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VOL. 46 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 20, 2022

Nashville headed in the wrong direction or going too fast?

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In 2015, the first year of the Vanderbilt Poll, 72% of respondents said Nashville was headed in the right direction. “Millennials are the most optimistic but the positive feelings stretch across income levels, race and age categories,” Vanderbilt reported at the time.

The Era of Good Feeling, we might call it, if that term weren’t already applied to the country as a whole for a period starting in roughly 1815. We’d just kicked British butts for the second time, the country was feeling its oats and expanding across the continent, and economic prosperity was lifting outlooks.

It didn’t last, of course, and is generally considered to have evaporated by 1825 or so. Nor has the Nashville version lasted, apparently. In the most recent version of the Vanderbilt Poll, announced a few weeks ago, 53% said we’re heading in the wrong direction.

“People are no longer as rosy about Nashville’s future as they once were,” says Josh Clinton, a professor of political science and co-director of the poll.

A number of questions come to mind.

Did we change directions sometime in the intervening seven years, veering from the righteous path? Are we still headed in the same direction, but what used to be right is now wrong? Have a bunch of grumps moved into the city, forced their way into the poll and skewed the results?

And, perhaps most important of all: What direction are we headed, and why is it bad?

The Vanderbilt folks note several factors that might be contributing to the current attitude of bummed-outness.

“The latest results paint a picture of a pandemic-weary community that likely is disenchanted with several aspects of everyday life: Inflation, skyrocketing housing prices and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Such stressors can influence people’s view in general, particularly when it comes to quality-of-life issues.”

I have my doubts as to how much of a role Ukraine plays in perceptions of everyday life in Nashville. Russian aggression is deplorable, but it’s hard to see a direct link to most people in these parts.

Crime? Fewer people this year (63%) listed reducing crime as a top priority, compared to 76% in 2015, suggesting that isn’t fueling the new Era of Bad Feeling.

Nor are attitudes about everything in Nashville at a lower point than they were in 2015. Mayor John Cooper got better approval rating than Megan Barry did in 2015 (56% versus 41%); as did the Metro School Board (54% versus 43%). Schools director Adrienne Battle also got higher marks than former director Shawn Joseph (65% versus 46%).

Faring best of all, by the way, is the Metro Fire Department. In its first year to make the poll, the department got a well-done from a rather startling 95% of respondents. I’m not sure kittens and puppies rank that high in public esteem.

The police department, by comparison, come in at 68%. They weren’t included in 2015, for some reason, but had a robust 86% approval in 2020.

Maybe they’ve arrested too many people since then. Or worse. …

My suspicion is the current overall dissatisfaction is more related to the pace of change than the direction. For instance, 81% of the 2022 respondents said the city’s population is growing “too quickly” versus 50% in 2015. (Puzzler: 2% this year said the population was not growing quickly enough. Have they tried driving near the Green Hills Mall?)

And 71% in 2022 said the construction of new buildings and properties is going too quickly, compared with 47% in 2015.

So maybe the “takeaway,” to use the current journalistic jargon for a conclusion, is just that we need to tap the brakes a little rather than to signal for a turn. Maybe it’s just people saying that “progress” needs to come at us a little more slowly.

If so, I can get behind that sentiment. And while we’re slowing down change, could we do the same with time? It is definitely passing too quickly.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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