Over 200 Nashville citizens gathered at East Nashville Magnet School, 110 Gallatin Road, to attend a public Town Hall meeting on a rainy February 15 evening. ‘Tipping Point: Amazon + the Future of Nashville’ was a discussion of how Amazon will affect the future of the city of Nashville.
The meeting began with an opening from Anne Barnett, co-chair of Stand Up Nashville, host of the event. As Barnett introduced concerns in regards to Amazon she said: “Residents should have a seat at the table when a project so big will certainly affect many people who will not gain direct employment from it. Should it not be the subject of many public meetings and a lengthy, intentional process to enable civic engagement and optimize its public value?”
Following the introduction of moderator David Plazas with comments from Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle councilwoman, a community panel discussed the costs and growth of Amazon. Mosqueda commented about what she’d learned from reading about Nashville.
“The similarities are striking,” she said. “Yes, Seattle is much larger. I represent 725,000 people, but the similarities are incredibly the same.” She gave detailed information regarding the impact Amazon’s move had on Seattle. She stressed the extreme importance of the need for the Nashville community to work with elected officials to ensure policies would stay aligned with the rapid growth. The rapid growth of Seattle seemed to mirror all of the concerns currently happening with the rapid growth of Nashville. She had illustrations of gentrification, rapid building, pushing people out of the downtown area and the extreme rise in the cost of living.
She further commented on the fact that “people of color were concentrated in the downtown area because of deep-rooted racism. They were not allowed to move into other areas in the ‘70s. The southern region of King County went from 70% African American in the ‘70s to less than 15% this last year.”
She also said 30% of incomes are now needed for housing, while commuting is increased by hours of travel to work. Councilwoman Mosqueda reminded Nashvillians of what has happened in Seattle as a result of companies like Amazon.
“Housing costs skyrocket, poverty became more concentrated, and the homeless population increased,” she said. “Currently, Seattle has corporate tax accountability measures in place, strong labor protections for all workers and future organizing, expanded housing options and zoning requirements and reliable revenue.” She repeatedly reminded the Nashville community to know that “reliable revenue and defined public policy in statute is critical!”
The discussion addressed the question of ‘What does it mean to be a good neighbor?’ Throughout the entire town hall discussion, it was obvious that there was no representation of Amazon. An Amazon ‘box’ was placed on the stage with the community guest panelists. Stand Up Nashville made repeated requests to Amazon for someone to come and participate in this discussion, but to no avail. There was no response. Therefore, the box was placed on the stage.
Participants included Dr. Paulette Coleman, founding chair of NOAH’s Affordable Housing Task Force: Nashville’s housing crisis; Vonda McDaniel, president of Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tenn., Job equity and workforce; Brenda Perez, Mijente member, corporate collaboration with ICE; Odessa Kelly, co-chair of Stand Up Nashville, Democracy and Transparency.
Each gave information regarding the community and their respective positions in an effort to get the community involved in accordance to what it means to be a good neighbor. The discussions addressed the idea that Amazon chose not to answer questions that were presented by New York and therefore decided to ‘go to Nashville.’
Odessa Kelly said: “There is no way that I want to be in a city that values bottled wines over the human rights values of people.” They discussed the idea of unions and how they should not be afraid of them, sitting down at the table with companies, and the importance of ending all agreements in writing.
In addition to their comments, pre-written questions were also taken from the audience. Because most questions were directed to Amazon (not available) and elected officials, the questions were unanswered. Questions included: the payment of taxes; the impact of community explosion; percentage of job availability for the current residents of Davidson County; support of affordable housing from Amazon; and standards of Tenn. lawmakers’ participation. It was decided that the questions would be forwarded to Amazon’s corporation and the proper elected officials.