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Nashville Versus The Suburban Markets Such As Cool Springs

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Mush has been discussed recently about the suburban developments in Maryland Farms, Cool Springs, and other areas.

Let's have a serious yet respectful discussion about this. I welcome developers like Michael Hayes to join us.

Is there an anti-Nashville, anti-urban bias among suburban developers? I believe there is.

The suburbs are fast becoming a scar on the American landscape. Traffic congestion and pollution has become the norm. Land has been raped, and trees have been cut down. Lakes and ponds have been back filled in in some cases, and rivers and creeks have been re-routed and/or disturbed. Wildlife has bee effected.

At the same time fuel prices are going up, and we are becoming more dependent on foreign oil. We are creating a large global warming turbine. As we pour more and more asphalt surface parking lots, the suburbs get hotter and hotter. The pollution levels are now getting just as high in the suburbs as they are in the city. With warmer temperatures comes drought ,and watering these office parks becomes more and more expensive, and all this is eventually passed on to the tax payer.

Why do these companies not locate in the city? Is it an anti-city bias? Is it an anti-Nashville bas? Is it a lack of public transportation? Is it fear of ethnic and racial diversity? Is it political? Is it city congestion? Is it taxes? Why do developers continue to locate in suburbs and stay out of the cities?

Serious discussions please! Let's keep this civil and polite. This is a serious topic across the country. With crumbling infrastructure, high fuel prices, national debt, high unemployment, crime, and other issues can we afford to continue this flight to the suburbs? Can states support this much infrastructure encroaching on farm and rural areas? How much urban decay will the country support to move to the suburbs for work, living, play, and recreation while leaving our cities behind. Is the migration back to the cities real, or is it just clever marketing by urban developers?

What is the answer to this problem?

MT

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My take is this:

There is a huge lack of infrastructure as far as mass transit in Nashville and the fact the suburban school systems are much better than Nashville's especially in Williamson and Franklin.

I don’t think there is a conspiracy or anything of that nature but more of a every city for itself attitude. Every municipality is out to get whatever they can get as far as new businesses and corporate relocations to enhance their own tax base. If you have good school systems and a high quality of life in your city or county, then you will have an edge over a city like Nashville, that until the last 15 years or so neglected the urban core and I lay the blame squarely on the Metro governments of the past for not keeping with the times. Things are slowly changing but there are a lot of local council people who hold Nashville back. So IMO, I say Nashville is its own worst enemy when it comes to development.

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Agreed Ron that Nashville has been it's own worse enemy. Many members of the Metro Council have indeed been "anti-Nashville" themselves. They, and the mayor, let Nissan go to Cool Springs. If we cannot get our own council members to value the city, then we cannot expect Franklin and Williamson County to do that either.

I know the relationship with Marriott and Nashville was strained when Marriott took over management of the Opryland Hotel. I am assuming this was done by Marriott because they did not get the MCC Hotel, when Omni did. Gaylord has always competed with Nashville Convention business and I am sure P2 can enlighten us on this as well.

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No conspiracy, Companies will locate where it is most cost-efficient to do business. Unfortunately, that means the suburbs until Metro does more.

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I fall into the pro-urban crowd, and I'm certainly not a developer, so my opinion is bias and perhaps trivial, but here it is.

Suburban development is consumer driven. Developers don't have some evil "destroy the city" agenda. Thy simply build what sells. I believe in property rights and personal rights, so as much as I dislike the suburbs, I think they have their place.

My biggest problem with suburban development is HOW they are developed. This is the way I have observed it;

-remove all trees

-remove all top soil (sell)

-level as much as possible

-at edges of property, build massive retaining walls to compensate for leveled terrain.

-build enclosed road network (no outlet)

-build structures as cheaply as feasible

-lay sod on top of infertile dirt

Commercial development is one thing, but in the case of residential, this leaves a very poor product for the home buyer. They end up living in a very homogenous neighborhood with few connections to the surrounding neighborhoods or land, with a yard of infertile dirt and no trees. Yards are usual full of construction debris and nothing will grow without a huge investment in landscaping (which is rarely done). The end result is very few trees, basically zero old growth. Ground settles, foundations crack. All homes look like one of three models. Personal touches are few and often not allowed by an HOA. There is little incentive, if not discoragement, to make your home stand out. As a result, upkeep is kept to a minimum. Landscaping is often unsustainable (see bermuda grass in direct sunlight) and frequently dies.

Once the "new" wears off, this type of development looses value very rapidly. We see this in most neighborhoods built in the 70's and 80's. During the recent housing collapse, no one wanted to discuss these types of issues. (Are these just bad loans, or bad loans on bad housing?)

Ordinances and neighborhood guidelines are met at a bare minimum. Very few "smart" features (such as ground source heat pumps, premium insulation, grey water collection) are even given as an option.

Granted, I know developers build what sells. If there is no public pressure to build any differently, why should they? Personally, i consider a home an investment. I will put my money in a place i feel will hold its value, not to mention a place that I will want to live in 30 years.

But to each his own I guess.

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But to be fair, I think urban developers in Nashville are also part of the problem. Developments are being built with high rents and low square footage. They are having a hard time selling and it's no surprise. They are being priced like a much larger city! Nashville is still small enough to make a reasonable commute to the suburbs. So dollar per square foot is highly unballanced. The reason rents are high in NYC and San Francisco for a tiny flat is because of convenience. It's difficult to drive to the suburbs, and there is no space for new development. In Nashville it's still easy.

Nashville has a great opportunity (but is blowing it) to build large apartments at reasonable rents. People will want to live there. When the city is building out and land becomes scarce is when apartments should get smaller and rents rise. That older, larger stock, will be much more valuable at this point.

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Agreed Ron that Nashville has been it's own worse enemy. Many members of the Metro Council have indeed been "anti-Nashville" themselves. They, and the mayor, let Nissan go to Cool Springs. If we cannot get our own council members to value the city, then we cannot expect Franklin and Williamson County to do that either.

I know the relationship with Marriott and Nashville was strained when Marriott took over management of the Opryland Hotel. I am assuming this was done by Marriott because they did not get the MCC Hotel, when Omni did. Gaylord has always competed with Nashville Convention business and I am sure P2 can enlighten us on this as well.

I have no idea how to respond to this except to say that the shareholder vote on the Gaylord/Marriott deal is scheduled for the third week of September and if approved the earliest Marriott would take over is very late in the fall. Second Gaylord has NEVER competed with downtown for convention business because there was nothing to compete with in terms of facilities. That changes with the MCC but in reality it just creates more opportunities for more groups to come to Nashville as some want the downtown experience and some like being housed under one roof. If the Marriott deal goes through, Nashville will become home to the largest Marriott property in the WORLD. Think about that one. Marriott has literally thousands of loyal clients that will want to use that facility in the future and since the property is in Davidson County everyone wins.....

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I don't think there's an anti-Nashville bias at all. Brentwood and Franklin (and all of Williamson County) definitely look out for their best interest, but Nashville does the same thing. I can't blame either for that. If Company ABC from Chicago is looking to relocate to the Nashville area Nashville and Williamson County are going to go after them and offer incentives. At that point it is up to the company to determine which location is the best for them.

Ultimately, the company is going to do whatever is perceived to be best for their bottom line. That equation is multi-faceted, but I think there are two key issues for them. The first is directly related to business costs. Which place is going to be cheaper to operate in terms of taxes, building costs, land costs, wage costs, utilities, incetives, etc. The second big component is quality of life for their key employees. Every company wants to attract the best and brightest for the cheapest amount of money possible. Will they be able to do that best in Williamson County or in Nashville? For any relocating company an important question is which will lead to a higher likliehood of retaining current employees by having them relocate to Nashville as well?

I think the latter part is where Nashville is currently far behind Williamson County, and Nashville will be better served by improving the quality of life metrics instead of complaining about Cool Springs. If you're a middle management employee with 3 kids of Company ABC in Chicago and are considering following the company to Tennessee, is are you going to choose to live in Nashville or Williamson County? He makes $100,000/yr and is in a position to buy a $350,000 house, and there are plenty of options in Williamson County and Nashville. However, he doesn't have the money to send all three kids to private school, so public school is the only option for him. Williamson County wins, hands down, every time. In fact, odds are that his kids will get a better education (or at least attend more highly ranked schools) in Williamson County than in suburban Chicago.

Obviously, this scenario doesn't apply to everyone, but for most people who are in positions to sway a company's decision this is a legitimate issue. The people who want to live in the urban areas of Nashville generally don't have school-aged kids, but they also generally aren't in positions at their age and position to affect decisions by the company and are generally thought of as being expendable lower level employees.

In my opinion, schools are the key component that Metro Nashville has not addressed and it's the biggest driver of companies locating in Williamson County. Look at housing prices in the Brentwood zip code on either side of the county line for proof that schools matter immensely. Unfortunatly, it doesn't seem like many in Nashville's government get it or are willing to make the necessary changes.

Just a few weeks ago it was the Nashville School Board that shot down Great Hearts from coming to the West End, and then attempted to ignore the state school board. Then members of the Nashville School Board made their opinions known that the reason they didn't want Great Hearts there was because it would be a "lily-white" school. That's great. Why doesn't the school board just come out and tell the parents in the West End to move to Williamson County?

I love cities. I'm living in the middle of one now because I love it. However, almost no one will sacrifice their child's education for the sake of living in the city. For some people that can afford it, that means sending their kids to private school. For most, however, that means moving to one of the surrounding counties. Please note that I do not necessarily think that a child cannot get a very good education in Nashville (in fact, I think if you live in the right areas a child can get a comparable education to Williamson County). However, the perception among a very large percentage of the population in the metro area is that it is impossible to do so, and perception matters.

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These topics are very illogical, yet you post them once a week.

Developers as a whole have no bias. They are out to make a living. They will produce product where it can be sold/leased/rented and they maximize their return.

Developers are full of biases, like everybody is. Not the kind posited by the OP--like they somehow hate the city, no. But they have biased views that push their choices, mostly because they just want to believe they'll be safe doing what worked in the past. Banks and developers in Nashville seem to have a hard time believing urban development can work in Nashville. There is obviously a great shortage of housing downtown and throughout the core, but they'd much rather build single family homes out in the suburbs because that worked in the past. I've noticed a lot of the core apartments are being built by out of town companies that are obviously judging the situation more rationally.

They are also lazy, like everybody, so they're biased towards what's easy, like buying up remote farmland and chopping it into lots on cul-de-sacs. I've never worked in development but it's my understanding that infill development is just harder than buying a farm from some dead guy. And in all fairness, requires a whole different type of expertise.

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Developments are being built with high rents and low square footage. They are having a hard time selling and it's no surprise.

? Apartment occupancy rates are near 100%. They're charging those high rents because they can get them.

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You're right. I was referring to condos. I mixed "rent" and "sell". I still believe its a similar theory.

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I have no idea how to respond to this except to say that the shareholder vote on the Gaylord/Marriott deal is scheduled for the third week of September and if approved the earliest Marriott would take over is very late in the fall. Second Gaylord has NEVER competed with downtown for convention business because there was nothing to compete with in terms of facilities. That changes with the MCC but in reality it just creates more opportunities for more groups to come to Nashville as some want the downtown experience and some like being housed under one roof. If the Marriott deal goes through, Nashville will become home to the largest Marriott property in the WORLD. Think about that one. Marriott has literally thousands of loyal clients that will want to use that facility in the future and since the property is in Davidson County everyone wins.....

Thanks for the clarification Curt.

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. Developers don't have some evil "destroy the city" agenda. They simply build what sells. I believe in property rights and personal rights, so as much as I dislike the suburbs, I think they have their place.

My biggest problem with suburban development is HOW they are developed. This is the way I have observed it;...

(snip)

Granted, I know developers build what sells. If there is no public pressure to build any differently, why should they?

I agree with all your observations, and would add that I perceive one of the biggest problems in Nashville is not enough variety, which I attribute to developer biases (or cowardice). An example of what I mean:

One of my favorite types of houses is the narrow townhouse that is a few steps up from the sidewalk in front, or with a tiny tiny landscape area, no side yard, either shares a wall or has a narrow walkway/lightwell between houses, but with a long, narrow walled yard in the back for gardening and entertaining. The owner is spared the useless nuisance of a front lawn but still can grow some things, entertain outdoors, and sit outside in the morning with a cup of coffee in privacy. This is probably the commonest type of single family home in London, and they exist in some US cities, but I've never seen one in Nashville.

The public as individuals tends to just buy what's out there. Community groups should work towards a more diverse housing supply, but I think a developer who takes a chance and builds something a little different, if he does it well, is likely to be rewarded.

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"One of my favorite types of houses is the narrow townhouse that is a few steps up from the sidewalk in front, or with a tiny tiny landscape area, no side yard, either shares a wall or has a narrow walkway/lightwell between houses, but with a long, narrow walled yard in the back for gardening and entertaining. The owner is spared the useless nuisance of a front lawn but still can grow some things, entertain outdoors, and sit outside in the morning with a cup of coffee in privacy. This is probably the commonest type of single family home in London, and they exist in some US cities, but I've never seen one in Nashville."

Take a look in person (or via Google street view) at 728 4th Ave. North in Nashville. Solid row of attached homes, close to the street. Small enclosed patios in the rear of the building with garages located along Criddle Street (which is effectively an alley). There are residential units located above the garages, as well. Nice development...sadly, right by the railroad tracks!

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"One of my favorite types of houses is the narrow townhouse that is a few steps up from the sidewalk in front, or with a tiny tiny landscape area, no side yard, either shares a wall or has a narrow walkway/lightwell between houses, but with a long, narrow walled yard in the back for gardening and entertaining. The owner is spared the useless nuisance of a front lawn but still can grow some things, entertain outdoors, and sit outside in the morning with a cup of coffee in privacy. This is probably the commonest type of single family home in London, and they exist in some US cities, but I've never seen one in Nashville."

Take a look in person (or via Google street view) at 728 4th Ave. North in Nashville. Solid row of attached homes, close to the street. Small enclosed patios in the rear of the building with garages located along Criddle Street (which is effectively an alley). There are residential units located above the garages, as well. Nice development...sadly, right by the railroad tracks!

Nice, and shows some imagination, not just the typical Nashville residence. But the patios a bit small, check out London UK on google maps, there's miles and miles of this:

London1A.jpg

London2A.jpg

I think you could design something along these lines that would work here, urban life with a larger private zone. For me, it's all about variety and choices.

Edited by Neigeville

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DonNDonelson is right: Germantown is one of the few areas in Nashville that has housing similar to this today. I think that what had been built in this fashion in Nashville was mostly in what is today the downtown area and it has pretty much all been demolished. The restaurant on 8th Ave (it used to be The Gaslight) is one of the few remaining examples in the downtown area. There are also a couple of townhomes (one of which used to house Wild Bill's Bignets (spelling/)) on 5th Ave South, I think.

I love townhomes, too. But one thing to remember about row houses - while we're talking about homogeneity in the suburbs - is how homogenous rowhouses tended to be built. Most rowhouses such as those pictured above in London but also in a lot of areas in major US cities were built in what were then the streetcar suburbs of cities and many times large numbers of them in an area (sometimes whole blocks) were built by a single developer on spec. So while in today's mind we associate these with quality construction, by the standards of that day they would have been considered mass produced housing for the emerging upper working/lower middle class that was built in what were the suburbs of the day.

In Paris, the rebuilding of the city during the 2nd Empire (1850-1871, but extending past that date) included wholesale demolition of the medieval city warrens in order to create broad, straight boulevards with goverment-designed homogenous rowhouses facing the street. The French government ordered demolition, then sent out bids for private companies to finance construction of new housing blocks that conformed to government-regulated designs. Homogeneity was a codes requirement on those boulevards.

Even a lot of detailing on Victorian houses in the US was in fact mass produced millwork and you could go to the lumber yard (that day's equivalent of Home Depot) and pick out your beaded gingerbread porch railings from, say, 15 available patterns.

It's helpful to keep in mind that while we think of rowhouse developments such as those above as being ultra-urban by today's standards, they were regarded at the time of their construction in a similar way to how we view the leafy suburban blandness of the mid-to-late 20th Century..

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I really wish they had build this style of housing in the Section 8 neighborhood on Charlotte near 17th. It astounds me that they built suburban ranch style homes in the heart of the city.

I'm not arguing that section 8 should be decent housing, but what a waste of space!

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I definitely agree with the concept within the core, and Will's idea of having done that to the homes off JoJo is great - but also remember - as an example, London has a few hundred years on us. Those properties were probably built in the late 1800's if not earlier. I'm not saying we couldn't do something similar, but to each area it's own style. Having rowhomes like Philly/NYC/Boston/DC was never in the cards for Nashville. Few other cities are done that way - even our peers lack, from what I've seen, something similar. At least, in scale.

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Watkins Park is the neighborhood I am referring to. Yes, I'm sure many of those were built many years ago, but a good chunk of them (probably at least 50) were all built in one large development within the last 5 years or so. You can see them all from the south loop. By the Charlotte exit.

Edit: After looking at google maps, I'm able to count approximately 115 structures. If built in a row house style, besides being more friendly for the inhabitants, they could have easily fit 300 or more in the section.

To be exact, it's between Charlotte and JoJack and 14th-17th.

Edited by nashvillwill

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I really wish they had build this style of housing in the Section 8 neighborhood on Charlotte near 17th. It astounds me that they built suburban ranch style homes in the heart of the city.

I'm not arguing that section 8 should be decent housing, but what a waste of space!

A thousand times yes! That was the most absurd construct I've ever seen. Barracks-style public housing was a failure, that much is admitted by all but the most obstinate of urban planning observers. Instead of making people want to get out of them, which was the intent, it was simply dehumanizing and resulted in high crime ghettos.

This trend in freestanding one or two family houses, however, is just pushing it to the extreme opposite end. It's not just happening in Nashville, either. Knoxville did it a few years ago, and much of the newer Philadelphia Housing Authority stock are things like this. They're building large houses that have driveways and yards in areas that are otherwise full of old row homes and apartments. They end up sticking out like a sore thumb. I'm sorry, having a driveway on a house in the middle of Philadelphia borders on the absurd.

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I don't even mind that the development is made up of single family homes, but single family homes can still be designed in a manor in which they encourage community, and the community as a whole can still be designed in an efficient and dense fashion. What irritates me is the notion that single family homes cannot exist unless they are placed into a suburban mold. Why does every house need a giant yard and twenty feet between them? Unless your neighbors can see right into your bedroom window, there are no privacy concerns. Why not build homes that are detached and single family, but that are built right up to the street, close to their neighbors, each with a small back garden and built around a community park? The vast majority of Chicago's neighborhoods are made up of single family homes, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that wouldn't consider them urban.

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Are you guys talking about the MDHA development north of Charlotte Pike between 14th and 17th? That's where the city tore down a bunch of horrible projects using the HOPE VI grants and built a new MDHA community there. It's still MDHA, but they had much better screening and policing in place now and so the neighborhood is actually very quiet from a crime standpoint now. Those houses are meant to resemble the sort of craftsman houses (from the 1910s and 1920s) that appear in many of Nashville's older neighborhoods. There is another set in East Nashville just off of Spring Street at the south end of McFerrin Park that is a vast improvement over what was there also.

(BTW, many of those older houses craftsman houses that were vague models for the redeveloped projects have modest side yards as well (standard lots are 50 feet wide, and most of the houses are 35 feet wide.))

Now, I would have liked for MDHA to have the houses (duplexes) a wee bit closer together, and to use Craftsman earth tone colors instead of pastels, but that's a minor quabble over what is aesthetically much more pleasing environment than the horrible brick 1960s urban renewal projects that they replaced. And even those were much butter than the dilapidated shacks with no running water that THEY replaced.

I don't have a problem with driveways as long as the driveways go to detached garages at the rear of the properties. That's just the way that Nashville was built even in historic neighborhoods and even in areas like my block where there is alley access. I do have a problem with atached garages in urban areas.

One of my beefs with that area is that so far the city has not done a good job of highlighting William Edmonson park, which is the grassy area on Charlotte that looks like the city was going to build more houses facing Charlotte but forgot or ran out of money. In fact, it is another one of Nashville's many neglected parks.

William Edmonson lived in the original shack area over there when he started doing art sculptures. He is one of the leading examples of what is called Outsider Art. His works can be found in major museums all through the US and probably the world. But he is part of Nashville's art history that doesn't get enough attention from the city, IMHO.

I am hoping that William Edmondson Park will be better defined so that people don't continue to think of that block as just a grassy waste of space. I am also hoping that the nasty commercial buildings on the north side of Charlotte (including the Haddox Pharmacy) will be torn down and replaced by something better someday that will address the street better and also frame the park better.

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