Like most city slickers, Nashvillians are not known for urban communal living. We tend to prefer our single-family homes, enjoying a beverage on our private backyard patios and keeping a healthy remove from the impoverished.The proposed Castanea Project, then, seems unusual. Radical, even.
If all goes as planned, the $900,000 mixed-income Castanea (Latin for “chestnut tree”) will be built at 12 Garden St. in the long-stagnant Chestnut Hill district, mere blocks from downtown. Designed by local Green Party leader Howard Switzer, the structure is supposed to look like a hilly outgrowth of its natural surroundings. The 12,000-square-foot building will house the Castanea community — currently 15 people representing eight families — and 10 additional affordable units. Amanda and Daniel Burt, two members of Castanea, own the land.
The Castanea community is essentially a group of people who live close to one another and have decided to create something between a commune and a co-op. Jason Adkins, a member of the 2-year-old group, said they want a “new monastic” Christian vibe with the intent to live humbly and simply. Members currently farm and share financial resources.
Adkins works as environmental projects coordinator and professor of environmental justice at nearby Trevecca Nazarene University, whose “nascent yet robust” natural farming program aids the neighborhood. Castanea project sponsor Trevecca, through which tax-deductable contributions can be made, is assisting the effort while the group seeks tax-exempt status.
Adkins worries about gentrification creeping into the economically challenged yet logistically prime Chestnut Hill, and his group has sought community approval. “We want to arrest the process by which long-term residents are forced out of the neighborhood,” he said.
Fundraising for Castanea started in April, targeting nonprofits, and the group has already invested $130,000.
“Everybody that sees it calls it ambitious,” Adkins said. Then again, living in a neomonastic community — Adkins prefers to not use “commune” or “cooperative” — is bold in itself.
“A life spent running after stuff,” Adkins said, “is a life that doesn’t have relationships.”