does this sound racist? Anon3

  3. "Whitland and Richland invite the city to their neighborhoods for home tours, July 4th parades, and Halloween trick-or-treating"

    Richland stopped having their Home Tour last year. I don't ever recall a July 4th parade in Richland, and they hire private security for their Halloween trick or treating

  4. Okay, Mike, we agree that Richland had home tours. They were discontinued after the flood. I'm not sure the discontinuance of the home tour discredits my point. The security for Halloween is for safety reasons. A kid was hit by a car a few years ago and, after that, security was hired.

    Although you copy-and-pasted "Whitland," you must have forgetten to read the word. They have the parade. There were also movies in Elmington Park that were, generally, received as a good thing for the neighborhood and city, itself. The park itself, of course, is another sub-area of the neighborhoods in question that is open to all. I'll add McCabe Golf Course to the area, too, as evidence of embracing the entire population of Nashville (although McCabe is in Sylvan Park and on the fringes of Cherokee Park).

    So, Mike Peden, I'm not sure why you posted. Is your intention to support the thesis that inhabitants of those neighborhoods have racial and class animus that makes them dislike the Amp?

    Or, is your motivation for posting to nitpick around the edges, without knowing much about what you are talking about, all the while implying something you don't want to come out and say?

    1. If you choose to live in an all white neighborhood you should not be surprised that you are perceived as racist. The flood is not the reason the home tour was canceled - it was canceled because no one wanted to open their home to "strangers". And your argument that you give candy to the black children at Halloween only makes the perception worse - especially when you require security guards when you do it

  5. Anon3 - the Elmington stop looks like it is in such a place that riders who park at Elmington Park will have to cross Bowling and then go out into West End. That may be overanalyzing a dot on a map on web page, but it sure looks that way. In that case, I would add the Elmington stop to be one that is also in a "downright stupid location." If the stop is right out in front of the West End Church of Christ, that would avert the crossing of Bowling Avenue for riders. If you know, please advise so I don't keep punching at ghosts.

    1. Anonymous, you are correct. AMP stops in the areas with dedicated lanes will be located in the middle of the street. This also qualifies as a "downright stupid location" for elderly and handicapped people AND parents with small children). Which brings me to another downright stupid thing about the AMP. Since the stops aren't located at regular intersections, MTA will be installing new pedestrian traffic lights at each stop (except the ones in the 20% of the route without dedicated lanes). MTA will install a light at Elmington so people can get to that AMP stop. My understanding is that either TDOT or Metro had previously rejected requests for a stop light at Elmington because it will obstruct traffic getting onto and off 440. But...AMP uber alles, right? Plus, can you imagine the impact of 9 to 10 new pedestrian traffic lights on a corridor that already has too many lights and a traffic light synchronization problem? Finally, putting dedicated lanes west of 440 will require the exercise of about 8 feet of eminent domain on either side of the street. I'm not sure how the condo complex that butts right up against the sidewalk will fare, but my guess is the poor bastards directly across from that setback violator will get the whole 16 feet taken out of their front lawn. Anon3

  6. CM Scott Davis kisses the mayor's butt every time he speaks. East Nashville could do so much better. I don't think that he is smart enough to realize that Karl Dean is playing him like a fiddle and using him to accelerate gentrification in both East and North Nashville.

  7. Karl Dean wants Nashville to become a world class city. He wants more college educated professionals to choose to live in Nashville. I've lived here for over 10 years and have seen Nashville become a place where out of state (and in state for that matter) go to Vanderbilt, Fisk, Belmont...etc...get thier degrees and then promptly move to another city. "Brain drain" was almost a given. With the rise of the popularity of city living, "gentrification" is a natural process (in any city). When more people with more money and education move into a location, they are going to invest that money and knowledge back into the community (White, Black, Latino, Asian etc whoever). Downtown Nashville has been so sorely neglected over the years (in favor of suburban growth), that we still have a long ways to go. Unfortunately, after years of this neglect in the citites there is also a difference in cultural opinion. Take for example Main Street in East Nashville (or all of East Nashville for that matter). I've heard many middle class African Americans refer to this area as "The bottom". At the same time, white gentrifiers are buying new construction 100 yards away for 300,000+. You can't really blame Karl Dean for this.

    1. I disagree with your contention that Nashville is suffering a brain drain. I work with a graduate program, and every years I see students from all over the U.S. discover Nashville and decide this is where they want to spend their lives. Nashville does indeed need to improve public transit, but, to continue to attract well-educated people and businesses that provide good jobs, it needs to improve its public schools. THAT should be a first priority.

      In addition, if you're truly concerned about a brain drain, take a look at our homophobic and idiotic state legislature, a governor who flatly refuses to expand our Medicaid program despite the impact on Tennessee hospitals and health care systems, and a state that issues threats to companies like VW that actually WANT to deal with unions.

  8. Although BRT Lite is good, (I have used the Gallatin Rd BRTL since day one) but it has one major drawback: it is only as fast as the rest of traffic and often, esp. during rush hour the Lite is behind schedule.

    Timeliness is the only advantage of dedicated lanes.

    1. So here's the problem with the AMP's "timeliness" claim. AMP stops won't be conveniently located for most people. If you factor in the time it takes you to walk, cycle or drive to and park at an AMP stop, and then the time it takes you to walk to your destination after you get off, the AMP will not be faster than regular bus service for most people. I love a decent walk on a nice day, but if it's 100 degrees, 10 to 20 degrees, snowing, raining or storming, I'd just as soon use a bus with a stop that's nearer to me that stops nearer my destination.

      The AMPers have not only failed to calculate the impact inconveniently located stops will have on AMP ridership, but they discount it with the "eat your vegetables" argument that people need more exercise. Well, of course they do. But they aren't going to go out of their way to get more exercise come rain, snow, sleet or hail just to ride the AMP. That argument is preposterous. Anon3

  9. Editorial note: I am withholding from publication an anonymous comment posted here at 9:02a containing what I interpret to be a homophobic reply to another commenter. If you are reading this and you believe that you posted that comment and want me to explain my exact reasons for not publishing, you can contact me through the "contact me" button in the right-hand column.

    At the very least, you should be accountable by showing your real name, given that it is too easy to take personal swipes at people from a position of anonymity. If you agree to remove or rewrite the portion I find objectionable then I will approve your comment, which had more points to make than the one currently blocking it.

    Most of the time I approve comments on this blog. This is one of those rare occasions where I will not do so without at least one change by the author of the 9:02a comment. If I misinterpreted your point, I invite you to explain to me what you really meant off this site.

  10. It wasn't homophobic in intention; simply crude. I think you interpreted my point correctly - Mike Peden's charge of racism is b.s.

    I don't have the post in draft form. Publishing or not re-publishing is your call. Let the point stand that Mike Peden doesn't know what he is talking about.