ASKING INCONVENIENT QUESTIONS

14 07 2019

As long-time readers of this blog know, I ran for an at-large seat on the Metro Nashville Council in 2015, mostly in an effort to publicize the long-term concerns I express. I received a couple of thousand votes and came in second to last. I said I’d be back, but when this election cycle came around, I didn’t file papers to run, for several reasons. First, somebody asked me to run last time, and nobody asked this time. Second, as I ran last time and got a better understanding of what was involved, it seemed that, if I ran again, I would have to run with the pledge that I would hire somebody as a legal consultant to help me translate my somewhat radical proposals into Legalese, the language in which our governments do business. From there, I concluded that it would be more efficient, and more credible to the voting public, if I, or the “we” that constitutes the local Green Party, simply found a lawyer who shared my/our values, and offered to help her or his campaign. And that’s as far as that got.

A few weeks ago, after attending a Mayoral candidates’ forum in which my concerns for Nashville’s long-term stability were not addressed, I wrote the following letter to all four major Mayoral candidates, and to the ten at-large council candidates I think have the best chance of winning. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Candidate:

I ran for at-large Metro Council in the last election. For a variety of reasons, I’m not in the race this time, but I still have the concerns I ran on four years ago, and I am still writing my blog and doing my radio show, and that is why I am writing you now. I would like to hear from you about “my issues,” and I would like to share your response (and comment on it) as my next radio show/blog post, which will air/be published in mid-July, so I am also asking your permission to publish your response. If I need to do any editing/condensing, I will share my proposed edit with you, to make sure that I have preserved your intentions. Here’s what I’m asking:

The way I see it, Nashville is currently enjoying an extraordinarily prosperous period, especially compared to a great many other cities in this country, and regions of the world. However, the same crises that have overtaken them loom over us—a runaway climate crisis, an increasingly fragile national economy, and the rapidly approaching exhaustion of many of the material resources our civilization depends on, from fossil fuels to rare earth metals to fish, forests, fertile soil, and clean water. To what extent do these factors inform your political agenda?

To what extent do you share my concerns? What do you think the city should, could, or is likely to do in response to them?

Thank you for your time and attention.

No mayoral candidate wrote me back, although Facebook Messenger informed me that John Ray Clemmons opened my letter–at 7:30 in the morning. I hope that some day we will find out that it served as a wake up call for him.

I did better with the council races, with six responses to ten letters sent. Three of the candidates who didn’t respond are the ones who are generally identified as Republicans, although technically Metro Council races are non-partisan. The fourth non-responder was Gicola Lane, one of the organizers behind the initiative that established a Police Review Board here in Nashville.

I can understand why a political candidate would be inclined to handle my questions very gingerly. Al Gore nailed it when he called climate change “an inconvenient truth.” It’s easy to see human history as an increasingly rapid spiral into greater wealth and technological complexity. By and large, people don’t want to imagine that things might move some other way– a spiral of decreasing resources, complexity, and expectations. As Bill Clinton is rumoured to have said, “Nobody ever got elected by promising the American people less.” When Winston Churchill told the British people, “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil, and tears,” he wasn’t running for office, he had just been elected, and the Germans were taking over Europe and saturation-bombing Britain as a prelude to invasion.

It’s difficult to get people to see that we are in a “blood, sweat, toil, and tears” situation with climate change. Instead of an invading army, we are threatened by the way our own actions are skewing the planet’s climate into a “normal” that is far less human-friendly than the climate in which we have evolved as a species. So far, for most Americans, that change is nibbling at daily life, rather than devouring it wholesale, and so, for most of us in America, and especially here in Nashville, it is possible to live as if nothing has changed or is going to change. City election issues can be restricted to budgets and taxes,  infrastructure, zoning, education, policing, and similar daily life issues. These mundane issues offer almost infinite details to keep us occupied and keep us from looking at the longer-term questions I have been asking. When our community governments do address these questions, they will tend to do so in the context of the short-term, daily-life issues they are used to dealing with. With that in mind, let’s go through the responses I received, with some commentary from me, and then I will suggest a few things the city could do that would tend to steer the city, just as it is, into an entity that is better prepared to deal with the financial and material shortages and extreme weather events that we are likely to see in the mid-term future. Read the rest of this entry »





THAT MAYTOWN OBSESSION

12 03 2010

If Bell’s Bend were a woman, by now she would have gotten a court order to keep Jack May from stalking her, and Jack’s latest move in this apparently never-ending story would have landed him in jail rather than before the Davidson County Commission, where I and a lot of other people went early this month to watch Lonnell Matthews abruptly withdraw his, or rather Jack May’s, motion to overrule the Planning Commission (not to mention common sense) and allow Mr. May to go ahead and rape the tip of Bell’s Bend.  Hey, he brought her flowers, and he’s promised not to penetrate as deeply as he originally said he wanted to go….what’s the problem, sweetie?  Relax and enjoy it!

Hmm…that’s about as far as I think I’d better go with that metaphor!

Just the facts, m’am…Councilman Matthews withdrew his motion to allow May to proceed on the technical grounds that, since May has scaled the proposal back quite a bit in order to meet complaints about the strain that Maytown would put on Nashville’s infrastructure, it is essentially a new proposal that has to go through the whole Planning Commission process again.

That brings up another metaphor–the story of the Bedouin, his tent, and his camel.

One cold night in the desert, a Bedouin made camp, taking shelter in his tent and leaving his camel outside to fend for herself.  Now, it just so happens that this was a talking camel, and as the desert night grew colder, the camel said to her master, “Oh, it is so cold out here!  Might I just stick my poor, hairless nose in your tent so that I can keep it warm?”

The Bedouin, being a kind man, assented, and so the camel stuck her nose in the tent.  The night grew colder, and the camel said to the Bedouin, “My ears are freezing!  May I stick the rest of my head in your tent?”

And so, the Bedouin let the camel a little further into his tent…and soon enough, she asked if she could keep her neck warm, and then her whole body, and lo and behold, there was no more room in the tent for the poor, indulgent Bedouin, and he passed a very cold night, and never again was he so kind to his camel.

I think you can see the point I’m making with that story:  approving an initially smaller Maytown Center is just a way to get a foot in the door, which starts to get back to the stalker metaphor I started with…but, of course, it presumes that the development will be successful, and that, I think, is quite another question.

We are having a sort-of recovery, a “job loss” recovery, as many wags and pundits are terming it.   What this means is, the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are still getting poorer.  If Jack May’s target demographic is the middle class, Maytown Center will flounder even worse than Metro Center.  If, on the other hand, he’s wooing the über rich, he’s offering them a much more secure hangout than any other location in Nashville:  with only one bridge for access, it will be easy to keep out the homeless and other riffraff.  Should things get really crazy, like,rioting and looting, that one bridge, which could easily be guarded and gated, becomes a great selling point.

“Condo in Maytown Center?  $1500 a month.  Ability to walk the streets without being mugged?  Priceless!”

Of course, you can’t talk about things like that to Metro Planning Commission or Metro Council.   The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades, and our new Nashville Convention Center will attract thousands of free-spending tourists, and pigs will fly.  O, Megan Barry, how you let me down!

Back to that Metro Council meeting…as I walked in the door, I passed a circle of smartly dressed young black women, all wearing “support Maytown Center” buttons, and I felt the irony.  Consider:  the once-iconoclastic womens’ movement has somehow been twisted to mean that most women should work outside their homes and give their children over to so-called professional daycare at the expense of real family life, not to mention “freedom” for women to serve in the military. Uh, wasn’t one of the original goals of the womens’ movement an end to militarism and corporate domination?

Similarly, the black power/equal rights/anti-discrimination movement has largely turned into a demand for people of color to be included in the corporate world.  Turns out, the corporate masters are only too happy to include people of color in their hierarchies.  It helps legitimize them.  Just ask Michael Steele, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, or…Barack Obama.  But don’t ask Stokely Carmichael or Rev. Martin Luther King.  For all their differences, they would be united in spitting nails about what the movement they once led has come to.

Both these movements, womens’ liberation and black power, have lost their original thread, which was a critique of the corporate capitalist state and its dehumanizing effects on society.  Similarly, the labor movement, which started out as a socialist/communist/anarchist assault on the status quo, ended up trading its radicalism for a bigger pile of crumbs from the capitalist table.  Indeed, now we see the Green movement encountering the same temptations–for instance, if you go to the Maytown website, you will see it pitched as “green,” anti-sprawl,” “walkable,” “preserving nature,” LEED certified,” and many other bits of window dressing from our deep critique of Western culture.

But the line between window dressing and the real deal is a very blurry one.  Suppose Jack May steps back from his determination to subjugate the wilds of Bell’s Bend with new urbanism, and instead cuts his 1500 acres up into several small farms, each carefully planned to be a reasonable size for a couple of families to support themselves on.  What if Jack May used his extraordinary wealth to help these new farmers with “seed money” for the buildings, livestock, and equipment they would need, and what if Mr. May further provided a fruit and vegetable packing house, and infrastructure for local dairy, egg, and meat production?  He could probably do all of that for less than the amount he is prepared to spend for a bridge across the Cumberland, and would actually get the money back directly, albeit over time, instead of having to charge insanely high prices for commercial property at Maytown Center.

OK, there’s one problem with this idea–the May family paid $14,000 an acre for that property, and there’s no legal way a farmer can make enough money to buy land at that price…since our cultural religion is profit, this could be an insurmountable objection.  Or maybe the Mays (and where is Elaine May when we need her?) could decide that this is a way to cut their losses, sell this rural land for less than the crazily inflated price they paid for it, get a big tax deduction, and maybe leave everybody happy  Is that a “green solution”?  Or a grey area?  Life’s like that, ain’t it?

music:  Buffy St. Marie, “No No Keshagesh





MAYBETOWN CENTER, R.I.P.?

9 07 2009

Was there any one argument that tipped the balance for the Planning Commission?  There were so many good ones.  Call it “a death of a thousand cuts.”

At the June 25th Planning Commission meeting, witness after witness stood to give a different reason why Maytown is a bad idea.

Councilwoman Megan Barry pointed out that including Maytown Center in the neighborhood plan, at the developer’s behest, after a long series of open meetings spent developing a holistic, rural vision for Bell’s Bend, was a violation of the community’s good faith and trust and would seriously damage the Commission’s credibility when it came to working up other neighborhood plans.

Councilman Frank Harrison expressed concern that the infrastructure development involved would take Metro’s energy away from existing priorities at a time when money is tight.

Councilman Eric Cole cited the “great degree of risk” involved in the plan, pointing out that

“if it fails it leaves behind a string of massive infrastructure ‘improvements’ that benefit nobody—it will scar the landscape and we will pay the consequences for generations.”

Councilman Jason Holleman echoed Eric Cole’s concerns and elaborated on them, arguing that the real cost to the city had not been determined and that there were “too many unresolved puzzle pieces,” such as how much road widening, how many homes and businesses would need to be taken by eminent domain?  How much would all that cost?  And, of course, how would the cash-strapped city pay for it, with Maytown’s promised boost to the city’s revenues not coming for fifteen or twenty years?

Councilman Lonnell Matthews argued ineptly for the plan, drawing laughter when he insisted, “We have to put the cart before the horse.”  Oops.  About all he or the others who would later speak out for it could say was that it was “bold” and would “provide jobs.”  This seems to me to be a kind of wishful hoping for a return to the bubble economy, when we could borrow money to pay people to build things and call it economic growth.  Those days are very, very over, even if a lot of people haven’t realized it yet.  Denial…hopefully, it’s the first stage in a journey of acceptance, and not a permanent state of psychosis….but I digress.

Tony G and Melvin Johnson did a pro-Maytown presentation, waving all the tired buzzwords of jobs and growth as if it were still 2007, and then it was time for the opposition to make more points.

David Briley led off.  joking that there are so many unknowns involved in the project that perhaps we should call it “Maybetown Center.”  He noted that there were only two corporate relocations in the whole country last year, that the developer of Cool Springs, often cited as the example Maytown is following, is in bankruptcy, and that neither the state economic development people nor the mayor had endorsed the project.  “Nobody from the city is here to say ‘this makes sense’, ” he pointed out.

Urban planner David Eisenstadt said that the “benefits” of Maytown were “highly speculative,” and that the numbers presented to the planning commission in a University of Tennessee study  were based on the developer’s figures, not on independent numbers, and were inconsistent with the city’s actual real estate market, business cycle, and population settlement patterns.

Kay Swartz identified herself as “a career aviator” and pointed out that Maytown would be directly in the approach pattern for Tune airport, which would create a hazard for approaching aircraft, noise complaints for Maytown residents, and necessitate special urban-area training for all pilots who use Tune, which is Nashville’s preferred private aviation hub because it can be approached without flying over any urban areas.  The image of an airplane crashing into one of the highrises  was, if unmentioned, on everybody’s mind.   “If Maytown were already built, would you locate an airport where Tune is?” she concluded.  Implication:  no.

Several residents of neighborhoods on the south bank of the Cumberland talked about the negative impact the proposal would have where they live, and complained that the Planning Commission had apparently held up approval of their neighborhood plans in order to improve Maytown’s chances  “because if our area plans were in place, this proposal would never go through.”  More eroded credibility.

Robert Brant of the Metro Parks and Greenways Commission decried the proposed four-lane road through Bell’s Bend Park, saying that Planning Commission head Rick Bernhardt had assured him that there would be no road through the Park…still more eroded credibility.

A realtor pointed out that the cost of doing business in Maytown was going to be high enough to make it noncompetitive–that two major projects in downtown Nashville had recently gone into receivership, and that,  in spite of cutting prices from $32 to $22 per square foot, there’s still a lot of empty space in the new Pinnacle Building, while the cost of office space in Maytown was projected at between $30-$40 per square foot.  The high cost of the May property came back to bite them again later, when Sumter Camp addressed the fear that rejection of Maytown would lead to 500 tract homes being built instead by doing the math and pointing out that the land cost to the Mays  (around $14K per acre) virtually insured that they could not build competitively priced tract homes at the tip of Bell’s Bend, miles from gas stations and food stores–even if there were still a market for tract homes, which there isn’t.

A number of TSU alumni had spoken in favor of the project, due to the carrot offered to the school in exchange for support, but one alum broke ranks to observe that, no matter what the developer was promising, once the zoning changes had been made, there would be no way to enforce the “agreements” that had been made.

And so, one nail after another was driven into Maytown’s coffin.  I left as the hour got late, but I am sure someone parsed Maytown’s claim that they would “preserve” 900 acres, noting that that 900 acre figure included up to

6 “estate homes,” each on 5 acres.

227 acres of corporate campuses.

103 acres of “ball fields, tennis courts or other similar recreational amenities” and “future schools, churches, fire stations and similar uses.”

200 acres of floodplain for the TSU agricultural center

In addition, a certain part will be reserved for a “future marina and related development.”

If you do the math, that list adds up to about 600 of those 900 “preserved” acres, and a chunk of the remaining 300 is under a power line.  What was I saying about trust, credibility, and promises?

Well, the upshot of it all was that the Planning Commission voted 5-4 not to approve Maytown, “because it is not in accordance with the Area Plan,” which was a diplomatic way not to call Tony G. and Jack May a couple of shameless hucksters.  At Metro Council last night, it all ended “not with a bang, but a whimper,” as Lonnell Matthews asked for the proposal to be “indefinitely deferred.”  As the economy worsens, the likelihood of resurrection diminishes.  I think we can all breathe a big sigh of relief.

Well, them’s the facts.  Rural preservationists take on developers and send ’em packing.  Hallelujah, a happy ending! But–what’s my “deep green perspective” on the whole affair?

This was a classic case of the craziness that ensues from adherence to the twin legal fictions of “land ownership” and “profit.”  These are concepts that we take for granted, hardly realizing the depth and complexity of the problems they have engendered in our society.  I think they are a form of mental illness that we need to cure ourselves of, individually and collectively–individually through personal reflection and reconditioning, and collectively by revising our laws to end these impositions on the planet and our fellow humans.

We live in a radical fundamentalist materialist society in which no thing is sacred–not the air we breathe or the water we drink, not the land we walk on or the voluptuous curves of a young woman’s body or the perspective that comes with advancing age.  The abstraction of financial profit is the only sacred point in our culture, and all must give way to an individual’s right to financial gain.  Everything must be monetized in the cultural and legal web we have woven for ourselves–land, education, food, child care, sex and any other simple pleasure you can think of, have no “value” unless they are monetized, commercialized, and turned into tawdry imitations of their true, free selves.

Thus, our culture views “undeveloped”  land as a blank slate, valuable only for its ability to be turned into something else for the benefit of its human owners.  In this view,he deer, foxes, bald eagles, herons, field mice, fence lizards and lillies of the field who inhabit “undeveloped” land have no legal rights, no claim of ownership, no “right to life,” to steal a phrase from our so-called “fundamentalist” Christian bretheren.

And so the vote against Maytown Center was not so much a victory for those of us who fought against it (and Maytown proponents were correct in observing that most of us don’t live on Bell’s Bend) as it was a victory for the natural world, a victory for the right of the trees to be left alone.

I don’t want to get my hopes up too far–but maybe, just maybe, Maytown Center was the Pickett’s charge of radical fundamentalist materialism.  Maybe, just maybe, this was a turning point.  Maybe, just maybe, we have crossed the pass and are beginning our gentle descent into a saner future.  May it be so.

Maybetown Center, R.I.P.–but I will keep watch on your grave to make sure you stay dead.

music:  David Rovics, “The Commons







TALKING IN THEIR SLEEP

13 06 2009

I attended the first three hours of Metro Planning Commission’s May 28th hearing on Maytown Center, but, bowing to my infirmities, didn’t attempt to stay until the very end.  My friends tell me I missed the best part, but between what I heard there, the deep background briefing I was graciously given, and what has emerged in the media, I feel well qualified to give you an update and, of course, my commentary.

The big story that emerged in the media was the highly conditional nature of the May family’s “gift” to TSU:  no Maytown, no land, no endowment.  The only money that TSU has received from the May family is $50,000 to conduct a “push poll” intended to promote Maytown to the black community, hungry for any crumbs the power structure might be willing to throw them.  Others, of course, see through the ruse,   which Rev. Joe Ingle, a white minister of the United Church of Christ, described to the Interdenominational Ministers’ Fellowship as “a bribe.”

Behind the scenes, there is the story of how it took all the pressure the Maytown foes could bring to bear to keep the Planning Comission from voting on the Maytown proposal before the hearing, and before the economic impact report was released.  “Sentence first, veredict afterwards,” as the Queen of Hearts remarked.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, but many of those opposing Maytown feel that the Planning Commission is cheerleading the project rather than playing its legally-prescribed neutral role.

The big news (for me) that came out of the hearing was that, although Maytown Center advocates have long trumpeted that they are building their project on only 600 acres and preserving the other 900, 4- 500 of those “preserved” acres will be available for development as “corporate headquarters campuses.”  When you subtract TSU’s 250 acres, that leaves only 2-300 acres that will actually be left undisturbed–and Metro might turn that into a golf course.  So much for preservation.

The traffic impact study revealed that Tony G’s claim that building one bridge to Maytown would suffice was, to be polite, disingenuous–if I wanted to be rude, I say he lied–two or three would be necessary, and metro or the state would need to widen every major artery in northwest Nashville  to accommodate an estimated additional 5,000 vehicles per hour during peak traffic times.  While the Mays offered to build a bridge or two, they are not talking about paying for any of that.  This will be  very expensive, not to mention destructive of neighborhoods, and it will not be popular, although those factors rarely seem to bother TDOT–but that’s another story.

Back to the hearing.

Bell’s Bend preservation advocates allowed Maytown Center supporters to speak first in the public comment portion of the hearing.  I was unaware of that strategic choice, so I found it unnerving to have person after person come up to the microphone and recite the litany of how the project would provide  good paying jobs, development, and growth.  None of these people seemed awake to the real condition the country is in.  There is not going to be a recovery.  We have maxxed out our personal and national credit cards, used up all the raw materials, and monetized everything there is to monetize.  Yet, because we have known nothing but expansion all our lives, too many believe that there is some magic way to restart the bubble economy, and think of the comforting, deluded dream we have been living in since the last big depression as if it were reality.  It is not.

The economic report came out a week after the hearing, and it was a whitewash.   It merely confirmed that, if everything happened the way Tony G. says he thinks it will, Maytown will work.  Happy thoughts and pixie dust, anyone?

Today, my wife came home from a yard sale and told me she had met a guy who has been closely involved with the May family.  He told her that Jack May, the brother who is pushing Maytown Center, is a completely unprincipled, ruthless guy who will do or say  anything to get his way–and get richer.  Such a testimonial re-enforces Maytown Center opponents’ concerns that the “sustainability” promises around Maytown will be abandoned once the project goes through.  Jack May has the do-re-mi to buy and sell Metro government, and that is probably what he is working on–all behind the scenes and under the table, of course.  Jack May cannot be ignorant of the state of our economy.  As I have said before, I think the secret agenda at Maytown is a kind of gated downtown for the uber-rich.  Maytown is not just a struggle over land use–it’s a battle in the class war.

Maytown Center opponents, like advocates of universal single-payer health care, are in the uncomfortable position of having the facts on their side but the politics against them.  We will find out at the next Planning Commission meeting,  at 4 PM on June 25 at the Metro Southeast Building, whether the Planning Commission is honest enough, and awake enough, to resist the pressure of big money and do the right thing.

music:  Incredible String Band, “Sleepers Awaken





AS IF THERE WILL BE NO DELUGE…

10 05 2009

A number of bits of local news and commentary have come to my attention lately:  Mayor Dean’s “State of the City” address, the report of the Green Ribbon Committee for a Sustainable Nashville, news that the “reform” of Tennessee’s waste management policies is not only a shambles but a sham, and the renewed push for construction of Maytown Center, along with the howls of misguided (or intentionally misleading) protest that accompanied my characterization of its neo-feudal potential last month.

Hizzoner the Mayor used his moment in the spotlight to push for a new Nashville Convention Center, a sort of “build it and they will come,” Hail Mary pass proposal that has been so thoroughly excoriated by the Nashville Scene that I hardly need to go into detail here, except to answer their “what are they smoking?” question with, “must be crack, ’cause any self-respecting pot smoker would see through this welfare-for-developers proposal in a minute.”  I would also add that anybody who thinks any kind of tourism is going to make a comeback is inhaling the wrong kind of smoke.  The only big influx that I see in Nashville’s, or America’s, future, is Chinese and various Middle Easterners coming to repossess whatever they can in consideration of America’s unrepayable debt to them.  The “T” in “T-bills” is gonna stand for “toilet paper,” boys and girls.  Can you say “Confederate money”?

And, speaking of smoking crack, I have to repeat and re-emphasize that anyone who thinks Maytown Center is going to be good for Nashville is still living in the delusionary world of the Bush era.  Growth is over.  If it is built, Maytown will either rapidly turn into a ghost town or suck the air out of the rest of the city and become a gated version of downtown, so the upper crust doesn’t have to cross paths with the homeless.

We would be much better off using the energy that the city’s movers and shakers are putting into these mirages to fast-track and expand some of the proposals in the Green Ribbon Committee’s report, which is at least well-intentioned, if woefully under-ambitious.  I feel bad about having to say that.  I know some of the people on the Committee, and I trust their good will. I went to one of their public meetings, and I think the document they have produced is radical and edgy–for 1975.  At this point, it is too little, too late.    Can we create a sustainable local economy that will support our current population?  Can we produce enough hoes and digging forks for everybody to turn up the ground it will take to keep ourselves in potatoes, let alone manufacture  our own shoes and clothing? Ain’t none of that happening here in Nashvegas any more, — how many weavers and cobblers are there in this town?  We sold our industrial capacity to the Chinese for a mess of profit, and we are about to find out that money is nothing but funny-looking paper once everybody agrees it’s worthless.

The landfill proposals that so outrage my friends at BURNT (Bring Urban Recycling to Nashville Today) are another head-shaker, another high-stakes poker game, played with a marked deck, in the tilting first-class lounge of the Titanic.  Of course, as James Howard Kunstler points out in World Made By Hand, all the recyclables we stick in landfills now are a kind of savings account that we will be able to mine in coming decades, when we will be out of natural resources and the ability to acquire them through commerce, and will have nothing better to do than dig up old city dumps, straighten bent nails, melt down and recast plastic and metal, and treasure the one or two chemists in our city who figure out how to make matches from local materials–because all those disposable lighters we take for granted are gonna be a thing of the past in the future, folks.  Do I have to remind you that you are going to have to cook with a wood fire, unless you’re lucky enough to have a solar cooker and a sunny day? And where will you be gathering your firewood?

Oh, and speaking of rigged poker games on the Titanic, our newly-Republican legislature is attempting to make sure that we don’t switch to optical-scan voting machines in time for the next election, presumably so they can rig it more easily, since they are doing such a patently bad job of running the state that they know they won’t be able to win an honest election…not that the Dims would be much better, it’s just a question of who controls what’s left of the state’s treasury.   Well, OK…the Dims would be doing nothing instead of forbidding local living wage laws, allowing people to carry guns everywhere and restricting abortion rights. “Respect for human life”? HELLO?

As all the various antics listed above indicate, either both parties are clueless about the scope of what we’re in for in this country, or they are figuring the best way to survive is to cut as many people out of the loop as possible.  If national politics are any guide, I would say the Repuglyicans are trying to cut as many of us out of the loop as they can (leaving more goodies for themselves), and the Dim-ocrats are simply clueless.  In this state, most seem to think the best strategy is to try and be as conservative as the Repugs, but since they lack the intense commitment to self-aggrandizement that characterizes so many Repugs, they end up coming across as clueless namby-pambys, which is one reason (besides ignorance and its bastard child, racism) they have been fluffing so many elections lately–like, it wasn’t just that Harold Ford is black, it’s that he’s barely to the left of Bob Corker. Not only is Harold no Jesse Jackson, he’s not even a Barack Obama.

Let me make something clear here–I  am as threatened as anyone by the future I foresee.  Western civilization as we know it needs to end for the planetary ecosystem (including humans) to continue, and I, an aging man with health problems, may not survive the change.  With that in mind, I want to make that transition as smooth as I can, so I am living as simply as I can, and supporting organizations that I believe will help cushion our descent, like our local bioregional council and the Tennessee Green Party.  As long as we have a functioning statewide political system (and I am not going to hazard a guess on how long that may be), we need to take advantage of it and use the framework of the Green Party to raise real issues:  local sustainability, resource conservation, universal access to health care, economic justice, and grass-roots democracy, to name the first few broad headings that come to mind.  There is SO much to do, and we’re  running the Green Party of Tennessee with a skeleton crew–so come on aboard, there’s plenty of room.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable





MAY FAMILY MAKES TSU AN OFFER IT CAN’T REFUSE

12 04 2009

You have to give the May family points for persistence.  In the face of a dead real estate market and a tanking economy, they are pursuing their goal of creating a new downtown for Nashville out in the green, rolling country of Bell’s Bend–a downtown with remarkably limited access and a handpicked population.  It reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson‘s sarcastic epigram, “If the government doesn’t trust the people, why doesn’t it dissolve them and get a new people?”  In this case, it’s more a question of big business not trusting the people–but hey, there’s not a lot of difference any more, is there?

The latest chapter in this drama is downright Machiavellian.  The Mays have donated 250 of their roughly 1500 acres to Tennessee State University, augmented by a $400,000 endowment for a “chair of sustainable agriculture.”  To further sweeten the pot, they have promised to help build an agricultural  “research park” in Maytown Center  that will “help develop partnerships with businesses in the area,” according to the Nashville Post.

TSU president Melvin Johnson called the bribe, excuse me, gift from the May family “the most transformative opportunity” in the traditionally black, traditionally underfunded  school’s history.  It is not reported whether he shouted “Hosannah,”  “shook his wooly mane in joy,” or did a “buck dance,” but my possibly paranoid notion about the feudal nature of the Mays’ vision is reinforced by the fact that they are arranging to have the darkies out toiling in the fields.

Oh, the irony!  A “chair of sustainable agriculture” and a “sustainable agriculture research park” established at a site that will require massive, unsustainable infrastructure development, not unlike those suburban sprawls with names like “Deer Park Way” and “Rambling Rill Drive” that have destroyed the deer park and the rambling rill that gave them their names.

And oh, the cleverness of splitting the blacks and the predominantly white environmental community–how dare we stand in the way of this wonderful opportunity for TSU!!?

Well, there is an upside to TSU getting that bottomland. even if  the “research park” that would come with Maytown Center is nevr built.  The school does have a solid agricultural program already, and could be a terrific partner in the agricultural renaissance that needs to happen not just on Bell’s Bend, but all around Nashville.  As I’ve detailed in other stories, it is going to take thousands of small farmers to feed Nashville locally, and at this point in time there are only dozens.  We need the moral equivalent of war, folks, if we’re going to keep eating.

And what’s really going on behind the scenes?  The Mays have lost nothing but a tax liability by giving TSU 250 acres of undevelopable floodplain; the exact nature of the endowment is not public knowledge, but they may be getting a huge tax write off from stocks that are about to go south and leave TSU high and dry.

As to the future of Maytown Center, I see three possibilities.  One is that sensible heads will again prevail and it will not be built.  Another is that it will be built, at least partially, and rapidly become a ghost town as it becomes obvious that the Mays’ business plan was an hugely expensive, unnecessary folly.  And the third possibility is my “paranoid” vision of it as  Fortress Maytown, a restricted access community where the wealthy will be able to seal themselves off from the chaos that this country could so easily descend into, while the darkies grow organic food for them.  I’m voting for the first option.  Once more unto the breach, good friends.

music:  James McMurtry, “Candyland





PLANNING COMMISSION TAKES A PASS ON “OZ,” SCHOOL BOARD TAKES A PASS ON DESEGREGATION

13 09 2008

“It looks like Oz, just springing up out of the fields like that,” commented Planning Commissioner Victor Tyler, as Maytown Center supporters groaned.  One of them called out, “It’s European,”, but this is Nashville, American-only, we don’t speak no stinking European in this town, buddy, if there’s skyscrapers, there’s sprawl and that’s how it’s gonna be because this is America, by Gawd.

It was not a good day for the Maytown crowd, as commissioner after commissioner gave faint praise to the proposal–they appreciated all the conservation safeguards and the walkability of the proposed community, calling it visionary, architecturally stunning, ahead of its time–and then noting that there are far too many unanswered questions.

If it’s everything Tony Giarratana says it will be, isn’t it a lot of traffic for one bridge?  Do we really want to extend Nashville’s infrastructure in this very expensive way when there is no guarantee of payback and we’re having a hard time making ends meet already?  Is it really only going to attract tenants from out-of-county, and what’s it going to do to downtown? This is the last big rural area this close to our urban core–are we sure this is the right use for it?   Is this really “smart growth”?  There have been no independent analyses of the traffic patterns, economic impact, or fiscal realities of this proposal.  What if corporate campuses turn out to be just as illusory a financial driver as strip malls turned out to be?  Do we want to attract big business, or have good quality of life for ourselves?

Doubt carried the day.  The Nashville Planning Commission is not a bunch of tree-huggers. It’s peopled by engineers, real estate dealers, and business executives, the kind of folks who you would expect have never seen a development they didn’t like, but they weren’t buying Maytown Center.  They passed the Area Plan for Bell’s Bend-Scottsboro, and gave the “special use area” an indefinite deferment, meaning that Tony Giarratana is free to bring it back up any time he thinks he’s got better answers for their questions.  I’m sure he’ll give it a shot, but it looks to me like so many of those questions point to basic structural problems with the project that there is no way it’s ever going to get built.

And what will Jack May do with his twenty-three million dollar pied-a-terre there on Bell’s Bend?  According to the Tennessean, he uses his property in Mexico to grow organic agave, the basic ingredient for tequila.  Much of the tip of Bell’s Bend is prime bottomland.  It would grow great rye.   Maybe we’ll soon see “Mays Brothers organic. authentic Tennessee sippin’ whiskey.”  Who knows?

Well, one of the premises of Maytown Center was that it would attract more wealthy white folks to Nashville–yeah, I know, they didn’t say it that way, but we all know who it was pitched to, don’t we?  In another front in the class war, the wealthy white folks have won at least a temporary victory, as the Nashville School Board voted to return to neighborhood schools–i.e., to resegregate the city’s school system.  The School Board tried to justify it on the grounds of promoting parental involvement in kids’ education and saving money by not busing kids all over the place, but there seems to be a great deal of evidence that their real concern was that exposure to lower-class black kids was chasing white families out of Nashville and deterring new ones from moving in.

The sad truth is, that’s probably true.  Nashville schools lost nearly 20% of their white students just in the first year of desegregation, in 1971, and the city of Brentwood was built on the premise of white flight–hey, let’s just call it racism–because it was just over the Williamson County line and exempt from Nashville’s court-ordered desegregation, but still close enough to Nashville to be an easy commute.  Just think of it:  Cool Springs is there because of racism.  Isn’t that sweet?  But I digress…Nashville schools, which were nearly half white ten years ago, are now approaching the one-third mark.  Without black, inner-city students to fill it out, Hillwood High, the city’s most upscale high school, would be about half empty.  Rich white folks just ain’t havin’ babies like they used to, I guess….good riddance, a lot of people would say.

But here’s the thing:  studies have shown that what helps black kids out step out of the poverty-crime cycle, more than any kind of expensive facilities at de-facto segregated schools, is going to school with, and thus forming relationships with, kids who are not stuck in the poverty-crime cycle.  Conversely, exposure to lower-class kids is very good for middle-class kids, because it expands their horizons in a way that no teacher-produced classroom experience ever could, even if a lot of white parents don’t see it that way.

Let me tell you a story from my own past.  I went to high school in the mid-1960’s; the civil rights movement was hot, but it was something that was mostly happening somewhere else, at least in the early sixties.  I never thought twice about the fact that I was going to a 100% white, upper-middle-class school, where I was actually one of the more exotic people, being Jewish and the only child of a divorced mother who was, by middle-class standards,  just scraping by.  This was back in the days when hardly anybody got a divorce, y’know?  So anyway, I was walking down by the Miami River in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, one chilly winter afternoon.  The Miami River was the divide between white Dayton and black Dayton, and sure enough I met a couple of black kids about my age.  Their coats were ragged and dirty, and one of them had something wrong with one of his eyes that turned the whole eyeball a kind of cloudy white.  They were picking up dead fish from the edge of the river, and they told me they were going to take them to a market they knew of and sell them.  I did not stick around long enough to find out which market!

In retrospect, I think they were putting me on, but at the time I took them seriously, and it put me through changes.  I had literally never encountered anybody like them before.  For me it was like the incident in the life of Gautama Buddha when, after having been protected all his life, he first encountered old age, sickness, and death.  Within a few years I would be working for civil rights organizations, reading Karl Marx, and moving in a trajectory that would take me as clear of mainstream America as I could get–and that was just one five-minute encounter.  Well, OK, I was a pink diaper baby, too….

But I think that’s just what white parents are afraid of, just what the school board is, after all, only responding to–that their kids will be exposed to something that calls into question the comforts they have been raised to take for granted.  This is a difficult, painful, and personal subject.   It’s why conservatives say you can’t pass legislation that makes people change their minds–if you put a lot of people (mainly conservatives, actually!) into situations where their worldview may be challenged, they will respond to their discomfort by attempting to withdraw any way they can–in this case, through private schools and moves to de-facto segregated enclaves like Williamson County.

It is unfortunate that Nashville’s school board, in confronting this conundrum, which admittedly is a bigger problem than they have the power to solve, chose to cave in to racist, classist impulses and throw lower-class black students overboard.  Their actions were probably illegal on a couple of counts:  mainly, of course, racial discrimination but also violations of the state’s open meetings law.   It is astounding that at no time did the school board seek a legal opinion about what amounts to resegregating Nashville’s schools; there will almost certainly be a lawsuit, currently threatened by the NAACP, and meanwhile, to the extent that our faltering economy allows, wealthier whites will continue to leave Nashville’s foundering school system for the still-viable, greener pastures of Williamson and other surrounding counties, where the economic realities of home prices, rents, and lack of public transportation effectively keep out all those scary low-life types.  They will have gotten themselves nicer deck chairs, but they’re still on the Titanic.

music: Michael Franti and Spearhead, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”  (w/Joan Osborne)





MAYTOWN/BELL’S BEND UPDATE COMING SOON

18 08 2008

I attended the August 14th Planning Commission Meeting, but have been too sick to write anything substantial since then.  (Nothing to do with the meeting, I assure you!  The meeting was a hoot!)  There’s a story in my mind, but my fevered eyes are going to have to be able to look at a computer screen for more than a few minutes before I can get it down…it would be even more work to push a pen…sorry…anyway, I’ve turned the corner and should have something up in the next day or two.

Also upcoming in September will be “Putin calls world’s bluff–world blinks” on why power politics was never a good idea and who has benefitted from it, and a review of David Loy’s Money, Sex, War,  Karma,  notes for a Buddhist Revolution from a Green perspective.

Whew, this is a lot to do.  Gotta go lie down.  Be back soon.





MAYTOWN: DOWN BUT NOT OUT

7 08 2008

Last Thursday, I threaded my way through Nashville rush hour traffic to arrive at the Metro Southeast building in time for the scheduled start of the Planning Commission’s hearing on the Bell’s Bend-Scottsboro Area Plan, including the “Alternate Development Area,” aka Maytown Center.  I was sure it would be a circus, and I was not disappointed.  In the parking lot, I found a young lady offering light green “Bell’s Bend–keep it country” T-shirts out of the back of a pickup truck.  Because of some regulation or other, she couldn’t “sell”  the shirts–but she could give them away and I could give her a donation of $10 or more.  So she did and I did, and I went on my way with a new t-shirt.  I’ve got a box or two of cotton t-shirts at home that  I haven’t worn in years, but hey, this one was for a good cause.  After passing through a metal detector to enter the building, I discovered another source of T-shirts inside–darker green, bearing the legend “BALANCE–conservation and development,” offered for free by Maytown advocates, who seemed to be present in surprising numbers.  I didn’t ask for one.

I talked with Bell’s Bend organizer Barry Sulkin, who asked me to see if I could find out what had drawn so many apparently college-age folks out to this hearing on a Thursday afternoon in support of Maytown Center.  “I’m sure they’re getting paid to be here, but they won’t talk to me,” he said.  Indeed, he was wearing one of those light green t-shirts, and I wasn’t yet–altho I suppose my hirsute appearance pretty much telegraphed my opinion.  Indeed, when I approached one of the young people, all he would tell me was, “personal reasons.”  My friend Glenn got a more specific answer:  “Free beer,” and Tony probably gave the show away later in the evening when, in an apparent slip of the tongue, he said to the Planning Commission, “You’ve received thousands of notes from our employees.”

Glenn also attempted to talk to someone he knew as one of the contractors who is in line to do site prep for the May project, but found his friendly greeting and query interpreted as a challenge to a fight.  Sometimes I think the people who say there are reptiles among us are right.  Fortunately, there were two rooms where we could wait for the hearing to begin, and confrontations were kept to a minimum, as the Maytown crowd took the hall and we congregated in the lunch room, where an unguarded door to the outside kept swinging open long after word was out that the building was filled to capacity.  We circulated and talked among ourselves, waiting for the clock to strike six.

The planning commission decided to deal with the overflow crowd by having a lottery for the seats in the council chamber.  There was room for 150 people inside, and there were easily twice that many on hand.  We all lined up and, one by one, drew numbers.  Mine was not a winning ticket, and I was resigned to watching the meeting on the TV in the lunch room.  However, not all the “winning” numbers had been drawn, and they started calling higher numbers for seats in the main room.  A friend of mine gave me her winning ticket, and I found a seat next to where a dozen reporters (or should I say “other reporters”) were tapping away at their laptops.  I was the only person taking notes by hand.  It’s not that I’m old fashioned, it’s just that a portable computer is way down on my list of priorities.  Interestingly, all of the other reporters were gone long before the meeting actually ended.

But first, at seven instead of the declared six, it began, with a presentation by Anita McCaig and Jennifer Carlat, who both stressed the extensive nature of the community consultation process, the safeguards against further sprawl, and the fact that the Mays were only planning to develop 500 acres of the 1400-acre property, and would put conservation easements on the remaining 900 acres–much of which is undevelopable floodplain anyway.  They almost made Maytown Center sound like a good idea and a done deal.

Then it was time for comments from the public, starting with members of Metro Council.  Lonnell Matthews, Jr., the Metro Council member from ground zero, was the opening speaker.  When last queried, he had been firmly on the fence about the proposal.  To our great relief, he declared that 1)there were far too many unanswered questions about the nuts and bolts of Maytown Center, and 2) the preservationists needed more time to prepare their “Third Vision” proposal, which involves creating an agricultural district in the Bend, where farming is, at this point, at a bit of a low ebb.  He suggested that any decision on “the special use area” be deferred for  year in order to allow time for studies to be done.

This call for delay was echoed by all six Metro Council members who spoke, although each added his or her own touch to the deferral.  Emily Evans, of District 23, pointed out that the main thing the Maytown Center proposal needed in order work was “people with lots of money,”  and that Reston, the development Tony G is fond of comparing it to, has a median income of $100,000, which is about twice the median income of even the wealthiest council districts in Nashville.  The median income in District One, by the way, is 18 thousand dollars per household.

Tony Giarratana would later speak expansively of the likelihood that Maytown would create 50,000 jobs that would average 40K a year each.  That ain’t big money anymore, Tony.  People making 40 thou a year have a hard time sending their kids to college.  They are losing their medical coverage, their cars, and their homes.  Tony, I began to realize, is a magician, a magician who enchants people with spells in which he repeatedly names large sums of money and promises prosperity–but I suspect that ultimately, the only prosperity he is really concerned about is the prosperity of him and his immediate circle of backers.  Tony works for whoever can afford to pay him, y’know?

But I digress.  Mike Jameson, the Council member from downtown Nashville, was next up.  He did not like the Maytown idea, pointing out that the downtown office vacancy rate is likely to hit 20% soon, altho maybe not for long, since Nashville is already one of the top corporate relocation destinations in the country, so why open up an area that will compete with downtown?  The east bank of the Cumberland is ripe for redevelopment, he pointed out, and “it already has plenty of bridges built to it.”

Then Jason Holliman, who represents the lower-income district along Charlotte Pike, just south of the Bend, got up and pointed out the chaos that would be caused by pouring tens of thousands more commuters into the already-jammed Charlotte Pike-I40 corridor.  “It’s great that Bell’s Bend has an area plan,” he said, “but we need a plan for Charlotte Avenue before we just go ahead and develop an area adjacent to it.  We need to co-ordinate our plans.”  In closing, he declared, “If you build a strip mall in the middle of a forest, using compact florescent light bulbs doesn’t make it a green building.”

Eric Crofton was the next Council member to speak at length–Councilman Buddy Baker only got up to say that he hadn’t planned on speaking, but definitely wanted to add his voice to the call to defer a decision for a year.  Eric was an interesting study.  He talked like he might have been drinking.  He confessed that he does most of his shopping in Cool Springs, not Davidson County.  He seemed to be coming from a Republican/Libertarian point of view, saying that he mostly thinks the government shouldn’t be in the business of telling developers what to do, but that in this case, so much city co-operation was being asked that the city needed to ask some serious questions before spending any money, “because we ain’t even got enough money to pay attention in this town.”  What if, he asked, the bridge and infrastructure all get installed, but then nothing gets built on the other side of the river?  Will corporations relocate without “incentive packages” that free them from paying the taxes that are Nashville’s incentive for agreeing to this plan?

Councilman Mike Craddock from Madison was the last councilman to speak.  He said that in his district, he hears from people who are already having to choose between paying property taxes and taking care of themselves, so he knows we can’t raise property taxes any higher, but at the same time the city needs more money.  There might be some merit to the Maytown proposal, he thought, but it needed to be studied much more carefully before it is approved.

Now, my sense of how things run in this town is that, if six members of Metro Council get up at a planning commission meeting and ask for a proposal to be deferred for a year, that’s what’s likely to happen, and that’s probably why all the professional reporters left not long after this part of the meeting.  Maybe I could have, too–it was already 8PM, it hadn’t occurred to me to eat before I came, and the only snack machine in the building was out of order.  Hey, I’ve got enough fat on me to make it through a missed meal or two.  I chose to hang in there.

The next part of the meeting was tricky–it was intended to be public comment on the whole Bell’s Bend-Scottsboro plan, with no allusion to the “Alternative Development Area,” and indeed the chairman’s gavel rang out on several occasions, as people with both shades of green t-shirts stood up to testify, and wandered into talking about Maytown instead of keeping it general.  This prohibition made development opponents’ remarks seem a bit beside the point, since both the Planning Commission and Tony Giarratana had emphasized the importance of conservation and restricted development outside Maytown’s perimeter.  We may not have enough money to pay attention in Nashville, but we are well enough off to pay lip service!

Unable to talk about Maytown, the 18-story elephant in the room, nobody could say what everybody was afraid of–that Maytown was the opening move in a series of events that would drive up land values and taxes in the bend, create more development pressure, and ultimately lead to the suburbanization of the whole area.

At this point in the proceedings, we took a short break, and so let’s do that here, too, with a little musical commentary from James McMurtry

music:  James McMurtry, “Candyland

Finally, at around 9 PM, we got down to the Maytown nitty-gritty.  Tony opened with an animated video tour of the development as it would theoretically look when it’s all built out.  It looked like big city, anywhere, USA, or really a lot of places–big city China, Singapore, Hong-Kong, just another corporate center.  And that, I think, is the other 18-story elephant in the room when you’re talking about Maytown Center.  It’s a vision of the triumph of corporatism.  According to the Nashville Scene, the May family is planning to realize eight hundred million dollars from the sale of five hundred acres of land to the developers who will do the actual building.  That means that they are planning to sell those five hundred acres for 1.6 million dollars an acre.  There may be suckers who are willing to pay that kind of money for a building site in Tennessee, but none of them are mom-and-pop operations.  Only a major corporation could be that rich and that dumb.  I used to think you couldn’t be that rich and be that dumb, but the way the US economy is unraveling has demonstrated to me that I was wrong.  I always knew that “clever” was not the same as “wise,” but….but I digress….

So Tony got up and did his magic money dance, said the Mays would pay for the bridge and the police station and the fire station and the school, said there would be 20% affordable housing, displayed a map that purported to show that those who own a majority of the land in Bell’s Bend support his proposal (which, if he had thought about it, doesn’t bode well for his promise to support preservation of the rest of the Bend), talked about how Davidson County really doesn’t have any good sites for “corporate campuses” of 50 acres each–and I wonder, how much of what he plans is going to be “downtown” and how much is going to be “corporate campus”?  Five hundred acres, less a chunk for residential and “downtown” areas, won’t hold many of those, y’know?

After Tony, a parade of Maytown supporters followed, all waving the money flag and doing the money dance, and then it was time for the development’s opponents to speak.

David Briley led off, pointing out that Maytown is purely speculative–we don’t know for sure that anybody will take the bait.  “The bait,” he pointed out, usually includes tax breaks for relocating corporations, which would negate much of the financial benefit to Metro.  He also pointed out that allowing speculators to subvert the community planning process worked to undermine confidence in local government.

Investment realtor John Noel invoked rising energy costs, suggesting that it will be more and more important to keep development close to existing infrastructure, and pointing out that a rural area like Bell’ Bend is a treasure few cities enjoy, that “the greatness of cities is in what we don’t destroy.”

Then David Eichenthal, from the Chattanooga-based Community Research  Council,  who has developed a detailed critique of the Maytown proposal, stood up to take a few swings.  He said that the underlying assumptions behind Tony Giarratana’s claims are flawed, since they presume fifteen years of steady growth in the real estate market, which is cyclical even in the best of times–and he didn’t have to say that these are not the best of times.  He pointed out that for Maytown to fill up as projected, it would have to be the place where 82% of all new office space in Davidson County is rented, and that none of these could be relocations from elsewhere in the county, and that IF this happened, it would depress the commercial real estate market in the rest of Nashville, and that furthermore nowhere in Tony Giarratana’s figures were any allowances being made for operating and maintenance costs (like the cost of equipping and staffing the fire station, police station, and school, f’rinstance). The projected benefits, he concluded, “are likely to be overstated.”  Metro Center, he reminded us, made the same promises about a much more central location and has fallen flat on its corporate face.

Here’s the rough numbers–Nashville’s 2008 budget totals a little over a billion and a half dollars.  Maytown proponents claim their project will contribute about 60 million a year in taxes–when it’s all built out, and that’s a gross contribution, which doesn’t take any costs into account–like providing and staffing city services–i.e. schools, police, etc., or road maintenance.  Giving up this major chunk of greenbelt for such a small increase in the city’s revenue–even under the best-case scenario–really does seem to me to be a form of selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.

Kim Shin – a member of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the US Green Building Council – said Maytown failed to meet USGBC’s smart growth principles, because it is not regionally integrated, doesn’t infill, and “relies on too many contingencies.”

“This is continued sprawl,” he concluded.  “LEED building standards in this situation are just lipstick on a pig.”

More speakers followed, pointing out that Maytown deviates from the community-developed “Plan of Nashville,” that it will Atlantize Nashville by creating a second downtown, that  the “dark skies” street lights will still create glare where there was none before, that conservation easements have been overturned in the past, and that Jack May, in a 2003 interview, had disapproved of developers who asked for zoning variances because it was a kind of government handout–and here he was, asking for a zoning variance so he could make another billion dollars.  Hey, most everybody has their price….

Then it was Tony’s turn for a rebuttal.  The old lawyer’s saw is, “when the facts are against you, argue the law; when the law is against you, argue the facts, and when the law and the facts are both against you, try an ad hominem attack.”  Well, that’s pretty much what Tony did, besides more of his money magic.  He said nobody cares more about downtown Nashville than him, that he has brought a thousand residential units and 250 million dollars of investment to downtown Nashville, and that his proposal would bring two billion dollars in wages into Nashville’s economy–that’s 50 thousand jobs averaging 40K a year–and that the guy from Chattanooga didn’t understand their economic models and most of the folks who are protesting Maytown live ten miles away from it and will never even have to see it and a lot of them just moved into the area recently anyway so who are they to complain and why don’t they just sit down and shut up and let him and Jack May do their thing and make their billion dollars?  Oh, and he agreed to a delay while further studies were done.  “But it probably won’t take a year,” he protested.

It was nearing eleven o’clock when Sumter Camp stood up to give the preservationists’ final response to Tony.  He pointed out that everybody says they don’t want Nashville to turn into another Atlanta, and what that means when-push comes to shove is, don’t build satellite cities like Maytown Center.  He pointed out that, even without Maytown or “coroporate campus” sites, Nashville has attracted 85 new companies in recent years, more than any of the surrounding counties.  And he reiterated that open countryside is a precious commodity that cannot be restored once it is built up, and that approving Maytown Center would crack open the door for further development of Bell’s Bend.

And then it was over.  The planning commission announced that, some time in the next two or three weeks, they would reconvene to have their own discussion and decision, and we all staggered out and went home.  We now know that meeting will be Thursday, August 14, at 4PM, same location.  Doors will open at 3:30, and seating will be first come, first served.

As I said earlier, my best guess is that the Planning Commission will follow the Council members’ suggestion and defer a decision, at least on the “Alternative Development Area,” for a year, and a lot can happen in a year.  The preservationists will have time to create a comprehensive vision for the area, and by then the idea of local food and energy production may look a lot more attractive to most people than an network of 18-story office towers and corporate campuses.   We shall see.

Meanwhile, this next song goes out to Tony G…..

James McMurtry, “I’m Not From Here”





BELL’S BEND SHOWDOWN LOOMS

13 07 2008

On July 24, at 6 PM, in the Green Hills Room at the Metro Southeast Building at 1417 Murfreesboro Pike, there will be a public hearing for the “Detailed Design Plan for Scottsboro-Bell’s Bend,” which you can bet your boots will mostly be about the Maytown Center proposal.  Opponents of the plan are working on massive citizen turnout, even going so far as to be selling “Bell’s Bend–Keep It Country” T-shirts for people to wear at the meeting. They plan to sell them at the Southeast Building, just before the hearing.  There will be only limited time for statements at the meeting, so please send your written comments on this to Metro’s planning commissioners and city council members.

The last Bell’s Bend Community meeting, in June, provided the information that the Planning Commission had decided to let the office and condo towers go to 18 stories instead of the original fifteen, because they would “be in harmony with the rural theme of the area.”  Nobody got sarcastic with the planning commission representatives about this, but it was cause for speculation–will they be designed to look like giant silos?  Or sheathed in something that resembles tree bark?  My dentist, a rowdy kind of guy, thought of highrises designed to resemble giant outhouses.

It’s hard to say what the planning commission will decide.  I sat at a metro solid waste meeting a few years ago and watched them approve a dump on the banks of the Harpeth River that was clearly illegal, and they knew it.  It took a little citizen activism, but we stopped it.  This time, the stakes are much higher.

The developers are waving the promise of big bucks in tax revenues for Metro, which is currently in tight financial straits, but even they admit that possibility is years in the future, and unless they have signed contracts from companies willing to move in on completion, that’s so much hot air, and I would like to think that Mayor Dean is smart enough to see that.  Rumor has it that both he and Jim Cooper don’t like the plan, and if that’s really true, then Maytown Center is most likely dead in the water.  Like Tony Giarratana’s previous hype-and-dump, the Signature Tower, this plan is a delusion dreamed up by people who think the American Gravy Train is just gonna roll on forever.  Meanwhile, that ol’ train has left the tracks and the cars are about to start tumbling, to the great discomfort of all us passengers.  Metro would be much better served by consolidating the infrastructure it has already than by chasing pie-in-the-sky plans that depend on unfettered eternal economic growth, and the state highway fund will serve taxpayers better by spending its limited money maintaining the roads and bridges that are already built than by throwing a big chunk of its capital at a brand new bridge to nowhere.

Development opponents, on the other  hand, don’t have the greatest case either.  The study they are doing to contest the developer’s economic assertions will be easy to dismiss as biased.  It is bizarre that the city is not doing their own study and taking the developer’s assertions at face value, but that’s what’s happening.   Maytown Center is the kind of thing that has worked in the past, so a lot of people are willing to believe it will work now.  The May family already owns the land, which they paid an inflated price for, so they are going to want to get their money back out of it somehow.  Practically speaking, the smartest thing the preservationists could do is come up with a counterproposal, such as an institute for the promotion of local agriculture, that would be more of a turnon for the May family than all those phallic towers.  Unfortunately, teaching people to grow their own food is not nearly as glamorous, financially rewarding, or taxable as high-end highrises, at least in theory.  The reality of launching such a massive development in the face of this country’s ongoing collapse may be something else again entirely.

Then again, Maytown Center may be aimed at the Belle Meade crowd, the one percent of Americans who are still doing well in the middle of this mess.  In that case, they may find Maytown’s isolation and easily controllable access very secure. If the proposal is approved, and if the uberwealthy are the target demographic, then Maytown Center could “succeed,” and would also succeed in transforming the rest of the Bend into a checkerboard of high-end “executive estates,” as desperate residents, having a hard time paying their escalating taxes (somebody’s gonna have to pay for all that infrastructure!), cave in and sell land to the only people who still have money.

Barring a road-to-Damascus moment for Jack May, he is likely to create something environmentally destructive in southern Bell’s Bend, even if he only bulldozes it up to create a housing development that never sells a home.  Maybe the collapsing economy will curb his enthusiasm, but he is in that one percent of the population who are well-heeled enough that they are not living in the same reality as the rest of us.  Well, tract homes will compost quicker than highrises.  Let’s stop Maytown Center and then figure out what, in this rapidly shifting American landscape, we need to do next.

Don’t forget–July 24th, 6PM, Green Hills Room at Metro Southeast, 1417 Murfreesboro Pike!  See you there!

music:  Terry Allen, The Doll








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