I've been following the controversy over a proposed urban development for the Bell's Bend area in northwest Davidson County for over a year now. I've known about this unique rural landscape -- an isolated peninsula surrounded by a loop in the Cumberland River -- almost as long as I've been in Nashville. I can well remember the first time I went out there, about 15 years ago, and though.. "this is nice..."
When we first heard about the proposed May Town Center development for this area last summer, Ann and I started going out there regularly to photograph the place -- either to contribute something to the conservation effort or to have a record in case the that effort fails and the developers succeed in bringing a city center for some 40,000 people to the middle of this peninsula.
Late last summer, the Metro Planning Commission voted to defer the proposal "indefinitely." I asked a metro city councilwoman what "indefinitely" meant. She said, "forever." Turns out "forever" is less than a year, because the developers -- led by real estate magnate Tony Giarrantara -- have come back with a revised proposal. Only thing is, it's not really the proposal that's revised much, it's just all the PR and packaging. The plan is still to build a little Emerald City in a place that has no Yellow Brick Road, as illustrated by this artist's rendering.
You don't have to look at much more than this one at this one aerial photo to realize what a ridiculous proposition this is. A city for 40,000 people with no way for them to get in or out! Folks, there's a reason this region has not been developed already, and it has everything to do with geography and natural isolation. This area was never destined to be anything other than what it is right now.
But the landowners (the May family, who brought you Corrections Corporation of America) and their hired guns remain determined, and the proposal is again before the Davidson County / Metro government for further consideration with hearings beginning this week. The Tennessean offers this summary of the issues in today's edition:
Preservationists want to protect one of the last rural expanses in Davidson County. But developers say that their $4 billion project in the Bells Bend community would give the city an edge over neighboring counties and help attract the next wave of corporate headquarters and the tax dollars they generate.
Yada yada yada.
So here is my latest contribution to the debate: a video juxtaposing some of our photography with some of the artist renderings of the future of this area if the developers get their way. It all plays against an old Neil Young song, Here We Are In The Years, which I often listened to on my iPod while I was out in the area making the photos. Click this sunrise image to see the video.
(Ordinarily I would have embedded a YouTube video here but YouTube wouldn't let me upload the video because it recognized the Neil Young recording, which is of course unauthorized. So sue me, Neil - this songs for you.)
It's unfathomable to me that anybody could look at this proposal and think "yeah, that's the highest and best use for this land." As Barry Sulkin, an environmentalist who lives in the area says, ""They're not making any more countryside, but they're making more cities." If it's "balance" you want, then keep the city in the city, and keep the country in the country, where God himself surrounded it with a big bend in the Cumberland River.