Early Years

Neighborhoods History by Eugene TeSelle, Ph.D. and Jeff Browning, (Past) Metro Planning Director

Nashvillians often identify themselves by their neighborhoods or the parts of the community from which they come: Bordeaux, Bellevue, Goodlettsville, Green Hills, Berry Hill, Belle Meade, Woodbine, West Meade, Edgefield, Inglewood, Old Hickory, Oak Hill, Hermitage, Donelson, Sylvan Park and Antioch. These neighborhoods differ in their ages, appearances, social and economic makeup’s, and in their current needs and aspirations for the future. Due to the diversity of neighborhoods, the planning process in Nashville has realized the need to perform some detailed planning on a more localized basis; we call this process "Subarea Planning."

Citizens likewise have found it helpful to achieve recognition of neighborhood needs through representation in neighborhood groups or organizations. Nashville, like many cities, has seen a proliferation of these groups during the last twenty years as citizens become more aware of changes occurring in their city, and as they feel more empowered to influence the decision making processes affecting their neighborhoods, and for most, their most expensive investment ‑ their homes.

The Nashville Neighborhood Alliance was created in the seventies through considerable help from Councilwoman Betty Nixon and staff members of the Metropolitan Historical Commission and the Metropolitan Planning Commission. The initial membership of the Neighborhood Alliance was heavily weighted with "mid‑town" neighborhoods that had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, a number of which had received special zoning as neighborhood conservation districts. The membership in most of these neighborhoods was often characterized as middle class and professional. But there were "working class" neighborhoods, and predominantly African American inner city" neighborhoods so that even in the early years of the Alliance there was and is today considerable diversity in race and class.

One reason for this broad membership is that all of these neighborhoods learned to work together during the late seventies to persuade lenders to take the Community Reinvestment Act seriously and put mortgage money into older neighborhoods that had previously been redlined. The First American National Bank paid printing costs for a booklet Fifteen Nashville Neighborhoods, with maps of the neighborhoods and drawings of typical homes m a wide range of urban and mid town neighborhoods. Efforts were made to put the booklet m the hands of real estate agents so that the full range of housing choices could be better known.

As the number of neighborhood groups increased, it became evident that strength could be achieved by forming alliances among the various groups and by coordinating their interests and activities. Word of the Neighborhood Alliance spread, and before long other neighborhoods joined, such as those neighborhoods close to the airport which were experiencing noise and airport expansion, and many suburban neighborhoods confronted with rapid spread of commercial developments. The Mayor's office and Planning Commission began maintaining lists of organizations and contact persons to maintain a dialogue. A "neighborhood caucus" developed in the Council to further the concerns of neighborhood groups.

The constituent neighborhoods fell into at least three groupings:

  1. The organizations, which were “present at the creation”, are heavily weighted toward the mid‑town historic conservation neighborhoods. These areas, because of their age and diversity, and their proximity to commercial areas, are of en the first to feel the impact of new strategies in commercial or residential development. 
  • A new generation of suburban organizations are made up of people who moved to the suburbs to escape urban pressures. Because of the "urbanization of the suburbs" ‑ high intensity commercial and residential development, they face unanticipated and, to them, undesirable land use changes. This is an inevitable stage in the evolution of metropolitan areas. Obviously, it demands careful planning with the full cooperation of residents.
  • "Inner city" neighborhoods have a common interest with the mid‑town organizations in seeing that lending institutions invest m housing and business m their areas. This shared concern becomes more important as the central city areas lose stores and jobs too, and as affordable housing can be found in at least some suburban areas.

The city organizations are of two types. Those which have been most closely involved with the Alliance are "voluntary" groups, led chiefly by homeowners (though of course, they do not exclude renters). The other type is made up of mandated" organizations, the Project Area Committee or the Tenant Organization required since the sixties in every federally funded Neighborhood Strategy Area or public housing complex.

The Neighborhood Alliance feels it is important to keep these different kinds of groups in mind as it shapes its policies and responds to specific issues. The Neighborhood Alliance strives to be as inclusive as possible m both membership and ideas. A varied and active membership is the best guarantee that it will continue to represent Nashville's neighborhoods as a whole.

When the background information was being developed for Nashville's general plan, Concept 2010, it was obvious that appropriate detailed planning for Davidson County would require breaking the county into smaller study parts, and would require citizen input for meaningful decision making. The Planning Commission divided the county into fourteen subarea’s, with the attempt of achieving as much common interest within a subarea as possible. The Planning Commission further directed the staff to work with an appointed citizen advisory committee (CAC) within each subarea to determine the growth needs and objectives of the subarea, and to formulate alternative plans for meeting their objectives.

The CAC members are either residents of the subarea or people who own or operate businesses within the subarea CAC members are appointed by councilmembers whose districts lie within the subarea the mayor, the Chamber of Commerce and the Nashville Neighborhood Alliance. The appointments are confirmed by the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission may also make appointments of its own. Usually, a CAC will have between 17 and 23 members.

These Citizen Advisory Committees and the Subarea Planning Process were used until we were able to move Mr. Browning out of his job and recruited Richard Bernhardt back to Nashville. He instituted a more community-based charrette process. We all know that the devil is in the details of those detailed neighborhood plans.

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