Update. In the first installment of this two installment post I described the metropolitan juggernaut that is modern day Nashville. I also provided some historical perspective on how Nashville became the sixth fastest growing US city (measured along several axes) between 2011 and 2016. As a side note, the 35 fastest growing cities documented in the prior link included no cities in Virginia. I have family in Nashville. For three of the last four years I have visited my family, run in a wildly popular race and witnessed the remarkable growth of Music City. My 2019 trip is complete and this article is the promised update.
First, a step back. Admiring the rapid growth of Nashville requires a fundamental belief. One has to believe that rapid growth in urban areas is a good thing. This is not a universally held belief, in Virginia or in Tennessee. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was quoted as saying, “When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.” While I understand the bucolic allure of country living I believe that the economic future of the United States and Virginia will largely be in the cities. I think Virginia should be striving to create an environment conducive to fast growing, safe, livable cities. To that end much can be learned from Nashville as well as Charlotte, Austin, Raleigh, etc.
Observations. The weekend I spent in Nashville was not only the weekend of the Rock N Roll road races it was also the weekend that the NFL held its annual draft in Nashville. The NFL Draft in Nashville broke the attendance record for NFL drafts with an estimated 600,000 attendees over the three day event. I was told that 150,000 people from outside Nashville came to town that weekend. Given Nashville’s population of just under 700,000 people, that’s quite an influx. Chaos could have been expected. There was no chaos. I went to Broadway (the “touristy” area of Nashville) where the NFL Draft was being held (outside). The streets were packed but not only order but civility reigned supreme. My first observation is that Nashville knows how to throw a public party. For example, the prohibition against drinking was waived for a section of the Broadway streets. Bourbon Street style. That alleviated what would have been unbearable crowding inside the bars and “honkey tonks” in the area.
The Rock and Roll Marathon (26.2 miles) and Half Marathon (13.1 miles) drew 20,000 runners. Actually, 19,999 runners and one three-toed sloth from Virginia. In any regard, the race course was well planned and obviously designed to show off the many interesting neighborhoods in Nashville. The run through Music Row was, as always, fascinating. Heeding the lessons from the Boston Marathon, law enforcement was everywhere. My second observation is that Nashville knows how to make people feel safe – even in a crowd.
Focus. Nashville doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. The city has focus areas. Healthcare is a focus area. That industry employs more than a quarter of a million locals out of a city population of 700,000. HCA, Community Health Systems, LifePoint Health, Brookdale Senior Living and AMSurg Corp are all based in Nashville. Nashville figured out that building and then adding to an existing industry cluster is easier than trying to manage a hodge-podge of unrelated industries. Country music is a staple of Nashville and every recording studio you run by along the race route had yard signs advertising their particular artists. Taylor Swift was seen wandering through the NFL Draft crowds without any apparent personal security. Nashville was not the birthplace of country music. Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee owns that honor. Virginia somehow squandered that opportunity.
Nashville is the bachelorette party capital of the world. Self-propelled pedal bars ply the streets of Nashville with screaming brides to be and their entourages quaffing beer and singing the latest country songs. I was told that each member of a bachelorette party spends, on average, $1,000 while celebrating in Nashville.
Execution. Nashville doesn’t only have superb business development focus it has superb execution. That execution includes risky private-public partnerships that are generally held in low esteem in Virginia. Nashville lured the Houston Oilers to Tennessee by agreeing to partly fund the construction of Nissan Stadium on the east bank of the Cumberland River. The deal required voter approval and passed with 59% of the votes cast. A one-time NHL expansion team, the Nashville Predators, play at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville. Bridgestone Arena is owned by the Sports Authority of Nashville and Davidson County. On Spring nights when the Predators are in the playoffs but playing “away” the outdoor grounds of Bridgestone Arena are set up with huge TVs, seats and portable taverns to allow fans to watch their team.
Commentary – Lessons for Virginia. Nashville’s success is no accident. From the cultivation of a health care cluster to establishment of a safe, fun city for tourists to public-private entertainment partnerships, Nashville’s rise has been more engineered than random. A crucial starting point was the city-county merger back in the 1960s. Virginia’s undersized cities sit in legally structured isolation from the surrounding counties. Area-wide cooperation is somewhere between limited and non-existent. Simple variances such as allowing open containers of alcohol during certain times and in certain places seem very rare. Small live music venues are few and far between. Rather than allowing local voters to decide whether to use local money for sports stadium funding our General Assembly considers a law banning any such funding (it failed in committee). In other words, many of the attributes which draw young people to places like Nashville are missing in Virginia’s cities.
In Tennessee Dillon’s Rule applies only to non-home rule municipalities. The Tennessee Constitution states, “Any municipality may by ordinance submit to its qualified voters in a general or special election the question: ‘Shall this municipality adopt home rule?’ In the event of an affirmative vote by a majority of the qualified voters voting thereon, and until the repeal thereof by the same procedure, such municipality shall be a home rule municipality, and the General Assembly shall act with respect to such home rule municipality only by laws which are general in terms and effect.”
So long as Virginia is run by the Politburo in Richmond I think that the odds of developing an economic growth engine (absent a river of money flowing from the feds) is unlikely at best.
— Don RippertThere are currently no comments highlighted.