Statement on Community and Neighborhoods by Thom Druffel
Vanderbilt poll suggests that the answer is no. By a measure of almost 2 to 1, people feel growth in our city has not made their lives in Nashville better. In District 23, we have some causes for concern:
Traffic has increased exponentially, and our infrastructure is suffering. Roads that were built for single family density are now expected to handle the volume created by multifamily homes, townhomes and apartments.
Our schools are overpopulated, and funds are lacking for maintenance and improvements. In District 23, despite growth, we are actually losing schools: Brookmeade Elementary was closed and then sold as surplus. Hillwood High School is scheduled to be moved to Bellevue. HG Hill Middle is overcrowded and depending on portables, and West Meade Elementary is long overdue for promised renovations and is possibly up for a move to Bellevue.
We lack sidewalks and amenities that connect neighborhoods and strengthen community.
It is easy to look at the current budget problems plaguing Nashville as the reason for our dissatisfaction. Our city debt is twice that of the State debt and has risen from $400 million to over $4 billion in the last 15 years.
But other districts seem to have found a way to allocate resources. A drive through Bellevue reveals an updated Red Caboose Park, miles of sidewalks, a new shopping center, a beautiful library, new ice skating rink, new slated fire station, and a $78 million high school. Sylvan Park has library renovations earmarked, and a greenway that is nicely updated and enlarged. Many districts have similar results.
Much has been said about protecting what we have in our district, and I truly believe that is a primary goal. We have strong zoning and with diligence we can protect ourselves from overzealous developers.
But beyond holding on to what we have, shouldn’t we ask ourselves how we can make our community work better for us?
Hillwood High School land: If the school is closed and moved as planned, we will have over 30 acres of space with some vacant buildings. About 5 years ago, we worked as a community to record our desire to maintain this property for community use: school, park, etc. We have discussed the potential of moving HG Hill Middle to a portion of the high school, and moving West Meade Elementary to HG Hill Middle.
We have also looked at the potential for using the high school for adult education classes, with classrooms that people could possibly rent for teaching or tutoring. The library in the high school is recently updated and beautiful, and has great potential to be a community branch library. The auditorium in the high school would be perfect for community theater. The tennis courts are well used, as are the baseball fields. Can we not add a dog park, walking trails, some workout stations? What about a community garden where neighbors could plant and harvest? Movies in the park? Food trucks? A farmer’s market? I want to engage the community on how to best use this community space.
More importantly I want to find ways to get funding to fulfill our vision. Passive leadership is not effective when vying against 35 other council districts for limited funding. This gem sits right in the center of our district, and we should work hard to get the resources to make this the great neighborhood park it could be.
Greenspace and walkways: We have knocked thousands of doors throughout the district, and one of the most pressing requests is sidewalks. I know it is a difficult, expensive and slow process. The sidewalks that were just completed by the high school have been in the capital budget for many years. But as I look at other districts, I see that there are sidewalks being put in. It can be done, but I think it takes leadership and an ability to work with others to get results. I would also like to explore an option of using a cement boardwalk type walkway. This could reduce the need to relocate utilities and potentially reduce costs and minimize disruption to sloped streets.
We are located between and near two greenways but have no easy or safe access to them. McCabe Greenway is across White Bridge Road, and the other greenway is behind Walmart. I would like to look for a way to accelerate a walking bridge connecting our area to the McCabe Greenway, and we need to explore how best to improve the area behind Walmart. Although not in our district, it is in our backyard. Many of the neighbors near there are concerned about the condition of that greenway and a perceived sense of danger there.
Speeding: Many of you have expressed concerns about speeding. Percy Warner, Bresslyn, and Brook Hollow are just a few streets with speeding issues. We have spent a lot of time walking on these and other streets knocking doors since April and the issue is real. I want to hold conversations with the stakeholders in these areas to determine the best way to address the issue. Not every street will require the same fix, and those who live in an area can provide great input. Our greatest neighborhood assets are our great people and natural beauty. Let’s bring them together and expand our greater community.
Develop our Neighborhood Community
Margie and I have moved over 14 times around the country until we settled here 17 years ago. We have never seen such great stability in a neighborhood and great people. We have lived in two houses in West Meade. They both came from people where it was their forever home. We both grew up where neighbors took care of neighbors. I remember helping my dad and mom deliver dinners to people in need.
There are many common interests among many of us such as gardening, bike riding, and walking. Let’s build networks with common interests. There are some great examples of close block groups and events such as on the Adkisson cul-de-sac and Warner Park neighborhoods. As we get closer, we also gain security where we are better able to watch over each other and as needed build neighborhood watch groups.
My vision would also tie our collective neighborhood communities for a yearly event. We see this in several communities such as Richland with the 4th of July Celebration with a parade and old-fashioned celebration. Could we have a harvest festival, riding mower parade as just a couple of ideas to start the conversation?
A vision is just a beginning. It takes know how and proactive leadership to fulfill the vision. We pay substantial property taxes, but we see so little coming back to our neighborhood. At most, we have had some successes in fighting off development. We can do better. I can do better. I have spent a lifetime leading and getting results. My career is a history of turning visions into reality, whether it be creating a hotel brand around the country or building community through a a MNPS partnership. We deserve better in District 23. Entrust me with your vote, and I will work hard to make our district an even better place to live.