Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Reevaluating Salemtown's "Future Needs"

Eight years ago in the run-up to Metro Council elections I surveyed what were in my opinion Salemtown's "future needs" that deserved Metro government attention. I did not just pull these needs out of the air. I read planning documents that had been put together with the community feedback of residents of Salemtown. Then I picked ones that I thought were realistic and realizable in one or two council terms.

Now that we are in another council election year, I want to go back and reevaluate whether those needs have been addressed or not.

  • 3rd Avenue greenway from Morgan Park to MetroCenter. In 2007, I wrote:
    [Metro] should address is conversion of the public property bordering the Treatment Plant to a landscaped greenway spur connecting to Morgan Park. That spur should include a decorative wall to hide the unsightly Plant from the view of the neighborhood. The strip of land running from Hume Street on the south to Coffee Street on the north is currently unlandscaped green space with a chain link fence and some trees and rose bushes.

    Currently, there is nothing about the green strip that attracts pedestrians strolling around the neighborhood. The rose bushes on the chain link fence seem almost like a token, half-hearted effort by Metro to beauty-up the strip. The space as it stands more designed to encourage people to hurry past in cars, because there is really nothing to see but a sewer plant.

    Nothing has changed along 3rd Avenue North, except the rose bushes are gone and there are more developments flying up on private property. The chain link fence still catches blowing trash. Metro has made no effort to overhaul and to reboot the public roadside strip into something people can use and enjoy. Metro has made no effort to block the blight and institutional ugliness of the water treatment facilities and their large grass-covered ash dumps blocking a clear view of the river. This area still has unrealized potential. The residents along 3rd deserve better.

  • Renovation and buffering of the I-65 interface with Salemtown. In 2007, I wrote:
    we need a more vigorous and comprehensive effort by our next council member to pursue a wholesale renovation to the I-65 corridor through Salemtown that includes many of the community-sensitive compromises that TDOT made with West End-Hillsboro neighbors when they put I-440 in the 1980s.

    The Neighborhood Plan calls for noise walls and heavy landscaping along the perimeter of Salemtown. The plot of an interstate up against the walls and yards of urban neighborhoods without the addition of sound buffers is unconscionable. Our next council member needs to find ways to help us motivate TDOT to correct its obvious oversight.

    The state transportation department renovated the interchange between Rosa Parks Blvd. and I-65 in 2011, which improved the roads for auto traffic, but did little to benefit Salemtown. While TDOT did do away with concrete covered medians on Rosa Parks in favor of grass, they did not landscape them. Bushes and ornamental grasses could be useful obstacles for cars driving over the medians. TDOT cut down trees along the interstate, which served as partial buffers for road noise in Salemtown and then they refused to consider sound walls like those along I-440 in west Nashville. Instead, they threw the responsibility back on to Erica Gilmore, who did nothing to advance the cause of abating the roar of eighteen wheelers, despite the fact that in her 2007 campaign she acknowledged the problem. Salemtown still needs help with interstate buffering and better landscaping.

  • Convert the Fehr school building back to a functioning public school. In 2007, I wrote:
    Salemtown is a neighborhood of families that will not stay that way very long unless some measures are taken to keep it from becoming a place super-saturated with amenities only for singles and young families with no children.

    One of the things that should happen to attract families with children to locate and to stay here is to replace a quality neighborhood public school here. However, there are no feeder schools proximate to the North End. Fehr School sits right in the middle of Salemtown. Decades ago it provided an education for neighborhood children, but it is used to provide other Metro Services now, having little to do with the neighborhood itself.

    Erica Gilmore and the Metro Historical Commission deserve credit for making progress on this future need. In 2011-2012 they picked up the cause that many of us had been working on for years: preserving the civil rights landmark from demolition. The Metro Action Commission, which was headquartered at the school, dug in its heels at times against historic overlay, but they finally gave in and Fehr is now protected. In 2011, MAC moved to a new headquarters downtown, which meant that folk seeking utility bill assistance from social services would no longer have to line up early on cold mornings in front of Fehr. Head Start currently occupies Fehr, which suits the educational purpose of the building. In the past few months, I have participated in constructive community discussions with Metro Public School officials, organized by current council candidate Freddie O'Connell, on converting Fehr back to a functioning neighborhood school. I am not sure that we are close to achieving that, yet. If it happens I would hate to see Fehr become a charter school. If anything it should be an unadulterated public school open to all children in Salemtown and its environs.

  • A neighborhood-attuned council member. In 2007, I wrote:
    Salemtown, just like the rest of 19, is experiencing tremendous growth and redevelopment. The result is that we do have some greedy entrepreneurs who could care less about working with the neighborhood honestly for balanced growth in which everyone wins. Recently we found ourselves in the unenviable position of contending with both investors and Metro officials because growth is outstripping infrastructure in our neighborhood. The investors don't care because they only want to make money. Departmental officials only want to cover their butts. And many of our residents feel caught in the middle with no where to turn.

    It is not supposed to be like that. We are supposed to have an advocate on the Metro Council who not only listens to the contentions, but who is willing to get right down in the middle of the ruckus and help the sides reach a balanced and negotiated compromise. That council member should also be one to assist neighbors in consulting Metro Departments that are not always responsive or accountable. The Council Member should be leading the charge on updating our sometimes century-old infrastructure, while encouraging measured and responsible growth.

    Erica Gilmore has been considerably better than her predecessor on the Metro Council, Ludye Wallace. Where Ludye rarely showed an interest in Salemtown, CM Gilmore has attended our events and, especially early in her tenure, responded consistently. She went to bat for preserving the Fehr school building and many neighbors are grateful for her work on the conservation overlay. But I cannot give her much more than a solid "C" for advocacy for our neighborhood. She initially mishandled the conservation overlay process but then acquiesced to demands for community meetings. She was generally inconsistent with important community meetings. We were not always notified about meetings. And on the important question of a new minor league ballpark, she seemed prepared not to hold any meetings at all. When she did hold community meetings she ran them with a tight fist instead of encouraging open debate, negotiation and balance. The meetings were always framed as developers answering questions rather than getting feedback, and during one unpleasant confrontation with Salemtown Neighbors over rezoning, she seemed to question the association's legitimacy. We deserved better representation. I hope we get it in 2015.

  • Extend the riverfront redevelopment transit loop into Salemtown. In 2007, I wrote:
    Salemtown proper is cut off from the Cumberland River by the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Plant ... cuts our neighborhood off from direct contact with the river. So, the closest landing contacts our residents have with the river would be East Germantown and Downtown.

    So, it would make sense to extend the proposed transit loop past East Germantown to Salemtown and possibly MetroCenter. This could be done most easily by footpaths: extending the proposed greenway from East Germantown to the Cumberland River Levee Greenway in MetroCenter. But if a trolley run is planned for the Downtown to East Germantown leg, I hope that the future District 19 Council Member would look into the possibility of doing what he or she could to extend that trolley leg to a Salemtown transit stop (perhaps a greenway turnaround at the 3rd Avenue Treatment Center strip).

    So much water has passed under the bridge since I originally wrote this. I'm not even sure that the 2007 Riverfront Master Plan that included various landings applies. My point was that the trolley lines should stretch beyond downtown and East Nashville. More to today's context: with the opening of the new ballpark and the continuing densification of North Nashville, we are going to need more of the transit options that the east-west corridor currently enjoy. Trolleys running down 3rd between downtown and MetroCenter make sense more than ever. We got the extended greenway from Morgan Park to the Downtown Connector and Cumberland greenways. We have our walkable connection to the river that we did not in 2007, so if landings are still planned, we're in good shape. Mass transit still needs some work. We need pilot bus rapid transit projects for North Nashville. Light rail would surpass my wildest dreams (and is likely beyond what the next CM could accomplish). In Salemtown we need traffic and parking plans with street permits for residents, given the crush we will experience with the opening of First Tennessee Park. Metro seems to have failed us by not providing a comprehensive, smart northern transit plan (walking, biking and driving) with the building of the new ballpark.

Most of the changes that I argued we needed in 2007 still apply. Some have taken different forms over time. But most of upgrades Salemtown ought to have--many of which were expressed by previous community plans--are yet to be realized. I hope that the next council member from this district can help us realize them.

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