It City Blues

Last week I posted this video of Grammy-winning songwriter Gary Nicholson voicing opposition to a project before Nashville’s Planning Commission in song form; this week we take up that theme again with Nashville’s Shelby Bottom String Band performing the “Displacement Blues.” Enjoy:

Nashville has always been a development town; when I moved here in 1986 one of the first things I had to do was write a letter to my councilman about a subdivision under construction next door to me. That would set the tone for my next 28 years here.

The last few years have seen Nashville’s growth reach cancerous proportions. City “planners” (and I use the term loosely) and developers love to talk about the benefits of “gentrification,” but they refuse to acknowledge the downsides. The Nashville Scene has done some excellent coverage of this issue (see here, for an example).

But sometimes, as the saying goes, it all begins with a song. (I find it especially delicious irony that this video was funded by a grant from the Metro Arts Commission.)

Here’s the stuff they’re tearing down:


Before .....

Born in 1870 …..

And after:

.... and AFTER

…. Died in 2014. Fuck you, Richard Branson

Up the street from me:

Gone ... to be replaced with 28 new homes

Gone … to be replaced with 28 new homes

On the chopping block:

Standing in the way of progress

Standing in the way of progress

Fuck you, Charlotte, N.C.-based Llewellyn Development LLC:

History, schmisstory! Condos are where it's at!

History, schmisstory! Condos are where it’s at!

It’s not just the loss of history, it’s the displacement and change to neighborhood quality of life. The stone house in my neighborhood was rented to two kindergarten teachers; I doubt they could afford to live in this neighborhood any more.

Used to be, Nashville was a place people moved to because it was “easy” and “affordable.” Everything was close by, your morning commute didn’t involve sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. That’s all pretty much gone now, and good luck finding a house for under $700,000 in my neighborhood. People say $700,000 is a steal compared to cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and New York. That may be true, but this is not those places. This is Nashville. People here don’t earn San Francisco or Los Angeles salaries. We don’t have New York or Chicago mass transit.

I’m not sure where this is all going but I do think we’re seeing the beginning of pushback. When the creative community starts speaking out — and some big names (Keith Urban, Ben Folds) are doing just that — it inspires the whole community.

It will be interesting to see where this goes.

And BTW: who’s buying these things? You tell me. But I see an awful lot of this:

Please buy me. No one else will!

Please buy me. No one else will!


Filed under music, Nashville

9 responses to “It City Blues

  1. Sorry, but it’s unreasonable to complain about both preserving all the nice old houses and about skyrocketing home prices. The reason prices are going through the roof is because supply isn’t keeping up with demand, and it’s never going to keep up as long as you forbid people to put more housing in the same space. You also aren’t going to get decent public transit if you don’t have the kind of density that will support it.

    Densification and transit construction can be handled better or worse- transit-oriented development is much better than putting stuff in willy-nilly- but they’re coming one way or another. The best you can do is to preserve some of the historic houses, and maybe even a few historic neighborhoods, while letting the construction happen.

    • That’s just not true. At least not in Nashville. We have exploitation and speculation going on here. They’re tearing down old duplexes and ranch houses, not just historic homes — things that people rent. Things that developers snapped up during the downtown en masse and rented to musicians and students and young people just starting their careers. These are older homes that don’t have the granite kitchens and the “amenities” that are in what’s replaced them. What they did have was an affordable monthly rent. And those people are just SOL. And we have a lot of senior citizens in their smaller, modest homes who sell to a developer for $265,000, who then tears it down and replaces it with 4 or 6 $700,000 homes on the same lot. Neither situation matches your model. That is literally what is going on, and most of the time, these “teardown” houses don’t even make it onto the open market where someone who might want to buy it and fix it up can also bid on it.

      Our “planners” have a mandate for infill and they’re doing it to increase the tax base but that results in everyone’s property taxes going up and people can no longer afford to live in their neighborhoods.

  2. greennotGreen

    What I have no tolerance of are areas like “12 South”, a formerly nice, predominantly black neighborhood that has gentrified to the whitest shade of pale. Some other neighborhoods have changed without becoming so amazingly uniform. I actually find the new “12 South” (it’s too hip an area to go by “12th Avenue South” anymore, apparently) offensive. Me, I’ll take my el paseo a Nolensville, amigo.

    • I agree. I live near 12South. Used to be drug dealers at Sevier Park now you can’t even park your car there for all the hipsters. LOL. Not that I miss the drug dealers, of course. LOL. But yeah a lot of those older African Americans can’t afford the tax increases and are forced to sell out. Those who remain now have to deal with hipsters parking on their streets and drunks from Urban Grub and 12South Taproom at all times of night. It used to be a nice neighborhood, I had friends who bought a beautiful craftsman there back in 2000, they had to kick the druggies out of the neighborhood. The real pioneers, they cleaned that neighborhood up. And now they couldn’t even afford to buy there if they wanted to.

  3. greennotGreen

    Oh, also, don’t blame this all on the developers. My cousin, an architect and somewhat of a preservationist, was hired to design a set of condos on a large lot in Green Hills. He wanted to keep the original house and design the others to fit in with it, but they couldn’t get a zoning variance, so the developer either had to turn down the beaucoup bucks they could make selling a bunch of homes in a pricey neighborhood, or tear down the house. Guess which one they chose?

    • Metro Planning Dept. has an infill mandate. Trying to squeeze as many houses in as possible.

      • Jim in Memphis

        The other option is Nashville can sprawl out like Atlanta. The people have to live somewhere and if you are not in favor of infill development then the other option is expansion.

      • But we’ve already sprawled like Atlanta. Thousands and thousands of people live in the “ring counties” but work in Davidson County because they can’t afford to live in Nashville, and also there’s a perception that the schools in Williamson County are better.

  4. Obviously, the zoning problem is what’s kept them from processing those 12,000 Rape Kits–yeah, I know it’s not NEWS but it was on the Syracuse stations YESTERDAY.