Recent studies show that Nashville is growing at a tremendous pace. Some have even called our city one of the next great boom towns in America.
With this growth and economic development come problems of traffic congestion and longer commute times. In order to combat these problems, Mayor Karl Dean and MTA officials are pushing for a new rapid transit project called ‘The Amp.’ This new bus rapid transit line will connect people with jobs in a way that will help improve wages and livability for residents while simultaneously increasing economic growth in our city.
This new project is a great opportunity for Nashville, but under current proposals a broad swath of the public will be left out. Residents in north Nashville have been largely shut out of the planning process, which seeks to connect east Nashville to West End. While this is an admirable goal, we should not miss the opportunity to bring economic growth and job opportunities to the people who need it the most. The city must be more fair and equitable when it comes to high dollar projects such as this. These dollars for this project are all public dollars from the federal, state and local government.
If the mayor and MTA officials were to simply make small adjustments to the new BRT line, we could see an economic revitalization effort in the areas surrounding Fisk University and Tennessee State University that we have not seen in decades. In conjunction, this system is an opportunity to connect new graduates and current residents with jobs in the hospital sector—the largest and most prosperous industry in our city by far. Moreover, residents that are in the middle to lower economic strata spend more than 50% of their income on transportation. This would provide for all a better return on their money by insuring safer and quicker transportation throughout the entire city.
All of Davidson County’s taxpayers will foot the bill for this project, so it seems only fair to include as many as possible in the benefits that will result from this new transit project.
The expectation is that elected officials will represent all constituencies and that all concerns are seriously evaluated when pursuing projects that require multiple pots of public funding. When the city of Los Angeles attempted to create an improved transportation route while excluding low-income areas, a lawsuit was filed and the courts required the city to later reroute the lanes—which ended up costing taxpayers more than if the neighborhoods had been included in the original plans.
In addition to ensuring equal access to transportation, we should also consider equal access to the jobs that will result from this project.
Too often in municipal and state contracts, residents in areas like north Nashville who are willing to work are neglected for workers from out of the city and out of the state.
We would request that the city adopt a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) that ensures Davidson County taxpayers have the first opportunity at contracts and jobs resulting from this new project. This will ensure that we can keep more of our tax dollars right here in Nashville, further stimulating the economy and creating new jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Nashville Davison County is 6.3%. While this proves that we are definitely an ‘it’ city, the reality is that in North Nashville and 17 other council manic districts, the unemployment rate ranges from 8-17.30%. Poverty rates in these districts range from 9.9% to 20%. In north Nashville and east Nashville districts, the poverty rate ranges from 30-44%. While Nashville is faring well, too many districts are experiencing crime levels that range from 3-9%. The face of high poverty and high unemployment morphs into crime.
These are not unreasonable requests. Inclusion and proper planning on the front end are common-sense suggestions that will allow more Nashvillians to improve their overall economic status. We hope that Mayor Dean and the Metro Transit Authority will listen. We believe if they do, they will see that these proposals are in the best interest of all.
According to the 2012, West End Corridor Study:
“The second largest employment is expected in the segment of the corridor portions of Green Hills-midtown and north Nashville communities.”
Moreover, according to the Downtown Community Plan “the population of downtown area in 2000 was 53% White, 43% Black or African American, one percent Asian and three percent other, four percent Hispanic,” but yet the BRT does not appear to directly touch where any of the mass concentration of the minority population would reside.” It is unclear why a 2000 update is being used since there is more current data available.
However, according to the BRT 2012 study: “Green Hills Midtown Community Plan 2005 listed the racial characteristics of the population as 80% White, 14% African American, three percent Asian and three percent other or ‘mixed races’ with two percent of the population being Hispanic or Latino.”
Race and poverty is always a difficult subject; however, section 4.3 of the study, ‘Environmental Justice’ talks about “the locations of low income and minority populations are important when planning transit projects due to “environmental justice” considerations. Environmental justice is defined as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin or income.” That is why this conversation is so important when the city addresses equity and meaningful development.
“Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low Income Populations requires federal agencies to develop a strategy for its program and policies and activities to avoid disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on minority population and low income.”
The mayor has orchestrated numerous high price tax incentives during his tenure that has directly benefited business communities and health care giants. John Egerton said it best in the New York Times article: “We ought to be paying more attention to how many people we have who are ill fed and ill-housed and ill-educated.”
Representative Brenda Gilmore is a resident of Nashville, Tennessee and is the State Representative for Tennessee Legislative District 54.