Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mayor Dean takes a Dump on South Nashville

By Peter Rodman

Here's the SHORT version of this blog: 
If you OPPOSE the arrogant way this thing is being pushed through, with virtually NO community input, you need to join the hundreds of citizens who plan to be at the downtown Courthouse tonight, to make themselves heard.
Sheriff Daron Hall has repeatedly poo-pooed any need for such input, saying "WE've already studied it!" and "The Council has known about this for a year!", as if the citizens are just garden variety pests, kicking up dirt in His Eminence's fiefdom, and slowing down an already-determined outcome.  He's not just confident or 'cocky' about it; he's downright irritated, that we-the-people have any say in the matter, at all. 

We don't need to move the jail.
We need to renovate it.

Downtown needs a jail--as do all major cities in America.  Even the Mayor's favorite "model" cities--Portland and Seattle, after which he likes to model his growth--BOTH have downtown jail facilities! 
Be reminded, this is a mayor who hasn't even found a way to open a grocery store downtown yet--even though almost 100,000 new residents now live in all those massive new condos! 
Is there even a drugstore down there? A hardware store? Nope. 

He'll have none of it.
Just hotels, condos, souvenir shops, venues, and honky tonks. 

You'd be forgiven for thinking downtown Nashville now resembles a theme park, more than it does an actual city.

It would be just as cost efficient to tear down the jail and build a new one right there, where it's needed, as it would to ferry hundreds of prisoners a night, back and forth on a 20 mile round trip journey, forever after.

                                    [END OF SHORT VERSION.]

Beginning of lengthy, detailed version:

Mayor Dean takes a Dump on South Nashville

By Peter Rodman

To be sure, a lot of great improvements have been made
to our city, during Mayor Dean’s tenure--but it could easily be argued that most of these projects were simply the "logical next steps" any Mayor would have taken, given the exploding profile a prime time series gave this town.
Unfortunately, the Mayor's penchant for 'bright and shiny objects' with instant rewards has often distracted him from securing the nuts and bolts of a truly major city, which Nashville has (rather suddenly) become.
The truth is, we are woefully unprepared for all this growth.
Mass transit is non-existent here. 

And major capital projects have been almost exclusively aimed at certain 'favored' areas, under Mayor Dean: 
The Gulch, East Nashville, West End, and Downtown.  
Even his proposed 'AMP' bus lane system--a poor excuse for 'mass transit,' if ever there was one--inexplicably shut out North and South Nashville, and became an entirely east-west proposal, linking the privileged, from West End to the Cumberland River.
This was particularly galling to the city's existing bus riders, consisting mainly of full time workers living on the north and south edges of town, who need real mass transit from the least wealthy areas, to downtown--in order to clean hotel rooms, serve dinners, bus tables, and work the cash registers that collect all those tourist dollars.

Those of us living and working in what I call 'Near South Nashville' --the area bordered by Franklin Pike on the west, Old Hickory Blvd. on the south, Antioch Pike on the east, and Thompson Lane/Murfreesboro Road at the north end--are beginning to see a pattern in this Mayor's "favored neighborhoods"...and for us, it’s not a good one.
The Mayor’s “chosen areas” get gilded over and over again, as though needing constant reinvention…while Near South Nashville has become his most neglected, and some might say even abused, stepchild.
Every section of town he has paid attention to has seen property values rise exponentially,  while 'Near South' area home values have remained relatively flat.
This, despite being less than six miles straight down 2nd and 4th Avenues (which both become Nolensville Road, to the south) from downtown. 
What is the reason why home buyers haven't flooded the area?  Crime isn't particularly high here--certainly nothing like North or east Nashville...so what could it be?
Neglect, that's what.
Codes are rarely enforced, so multiple immigrant families sometimes cram into single family dwellings, unbothered by Metro's useless 'statutes' at all. 
Corporate headquarters are planted either smack in the middle of downtown, or way out of the area--even though ample space (and unrivaled proximity) should logically favor the 'Near South' area.  

But the biggest problem is the attitude, coming from City Hall.
Because many citizens and immigrants don't speak English as a first language, it's assumed they are the majority here...which isn't so. 

As a result, the only projects allocated to us are always "ethnically based" tokens, to provide handy photo-ops for politicians, instead of lifting up the whole area.
Nothing new or shiny happens here, and that's a direct result of Mayor Dean's own preference, to go where developers tell him to go, and solidify his legacy by picking all the easy, low-hanging fruit...most of it, downtown.
Face it:  There were no residential buildings there to speak of, a decade ago.  It was easy pickin's, once ABC's hit series Nashville put the real Nashville on the map.

But as mentioned earlier, whenever a problem arises, it’s ours, here in South or 'Near South' Nashville. 

And whenever we need something fixed, it’s moved!
Greer Stadium?  Gone.  
These guys in the picture below lost their jobs, when the Mayor packed it in, and split for Sulphur Dells...
Workers at Greer Stadium, on their last night.
August 27, 2014
Photograph Copyright 2014 by Peter Rodman.

State Fair? Gone.
Now it's a lowly flea market, on its best days.  
Meanwhile, all we get down here is spillover--essentially the WASTE from other areas. 

The Nashville Speedway will almost certainly be the next to go. 

It's no coincidence that Green Hills Mall has been transformed into what feels an architect's drawing, with idyllic sidewalks and fake 'streets' to accommodate its pricey new specialty shops and restaurants, and people walking around like illustrations, next to its toy-like trees.  
But wither Bellevue Mall, or Hickory Hollow Mall?
Today they are massive ghost towns, and the reasons lead you right to Mayor Dean's doorstep.
Oh, sure...the internet has killed many indoor shopping malls nationwide, it's true.
Hickory Hollow Mall~ May, 2015 Photograph by Peter Rodman.
It should be re-named 'The Mayor Dean Mall,'
if only as a way of prodding him to pay more attention,
because THIS is as much his 'legacy' as any skyscrapers downtown.
But the surrounding, extremely dense condo development allowed outside Hickory Hollow Mall crammed  first-time condo buyers right on top of each other, so cramped and close together that even upwardly mobile families soon found themselves without enough space for their kids to find anything but trouble...much of it at that mall, just down the hill from their shiny, new, cheaply stacked, lushly carpeted, townhome-cum-ghetto.
Would ANY of that massive development have been allowed in East Nashville? 
Not on your life!
Even a single oversized home permit east of the Cumberland usually draws the kind of 'connected' complaints that find their way to City Hall, in many cases sending would-be developers packing. 
And where do they usually go?
To the area of least resistance: 
'South Nashville'...better known as Antioch.

This Mayor let developers run roughshod down there, ruining the beauty of the hills and creating a hangout for disaffected kids that ended the Hickory Hollow Mall, far faster than internet commerce ever could have--and almost all the surrounding retail, which was substantial, is gone too.
On Mayor Karl Dean's watch, this place became a ghost town.
But we’re supposed to celebrate Hizzonor's benevolence in bringing tiny patches of this vacant monstrosity back to life-- as an ice rink or a library, on a lot so vast that a recent citizens' meeting there--to protest the moving of our city jail--found even savvy media members flummoxed by its remote location, in the eerily haunted setting...the 'Global Mall,' a post apocalyptic movie set from another globe altogether, once known as Hickory Hollow.

Mayor Dean...YOU OWN THIS!
Birds swooped overhead, as a Channel 2 cameraman asked of the few passersby, "Excuse me...do you know where the meeting hall is? I sure wish there was someone to ask in here...but there's not even a sign, anywhere!"
All he got were shrugs.
Look around you.  You see a dying Antioch.
Property values? Gone.

There are malls that haven't quite closed, like 100 Oaks. Again, that one's in Near South Nashville--at least 10 miles closer to town than Antioch--and has become a wacky hybrid between off-brand 'doh-doh bird' retailers (Burlington Coat Factory, Electronic Express) and spillover testing facilities from Vanderbilt Hospital.
Even the hospital itself seems to have dumped just the most mundane, mind-numbing testing facilities in 'Vanderbilt at 100 Oaks.' 

It is against that backdrop that Mayor Dean and County Sheriff Hall dropped a shitbomb on South and Near South Nashville that nobody expected--and nearly nobody wants--the proposed importing of the City Jail to our suburban neighborhood.
After quietly commissioning a bogus 35 page "study" to affirm their already-made decision, they offered no other specific alternate locations to the one on Harding Place.
In all 35 pages, only generalities (like "North Nashville") are given, with guesstimate costs accompanying each one-- whereas  ONLY Harding Place seems to ever have been seriously considered, in actual detail. 

At the very outset, the most logical choice--staying put downtown--was discarded.
No comprehensive study of renovations at the downtown jail was ever done. 
That facility holds 2,000 prisoners...and handles up to 200 fresh ones a night, most of whom are arrested within a few blocks of the building...that's right:  Downtown.
Mayor Dean and Sheriff Hall--both 'no shows' at every community meeting about this--say it should be summarily shut down, and the building and property sold to the highest bidder. 
As mentioned above, they then propose to move the jail to Harding Place, in residential 'Near South Nashville,' where the South Precinct Metro Nashville Police Headquarters currently resides.
Now, get this...because it's an amazing sleight-of-hand:
After building a MASSIVE new prison facility there, they propose to move the South Precinct 10 miles further down the road, to guess where: 
Hickory Hollow, or thereabouts...in Antioch.

All of this is peachy, if you're a sheriff who's grown tired of his
Sheriff Daron Hall's empty seat at the 'Global Mall'
community meeting, May 27, 2015.  Claiming 'scheduling'
problems, he nevertheless found time to talk to all the
local TV stations 'live,' on that night's 5 o'clock news.
The citizens' meeting was attended by hundreds,
who had hoped to question him about his plans
to move the jail into their area. It took place at 6:30.
decrepit building downtown...or if you fancy the long, quiet rides with arrestees of all sorts each night, all night, back and forth from the courthouse and 2nd Avenue to Harding Place in Near South Nashville. 
Or...if you don't like oversight.  Which our Davidson County Sheriff's Department notoriously does. not. like.

Let's forget about how many cops it takes off the streets and for how long every night, as the uniformed taxi service ferries perps in and out of town--first at night, when all the action takes place; and then, the next morning, back into town for court appearances! 
Forget how many squad cars this will tie up.  

Forget how many fewer officers will be available to answer citizen calls.  
Forget all that gas, amounting to millions a year, when a 20 mile round trip accompanies every single arrest, 24/7/365, back and forth, back and forth, just so the Sheriff and his boys have a cushier place to call home.

The Mayor and the Sheriff have unilaterally (without almost ANY community input) decided to dump downtown’s nightly crime problems on Near South Nashville--muggers, thieves, drunks, rapists--every single night of the year, so our beloved tourists won’t have to look at them.
But once bonded out of jail, where will they find themselves?
One of dozens of children who walked into
a recent community meeting about moving the jail
holding signs that said stuff like, "KIDS LIVES MATTER.'

They'll be stuck on Harding Place, surrounded by a host of new bond businesses which will follow the jail here.  And they'll be left to wait at one of a very few bus stops for our fabulous twice-a-day city buses to take them...somewhere. 
Roughly 7,000 new prisoners a year will be in this situation.
Do you think they'll sit patiently at that bus stop, waiting six or more hours?
Or might they...well...y'know..."look around a little?"
Maybe take a walk...maybe canvass the neighborhood for easy marks?
If it only happens one percent of the time that this results in a significant crime, that's SEVENTY significant new crimes, gifted to a suburban neighborhood that's struggled WITHOUT the Mayor's help (so far) to lift itself out of poverty and crime, and to build new alliances among homeowners.

Thanks, Mayor Dean.
Thanks for nothing.
Now, your problems--all generated downtown--will be well out of your lovely tourist area, and smack dab in the middle of ours.
You know...at first, with all your resources directed at downtown, the Gulch, East Nashville, West End, and Sulphur Dells--we felt like abandoned step-children.
But now it seems we’re just a toilet, for whatever waste you generate down where all the money comes and goes. 

Make no mistake:  This is all about 'image.'
In a city whose idea of 'planning' has created a downtown fantasy land for tourists (and naïve condo buyers) without a single grocery or hardware or drug store, we mustn’t ruffle the feathers of our city fathers!
“We know best,” the Sheriff tells us, over and over, but really…what does he know about cities? 
No other major city in America has a downtown living area without so much as a place to buy toothpaste, a loaf of bread, or (God forbid!)...a screwdriver. 
What kind of theme park has Mayor Dean created, down there? 
And now, you want no jail...
So you give it to us?

No, thanks!
It’s OUR turn to share in this city’s prosperity.  It’s our turn to have some REALLY nice projects, not “ethnically based” stuff so politicians can get a photo-op…but
We deserve prosperity-based projects, as gleaming and as gorgeous as all the stuff OUR tax dollars---and corporate tax breaks---have subsidized in downtown Nashville.
How about some of that stuff along Nolensville Road, and Harding Place?  
Jail, my friends, isn’t what we have in mind.
We could use RAILS…not JAILS.

Just the temerity of exporting your downtown crime problems to an area which has struggled (without any help) to lift itself up from blight, is ranklesome.
We haven't done too badly on our own down here, either--despite being tagged as ‘Scary Walmart,’ in the (more than slightly racist) Hipster’s 'Map of Nashville' that floated around the internet, a couple years back.
I’ll tell you something:
When Harding Mall closed, that Walmart saved us.
It replaced all those jobs and then some--and to this day we know all the faces of the folks working there, because ours is a friendly neighborhood.
So while it may not be trendy enough for Five Points, it's a basic need this area had, after Kroger abandoned us.  Not everyone can afford to be so choosy about which life raft to grab.
Ours is a working class area, and it's on the rise.
But it can’t stay that way with handcuffs on--either figuratively or literally.
And we’ve gotten no help from you, Mayor Dean!

What’s even more insulting is that you propose to REPLACE our 'Near South' area police headquarters with that jail, and move the precinct 10 miles away...increasing call times by who-knows-how-much!
It seems obvious that moving the precinct we need here further away will unduly increase our police response times. It’s a lot longer ride from there to here.
Can I confidently feel like, say, a noise complaint...or a traffic incident...or a suspicious prowler will be caught in time, when squad cars are based ten miles away from my area?
Just because you lump it all together as 'South Nashville' doesn't make it so.
'Near South Nashville' is as far from Antioch as Bellevue is from the 5 Spot, in East Nashville.  You'd never group that whole area as one, and yet...we're all lumped together.

All the extra tourist money Nashville has attracted of late has been, as mentioned at the top of this column, a net positive.
But our beloved downtown tourist trap attracts not only business and buildings--it also 'attracts' our police force, stretching them to the limit and beyond. 
Leaving us...here in Near South Nashville…where

Which is where that squad car will be, while transporting perps from downtown to the holding tank, to the court house and back.
Pretty soon we’ll be running a uniformed taxi service for crooks, instead of watching over each neighborhood and dealing with its problems locally, as we should, not centrally.  

I submit to you that this concept is a BAD idea, and only exports trouble from downtown to the Harding Place/Nolensville Road area, where we LEAST need it…and to paraphrase Taylor Swift, it  would "NEVER, EVER, EVER" be allowed in:
The Gulch, East Nashville, Belle Meade, or West End…and now...not even downtown…all of which are (not coincidentally) Mayor Dean's "pet areas." 

Please, stop using us a garbage pail, and WAKE UP! 
There’s much more to Near South Nashville than just pretending you tolerate it. 


This opinion column and all photographs herein are Copyright 2015 by Peter Rodman. All Rights Reserved.  No portion herein may be copied or used in any manner without express written permission from the copyright holder.

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