Last week’s Scottsboro-Bell’s Bend community meeting was not fun, except maybe for fans of the Jerry Springer show. There was very little in the way of new information, but there was plenty of emotion. People interrupted each other. Developer Tony Giarratana, in his red power tie, was openly contemptuous of the locals; and this time, planning commission representative Anita McCaig really did get driven to tears.
The first thing that came up, in terms of information, was that the Maytown crew had decided their best option for access was to cross the river from Centennial Boulevard with only one bridge, which will be six lanes wide rather than four lanes. They’re waiting for the results of the traffic study on this.
My preliminary calculations say that, if they spread their “rush hour” over enough hours, and nobody has any breakdowns or accidents, and especially if there’s a lot of carpooling, this might kinda work. Maybe. Kinda. And a big if.
Then, of course, there’s the question of what spiraling gas prices will do to the practicality of commuting any distance, not to mention Life As We Know It. Both the pro- and anti-development speakers at the meeting seemed to assume that the future is going to be a lot like the past, in terms of development pressures and possibilities. I think they could both be very wrong, but that’s not exactly good news for either side.
The Centennial Boulevard option has some upsides. It does not involve neighborhood destruction and it provides direct access to Tune airport, which will be convenient if anybody can still afford to fly an airplane in a few years. Well, the top !% of the US population has more money than the bottom 80%, and they’re getting richer, so maybe Tony Giarratana’s clients will still be able to make use of the airport. Access via Centennial Boulevard will also involve driving by Nashville’s Cockrill Bend Minimum Security Prison, which is not exactly an upscale, inspiring kind of intro to the wonders of Maytown Center–which, Tony reminded us, will be constructed according to the highest standards of Green Building.
That leads to the repeatedly raised question of how “green” it is to put a development in a cow pasture. Planning Commission rep Jennifer Carlat clung to her assertion that, because Bell’s Bend is only 7 linear miles from downtown Nashville, developing rural land there is not sprawl, at least compared to paving farmland in southern Williamson County or any other, more outlying areas where a corporate campus might be induced to locate. They went over the strengths and drawbacks of the several areas in Davidson County that are most ripe for redevelopment, pointing out that Bell’s Bend is the only location that fully fits all the criteria.
The criteria in question are “rural or upscale suburban,” proximity to executive housing,” and “premiere/gateway location.” None of the other possible redevelopment areas–the Fairgrounds, Metro Center, the East Bank, or McCrory Creek Road–qualify on all these counts, although the East Bank (across the river from downtown) is considered a “premiere/gateway location.” The presentation also noted somewhat ominously that there is “significant existing office development in the (McCrory Creek) area that is not entirely leased.” That doesn’t bode well for Maytown’s projected “5 to 10 million square feet of office space.” And with consumer spending in this country sinking like a rock, will another million to million and a half square feet of retail space really support itself? America has ten times more retail space per citizen than any other country in the world. Do we really need to add to that?
It seems to me that the reason corporations seek “rural or upscale suburban” areas has to do with wanting security–making sure that their buildings, personnel, and automobiles will not be the target of hungry locals. As I have said before, the extraordinarily restricted access that Bell’s Bend offers probably looks very good to some forward-looking but pessimistic corporate officers, and, to repeat myself again, Bell’s Bend offers prime sites for new “executive housing,” never mind that it will tend to drive out the locals it doesn’t enrich.
Some of the information that came out of this meeting was that there is no information on some critical topics. The Planning Commission reps admitted that they have not done a study on the potential financial benefits to Davidson County, and in fact do not have the funding to do such a study. “We know that, in general, corporate campuses are a good tax deal for cities, but we don’t know the specifics of this situation,”Planning Commission rep Jennifer Carlat said. To fill this void, the Scottsboro-Bell’s Bend home team has commissioned its own study, which will be ready in time for the Planning Commissions consideration on June 24th.
Now, as I said when I started talking, this was not a happy meeting. The local crew literally drove Anita McCaig of the Planning Commission to tears, repeatedly interrupting her and questioning her competence and trustworthiness. Her words as she started crying were, “Will you please let me finish when I’m answering a question? I know how you could defeat this proposal. All you have to do is ask me.” Nobody asked–but hey, the Devil himself, Tony Giarratana, was in the room, so nobody was going to tip their hand to him. Maybe some folks asked her what she was talking about later. I certainly hope so.
Ah, Tony. He was not taking guff from anyone. He was not being polite. When people asked him questions that he felt they already knew the answers to, he just brushed them off with, “That’s a rhetorical question,” and even got openly sarcastic with some questioners. But, to his credit, he stopped and turned on a dime when his taunt “How come you people haven’t done more to buy the development rights on these properties if you’re so concerned about it?” was met with, “Because it costs about ten thousand dollars a property owner to do it, most people can’t afford to donate their rights, and we don’t have that kind of money.”
Suddenly, Tony was quite seriously saying that this was something the Mays brothers would very likely be willing to help fund. He certainly sounded sincere; it was a distinct switch from the middle finger approach he had been taking, and, since one of the things the Mays family is known for is funding the regreening of East Nashville after the tornado of 1998, this could be a way to make lemonade out of the Maytown lemon. If it happens.
The most common, and obvious, expressed reason for all the venting at this meeting was the feeling that the community had been betrayed by the Planning Commission when the Commission started trying to write Maytown Center into the plan, but I think that’s only half the story, or maybe a lot less.
We are all starting to wake up to the fact that we have been massively betrayed at every level of our society. Our expensive educational system is increasingly irrelevant. We built a petroleum and automobile-based society as if we would never run out of petroleum and always be able to afford individual private vehicles, and now we are running out of both petroleum and money for consumer spending. We have sucked up all the money and credit that could have been used to re-establish society on a more sustainable basis and burned it in a futile war of aggression, and the leaders who have masterminded this colossal trainwreck remain not only unapologetic, but thoroughly insulated from any consequences for their irresponsible behavior.
We don’t get to yell at Bush and Cheney, not in any way they have to listen to. We don’t get to express our displeasure at the faceless suits who have moved our industry to China, our farming to Central America, and our dollars to the toilet. They are segregated off in gated communities, safely inside the Beltway, or, like the May brothers, in some foreign country. Their money, which used to be ours until they took it from us through some medical emergency or retirement home or stock market flimflam or corporate downsizing, is safely tucked away in foreign accounts so that no matter what happens in the USA, they’ll be OK. They’re not going to see or hear us. But the poor ladies of the planning commission were sacrificial lambs, scapegoats exposed to the wrath of the masses and made to pay for every insult that anyone in Bell’s Bend has ever suffered from the faceless rich. Their only sin was needing a job, just like the rest of us, and finding one that put them in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Fortunately, we’re all still civilized enough that the abuse was only verbal. But, beyond the immediate issue of land use in Bell’s Bend, the April 29th meeting was a reminder that, as Mr. Obama has famously remarked, there is a vast well of bitterness in America’s heartland, a reservoir generally glossed over by the polticians, pundits, and mainstream media. As long as it is ignored, it is only going to grow and deepen, until some accident of history turns it loose. It will take some extraordinarily gifted people–thousands of them, all over this country–to transform this simmering rage into constructive politics that reshapes and redirects America. Without those people and that redirection, we will instead see a social explosion of volcanic proportions. It will not be pretty, it will not be constructive, and it will make Mad Max seem like the good old days. I know which path I prefer, but I make no claim to be able to predict the future. It’s up to all of us.
music: Burning Times “The Only Green World”