The wife and I went house hunting on Sunday afternoon, ending up at an open house in East Nashville.
I’ve said before that I am amazed that East Nashville is considered to be a desirable place to live. When I left Nashville/Hendersonville ten years ago to go off to college, East Nashville was not in any sense a destination or a place to linger. All of that has changed rather dramatically; my wife and I are focusing our house search in precisely that part of town.
In some sense it is a homecoming for me: I grew up in various places along the Gallatin Pike and Dickerson Pike corridors before landing in Hendersonville. So, to some extent I consider myself to be an East Nashville native.
Much of the area, esp. the area between Gallatin Pike and Shelby Ave., has undergoing a rather thoroughgoing process of gentrification. This has its upside: I enjoy driving around the Edgefield neighborhoods and seeing restored houses and a revitalized business district around Five Points (Who, by the way, had heard of a “Five Points” in Nashville a decade ago? It seems that a neighborhood with that designation is now de rigeur in the yuppier parts of major cities). But it has its downside, too: home prices in that area are already sky high, pricing many, many people out of the area, including many longtime residents who can no longer afford their property taxes. The increasing numbers of wealthy white homebuyers — many of whom are not Nashville natives, or Middle Tennesseans, for that matter — advance this process without any apparent concern for the social ramifications of it.
This process hasn’t yet reached the other side of Gallatin Pike, in the McFerrin Park and Cleveland Park neighborhoods where we are concentrating our search. Early in the 20th century, these neighborhoods were part of the first ring of suburbs around Nashville. Streetcar service, according to early maps, reached all the way to Douglas Ave. The particular house that we are pursuing at the moment was built in 1910, around the time that most of the other houses in the neighborhood were constructed. For the first half of the century, these appear to have been mixed-race neighborhoods. As the century progressed and white-flight took off in the 1960s, these areas became almost entirely lower-class minority neighborhoods. For much of the twentieth century, poverty and all of the attendant ills that go along with that (urban blight, gang activity, drugs and prostitution) have been prevalent here, especially along Dickerson Pike, which has an almost indelible reputation for these things.
But the affordability of this neighborhood versus other parts of East Nashville, as well as the abundance of attractive older houses, will change all of that soon and we’ll be part of that process. A number of houses are up for sale at the moment — some in good shape and some rehab projects — and the people buying them…well, let’s just say that they don’t look like most of the present residents of the neighborhood.
The question for us is: although we are inevitably going to become gentrifiers, how do we do it in a way that respects the current makeup of the neighborhood? How do we do it in a way that respects the identity and history of the neighborhood, and doesn’t blithely run those people away so that the new middle and upper-middle class residents can create their own exclusive community? But I’m assuming by asking these questions that gentrification can be just. Can it?
Your thoughts? More on this from my pen soon.