Some wonder why Nashville has been so slow to make the transition to sustainability, while others see the city’s efforts as monumental.  How people view their city’s progress is a clear case of perspective:  If you are a Nashville native (like I am), you probably see lots of progress in the new bike rental stations, expanded Greenway, revitalized East Nashville, SoBro, Gulch, Germantown and other emerging areas that are now filling up (albeit slowly) with high rise condos and apartment buildings filled with young professionals.  Furthermore, Mayor Karl Dean’s “green” challenges being put fourth are a signal to the community that Nashville is trying.

But from the perspective of someone who comes from a bigger, much more environmentally sustainable city, Nashville’s efforts towards stewardship seems like child’s play.   The bike rental stations that everyone started raving about are not doing as well as everyone had hoped.  Instead of seeing citizens of downtown Nashville using them for commuting or tourists using them as an alternative mode of transportation while they sight see, people are using them as pleasure cruises, taking them from the uptown/midtown area, coasting into downtown and leaving them at those stations.  They may as well be sitting at the Pedal Tavern.  Because Nashville sits inside of a bowl, nobody wants to pedal back, so the bike rental companies are having to shuttle bikes back uphill.

While it would be “cool” to live in a swanky downtown Nashville condo, the prices don’t justify the location (them’s New York prices, ya’ll!).  Okay, maybe not New York, but when you have a choice between paying $300,000 for a 600 sq. ft. condo downtown (including micro-balcony) or a 2,500 sq. ft. home with an acre lawn 10 minutes away from the city (remember you still need a car for both), the choice is easy.  Thus, there is still a ghost town-like feeling when you take a close look at many of downtown Nashville’s shiny new buildings.  The occupancy rates are lower than they should be.  It’s too expensive, and there’s nothing down there to justify the price.  There is a serious lack of grocery stores and pharmacies within walking distance.  Try walking around downtown on a Saturday or Sunday.   Nothing is open.  So the convenience of city living that is reflected in the price of real estate does not yet exist.

The Solution?

If prices could come down, more people could afford to live in the city.  This could create more of a demand for basic services (public transportation being one of them), which would create more jobs downtown, allowing more people to live there without having to continue to rely on owning a car.  In a nutshell, the economic ecosystem of downtown is lopsided.  Being a tourist is great.  Living downtown, not so much.

While the mayor just announced a proposal to make improvements to Nashville’s busses and expand the route to create a much-needed east-to-west line, citizens in the west are actually opposing it!  Some townships around Nashville also oppose the introduction of busses.  I’m sure they have good reason (in their mind) to oppose these growth initiatives, but they aren’t being very forthcoming as to what they are.   To outsiders, it just looks like they are letting their snobbery get in the way of seeing the economic benefits of allowing busses into their communities.   Nashville citizens should let go of previously held stereotypes that only poor people and ne’er-do-wells ride the city bus and recognize the potential boom in business this could bring to the east-west corridor.  Once the businesses move in, real estate prices can legitimately go up, and there will be buyers for those expensive properties, because they will see the value in the location.  And this should make everyone happy.

By India Stone