This is the second of two fictional future trips to Bells Bend, where the May family and developer Tony Giarratana have proposed a mixed-use development they say will ultimately generate 95,000 jobs and $100 million in annual tax revenues. Read the account of the first ‘visit’ to May Town Center, go to nashvillecitypaper.com and search for “Grandpa Fred.”
“So, Grandpa James, why are you taking me to see May Town Center?”
“Well, Johnny, you’re 8 years old and you like cities, skyscrapers and construction. Back in 2028, my late Grandpa Fred took me on my first visit to May Town Center. Just like you, I was 8. I’m 65 now and still remember that day. May Town Center was alive with buildings and people.”
“Gee, Grandpa James, it’s 2085, so Grandpa Fred’s been dead a long time.”
“Yeah, Johnny. He passed away in 2050. But before his death, May Town Center slowly began to deteriorate. By 2045, many predicted it was doomed.”
“Was it, Grandpa James?”
“Here we are, Johnny. See for yourself.”
“Oh no, Gramps. Look at all the empty stores. There’s trash everywhere. I don’t see many people, either. This looks bad. What happened?”
“Well, Johnny, by 2030, change was brewing in this country. Americans began abandoning suburbia in large numbers to live in — or as close to as possible to — authentic cities and towns. There were practical considerations, but people also desired to live in places that had grown and changed organically over many years.
“They wanted places that had history, mass transit and an interesting and dense mix of buildings and people. Most importantly, Americans had finally gotten past their fear of living, working and playing with people unlike themselves.
“May Town Center was built out by roughly 2035, and there was no demand for additional construction. All the buildings had a certain sameness. Most of the people were of the same socioeconomic status. The town had no industrial buildings, few churches, no old neighborhoods and few independently-owned retail and restaurant businesses. The novelty had worn off and May Town Center seemed generic and outdated. By 2040, the rotting had started.”
“Gee, Grandpa James, this is terrible.”
“But it wasn’t always. In 2008, it seemed like a fine idea to some folks. Over time, lots of corporations located within May Town Center. Chain retail and restaurants thrived. People bought homes here and the Davidson County tax base increased.
“But just like the suburban model withered and had to be radically overhauled, so, too, did town centers and traditional neighborhood developments. They seemed nice on the surface but they were kind of plastic. In some cases, we still haven’t figured out how to re-use these places. Fortunately, many of the fine folks living a rural lifestyle in Scottsboro and Bells Bend sold while May Town Center was vibrant and made a nice return on their investment.”
“Is this what happened in Cool Springs, Grandpa James?”
“Yeah, it is, Johnny. For years, many folks were excited about all the new office and retail buildings in Cool Springs. Problem was, they were plopped down randomly and surrounded by asphalt and dead space. There was no sense of place. By 2030, folks looked at the mess and shuddered. In 2040, the Nissan headquarters building was demolished and replaced by a handsome high-rise in downtown Nashville.”
“What will happen to May Town Center, Gramps?”
“I don’t know, Johnny. But I wonder if it will even be here for you to show your grandson.”
William Williams is a citizen observer of Nashville's manmade environment. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org