Comment: City life for city dwellers


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By Sally Hendrick, for Tennessee Lookout

20 December 2021

Brown and yellow smoke rose in the distance, but I couldn’t tell how far away its origin was. It looked like it came from the same location as the 4th of July fireworks display that we enjoy every summer, so I checked Twitter to see if anyone had posted about it.

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I had woken up just 15 minutes earlier, able to see through a slightly open curtain the thin layer of snowflakes that rested on the roof outside my bedroom window. Normally on Christmas morning I would get out of bed early to see if the kids were quietly sifting through Santa’s loot. I secretly filmed them snooping before coming to wake us up with the anticipation of opening the presents. But that day was different. Children who were in their teens and in their twenties still slept, as they do when they grow up.

Then the whole building roared. White snow was hopping off the black roof like an ocean wave heading for the shore. I almost got thrown out of our bed.

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It wasn’t thunder.

Within seconds I filmed the rising smoke and then one by one the rest of my family of 5 were in the living room wiping the sleep from their eyes.

We moved downtown almost 13 years ago, pioneering the unknown of city life for such a large family in Nashville. Back then, there wasn’t much to do other than venture out to a Predators concert or game at the arena or cross the river to the Titans stadium. Honky-tonks weren’t the most family-friendly option, so we spent our time using the courthouse lawn and Bicentennial Mall grounds as a playground and frisbee spot.

After attending The Future of 2nd Avenue event last week at the Wildhorse Saloon on December 8 with Mayor John Cooper, we learned that a long-awaited option for city dwellers is growing from the literal ashes of the bombing of the Christmas day of 2020.

We’ve seen our downtown residential section go from a small arts community to a bustling tourist area that has climbed the hill from Broadway to the Capitol with new buildings, parking lots, restaurants, and multi-purpose skyscrapers. The National Museum of African American Music tucked between the shops and restaurants of 5th & Broadway as well as beautiful hotels, like the Bobby and Noelle, are all amazing places to visit but with tourists in mind.

Despite all the growth, we recently considered moving away from the area, to cash in our tokens, as many of our neighbors have done in recent years. Those of us who spend most of our time and hard-earned money on property taxes are tired of being ignored for so long by the city in favor of tourism.

Our lane is disgusting with grease containers for restaurants and residential trash cans used for business operations. Recycling services are not included in our property taxes like the rest of the city. There is no special permit for residential parking, and the few spaces we have on the street have been handed over to valets and other business interests without seeking the advice of those of us who live in the city center.

Fortunately, part of Second Avenue’s plans include dealing with some of these previously overlooked issues. “Recycle and compost, consolidate waste, remove food waste from the waste stream, remove odors, remove grease on the floor,” said Tiffany Wilmot, president of Wilmot, Inc., a sustainability consultancy based in Nashville. “It all came together in one thing” as quoted in Tennessee Lookout by Holly McCall.

Thinking back to last year, I remember having had a ton of nervous energy in the week after the Christmas blast, with the need to move past the fears that had set in. my bones from such a disaster. Social media was teeming with conspiracy theories and untruths that bothered me so much that I chose to investigate the events with my friend, John Partipilo.

John is the staff photographer for Tennessee Lookout and was more than willing to go looking for some good angles to take Pictures from Ground Zero with me. I documented our steps.

We went on an adventure together to see up close what the police and the FBI were hiding from the public as they conducted their investigations. With a bus blocking one end of Second Avenue and police cars blocking every garage, street, and alley near the AT&T building, John and I dove and ducked from area to area, being careful not to not cross crime scene tape to avoid getting into some good trouble.

With a winning photo up for grabs, we knew we had to give it a shot. Good thing he got those raw footage that day, because after John’s photo was posted, the area was further cordoned off by Nashville Police and Federal officials. Most of the debris was cleared from the street afterwards when media was finally allowed in on December 31, but the scene did not have the same effect as when it was virtually intact.

Photographers from all major news sources went on a rampage calling John “Spider Man”, not knowing how he managed to get that angle. All the while, I’ve been documenting our journey on TikTok.

A more detailed explanation of our investigation is discussed here.

The media story continued to unfold, identifying the suicide bomber, details of his life before the tragedy, but news of the Jan. 6 insurgency quickly resumed air, leaving Nashville behind to clean up its own mess.

Now that the fences are starting to drop to reopen the streets to the public, plans are to reinvigorate the neighborhood with a focus on the approximately 15,000 residents who now inhabit downtown Nashville.

“Cooper said Second Avenue should set the standard for new developments in Nashville,” by Holly McCall, Editor-in-Chief of Tennessee Lookout.

To see the residents being seen in the wake of this devastating and traumatic event that left most of us with a sense of hopelessness is an unexpected bright light and hope for our urban community.

Now that we have decided to stay in our condo and do some renovations to accommodate our aging family, we are ready to dig up the Christmas tree that we had packed for the potential move. It’s time to celebrate a calm and uneventful Christmas day with the expectation of real townspeople delight in what we were promised when Second Avenue is reborn.

Tennessee Lookout is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit network of state government news sites supported by grants and a coalition of donors.

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