Monday, April 22, 2019

How come Nashville is growing and Baltimore is shrinking?

After some years of stability and Mayor Rawlings Blake's goal of growing by 20,000 Households, Baltimore City is hemorrhaging again at a furious pace: Between July 2017 and 2018 the city lost 7,346 people, according to census figures published last week. That is 1.2% of the population in a single year, leaving the City precariously close to the 600,000 mark! (According to the census 25% of US cities lost population in 2017/18).
Population losses depicted in 2010. The red butterfly
areas loose population but overall black population
stays stable.

Meanwhile places that many consider flyover country, i.e. far away from the popular coasts, are outpacing Baltimore in population without having Johns Hopkins, a seaport, the vicinity to Washington or access to the nation's only high speed passenger rail , to name just a few of Baltimore's unique advantages. One such place is Nashville which is now at least 10% more populous than Baltimore! A city that was long considered a backwater, or as one of their own puts it:
“... for many years we had this hee-haw country reputation. Combine that with people’s stereotypes of the South, and there was a real reticence for people to come here. Ken Levitan, founder and CEO of Vector Management as quoted by Forbes
Could it be that popular culture is the driver in a time when even the presidency is modeled after a television sequel ("see what happens"). Nashville's artist manager, career consultant, entertainment lawyer, producer, publisher, and booking agent Levitan certainly thinks so:
Then that all changed. When Kings of Leon exploded in Europe, they talked up Nashville everywhere they went. When the Titans got the Super Bowl in 1999 that gave us worldwide exposure. The TV show ‘Nashville’ showed that we were really a modern city.” Ken Levitan.
Nashville cranes: 4th fastest growing city in the US (Photo: Philipsen)
Think about it: Baltimore had The Wire and Nashville had, well, Nashville. That Lavitan gives music, sport and TV as the drivers of Nashville's explosive growth may come with his territory, but what if he is right? One would wish the real answer to be deeper and more meaningful. (For a statistical analysis see here)

It isn't that Nashville is free from metrics which Baltimore typically uses to explain its stagnation:  Both cities have a history of systemic racism and racial segregation (redlining), both had bad urban renewal plans ransacking neighborhoods with urban freeways (actually, Nashville has more of them), both had recently a mayor falling from grace through scandal. Both cities had an exodus of once important industries and both are seen as having poor transit. Both lost a major plan to invest in transit and both cities have a state government that is at times outright hostile to their blue island cities initiatives.  Heck, Schermerhorn, where Baltimore has the BMA, Nasville has the Frist. In both instances, Baltimore has the older institution with wider recognition.  One area where Nashville is a clear winner is crime: With a murder rate of around 100 it is only 1/3 as deadly as Baltimore. In both cities the Police Department is accused of a police culture of “fear, violence, racism, and impunity”.
Odessa Kelly: Stand-up Nashville
Tennessee State government even banned Nashville from having bus lanes. The transit system has only 1/3 of Baltimore's number of buses and only 1/10 of Baltimore's transit ridership. In Nashville there is no subway, no light rail, there are no passenger trains at all! Baltimore's convention center is older, but it isn't any smaller than Nashville's brandnew and overbooked convention center, in fact, they are exactly the same size. Nashville doesn't have major league baseball and its NFL stadium sits separated from downtown on the other side of the Cumberland River.  Where Baltimore has the Meyerhoff Symphony, Nashville has the

Nashville (founded 1784) has now surpassed Baltimore (1729) in size with its 667,000 residents which includes the non urbanized areas of Davidson County with which Nashville is united as a metro area since 1963 when Nashville itself had a bit more than 170,000 residents. (Baltimore in 1963: 930,000 residents).
From BNIA report 2015
Even in 2010 Nashville was with 601,000 people still smaller then Baltimore is today.  Forbes has defined Nashville as the 4th fastest growing city in America while Baltimore is only one of a handful of cities that continues to shrink in spite of the global urban renaissance and an economy that is in the 11th year of growth. In spite of being a southern city, Nashville now also has a lower poverty rate (18%) than Baltimore (24%).
“Man walks in a straight line because he has a goal and knows
where he’s going.” LeCorbusier, The City of Tomorrow (1924)
A station without trains: Nashville
(Photo: Philipsen)
There isn't consensus in Nashville that the growth and economic development is a good thing. Just as in Baltimore, there is a lot of concern about gentrification, about developers running the show and working people getting the shaft. Community activist Odessa Kelly of "Stand-up Nashville" speaks for many when she asks “For every crane that’s going in the air, you should ask, ‘Is this building a pathway out of poverty, or trapping somebody into debt?’" and organizes against further displacement of people that "look like her". She told recent ULI participants that "this monstrosity" [the convention center] was one example for displacement. Developers, on the other hand, can never see enough cranes in the sky:
“Ten years ago there were gangs and crack dealers hanging out under I-65, recalls. My friends thought I was crazy to invest there.” Jim Creason, CEO of Trust Development.
Creason’s company was one of the first to start re-developing North Nashville, which includes Germantown as early as 2005. At the time Germantown’s historic core with a good number of landmarked buildings was disinvested and neglected. Many homes were boarded up or in disrepair. Not even the streetlights worked properly.  Creason first bought four vacant in-fill lots that were overgrown with weeds and full of trash. Today north Nashville is an area full of development, in spite of its tendency to flood when the Cumberland River goes over its banks.
Not very numerous: Buses of the Nashville MTA
(Photo: Philipsen)

Still, folks in Tennessee seemed to be more agreeable. In a recent discussion among civil rights leaders even those decrying displacement agreed that the City and State had pretty good leaders, which is a remarkable finding, given the political differences. Mayor, Megan Barry who resigned in disgrace as part of a guilty plea after engaging in an affair with her security detail and directing public funds to support the tryst expressed the Nashville attitude:
“Nashville is a place where people say ‘Here’s what can I do for you’, instead of asking what you can do for me, and it shows,” Mayor Barry tells me. “We are the friendliest, warmest, and most welcoming city in America. We’re diverse. We’re progressive. But we’re also pro-business. We still have that small town feel with lots of small businesses that are bringing their creativity and passion here, and it creates this unique culture that you don’t find anywhere else in America.” (Former Mayor Megan Barry)
The red state nixing dedicated bus lanesinclusionary zoning and a city ban of single use plastic and collaborating with the Koch brothers to kill an ambitious $5.2 billion plan for transit in referendum have left little in terms of ill will or bad feelings. The transit referendum was flawed many reflect today.
Absent transit scooters are all the rage
(Photo: Philipsen)

Aside from music, sports and TV shows, Nashville also eked out a nice spot in the world of start-ups and innovation. With a reputation as a backwater, like Baltimore, it initially lacked an organized system for venture capital to attract start-ups and new industries. Like Charm City it had a reputation of being a backwater.

But the leaders did something about it. They created the Nashville Entrepreneur Center in 2010, as an organized network for local venture capital, mentorship and incubation of real estate, Launch Tennessee, is a public-private partnership fostering entrepreneurship across the state. The initiative grew out of the annual 36|86 Entrepreneurship and Technology Conference now in its seventh year. It brings together business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs from across the country. AOL Co-founder Steve Case, nationwide promoting venture capital in regions that have little of it, was also in Baltimore to beat the drum. But in Nashville his pitch got so much traction that the city has gained a reputation as a magnet for start-ups.
Nashville Symphony  (Photo: Philipsen)

Baltimore has its own share of music, sports and movie lore. Robert Altman's 1975 film about Nashville was nearly as dark as Randy Newman's 1977 song Baltimore. Barry Levinson's and John Water's Baltimore films laid a sound foundation for cultural iconography and branding.   and may have been on a trajectory where it could have cut free from its image as "mobtown" when the economy embarked on its longest stretch of growth in recent history. But it did not recover from the 2015 unrest, the loss of State funds for the Red Line and State Center and the most recent loss of trust in government. All this forms current reality and perception.

In an age of branding where reality shapes art and art shapes reality, Baltimore's current funk may well bear the seed of a shift that has yet to come. If there would be some consensus where to go, we may actually get there.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Nashville Past and Present.

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