What makes Nashville a place people want to live?

I read a stat that Nashville grows by 80 people a day. Of all the stats I read on a daily basis, this one stuck with me—Chicago only grew by 82 people in all of last year!

The Nashville region is expected to grow by almost 40 percent over the next 15 years, adding roughly 500,000 people. Cranes are everywhere in Nashville, and with few reliable transit options, so are cars.

So what makes Nashville a place people want to live?

I went to Nashville, talked to local leaders, dined in its hip new restaurants, ate delicious popsicles and spent lots of time in Uber to find out what makes Nashville so great.

The first thing I noticed about Nashville was cranes. They are everywhere. More than 100 new projects—$2 billion in development—are being constructed in Nashville. I counted six in a few-block area of the Gulch neighborhood, adjacent to downtown Nashville and Music Row, alone. The second most noticeable thing about Nashville? Cars. There are almost no transportation options other than driving.

Overall my research points to seven reasons Nashville has nbecome so popular, but also cautions that sustainability is a real concern and could stymie future growth.

Reasons Nashville is growing
1. Low cost of living
2. Families
3. Less stress
4. Jobs
5. Government efficiency
6. Planning
7. Culture

Issues it must address: Transportation and Affordable Housing

What makes Nashville an attractive place?

1. Low cost of living
A cost of living comparison offers the first glimpse of why Nashville is an attractive option for people. Housing is less expensive in Nashville. Add to that the fact that annual expenses for a family of four are roughly $15,000 cheaper. And Tennessee’s per capita taxes are some of the lowest in the country. With no state income tax, combined state and local per capita tax burden is only $2,777 in Tennessee.

2. It’s good for families
Between 2009 and 2014 Nashville grew by 41,000 people or about 17,000 households.

3. Stress—less of it

Also on par with the low cost of living that makes Nashville an attractive place is a few phrases that kept coming up in my conversations—Nashville “is easy” or “simple” and “a less stressful place to live.” In a comparison of the most stressed-out cities, Nashville is 33rd. While sitting at Barista Parlor Golden Sound, a coffee house located in an old recording studio in the Gulch neighborhood, I overheard a conversation that sums up that sentiment. A woman in her 20’s was visiting from New York City and talking on the phone about a potential move to Nashville. Her reason? I can work anywhere, why am I killing myself trying to pay rent in NYC when there are cool things in Nashville and it’s so much cheaper? She went on to say “I don’t have a desire to leave New York, I have a desire to not have a heart attack by the time I’m 30.” And the clincher: “I have another friend moving here from San Francisco and can rent a beautiful one-bedroom loft overlooking downtown Nashville and be less stressed.”

4. Jobs
Named one of Gallop’s top five cities for job growth, over the past decade Nashville grew nine times more jobs than Chicago as a percent of total jobs. Taxes and the regulatory environment could play a role in that growth—Tennessee’s corporate income tax rate is 6.5 percent, compared to Illinois’ combined 9.5 percent. Tennessee’s business tax climate is ranked 15th. There’s also no personal income tax.

5. Government Efficiency
With no state income tax, combined state and local per capita tax burden is only $2,777 in Tennessee compared to $4,658 in Illinois.

A universal theme I heard attributed to Nashville’s growth is that the city “removes hurdles to make it happen.” One of these hurdles is layers of government. Businesses have said they located in Nashville because there were less layers of government to deal with in the region and, whether or not the reality, Nashville was perceived as an easier place to do business. For example, a call center was awarded a building permit in one day.

The city of Nashville and Davidson County have one, consolidated government, Metro. Assessment of that shift found the consolidated government did improve efficiency and slowed down the increase in government expenditures per capita, suggesting that the metropolitan government was doing more with its resources. Surveys of residents found that people were very satisfied with the consolidation.

6. Planning

Nashville’s Belmont neighborhood: A Nashville Next plan goal is to make Nashville more walkable and less car dependent.

Nashville recently adopted Nashville Next, a comprehensive plan that will guide the city’s growth for the next 25 years. Adopted on June 22, 2015, after three years of community engagement involving more than 18,500 participants, The plan is “…a strategy for what the city should do. Where to build homes — and what kind. How to improve transportation. And the best ways to spend city tax dollars.” There is an overall consensus on focused development downtown. The plan’s four strategies are:

1. Create more walkable centers
2. Create opportunity through abundant housing
3. Build a high-capacity transit system and
4. Increase the community’s resiliency

In creating the four strategies, planners considered changes in demographic trends, poverty and environment, and aligned those trends with the plan’s goals. For example, Nashville will have an older population with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation and a younger Millennial generation, both of whom will want smaller, attached homes rather than homes on large single-family lots. Further, demographic trends “…point toward a future where demand for walkable neighborhoods outstrips the supply…”

Nashville Next has a preferred future shaped by six factors:

1. Protection of sensitive environmental features
2. A complete transit network
3. Household affordability across income levels
4. Focus on activity centers—places with transportation access, abundant housing and amenities
5. Strategic infill that supports transit lines and activity centers
6. Protection and enhancement of the character of different parts of the county. The plan goals include:

Develop standards that guide the design, location and construction of affordable housing across all neighborhoods.
Target infill development along mobility corridors to provide more housing choices that support walking and transit use and to transition gracefully between residential neighborhoods and more intense mixed use and commercial centers and corridors.
Ensure jobs, education and training opportunities are located close to transit service, in centers or in high-need areas.

Development in Nashville’s Gulch neighborhood.

These goals will guide how the Metro government regulates land use, zoning and other development decisions as well as capital spending through policy maps. The policy maps give geographic guidance for decision-making, such as priorities for transit or new greenways. Progress will be tracked annually.

7. Culture

Nashville has many of those amenities for a mid-size city. Its restaurant scene is, “…growing exponentially” and a new $623 million downtown convention center complex “…is demonstrating that the center of gravity is now moving downtown.” Nashville has Tennessee Preforming Arts Center featuring many Broadway shows, Opera, Museums and MUSIC!

And this may be anecdotal, but more than one person (and many Uber drivers) told me that Nashville’s growth is due to the TV show Nashville, Taylor Swift making country music more mainstream and Jack White.

By Chrissy Mancini Nichols
October 21, 2015
Metroplanning.org

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