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Neighborhood Story Project, Pilot Projects

Three pilot projects took place in Nashville, Tennessee in 2017. The following page provides a brief context of Nashville and the three neighborhoods, the project participants, and how the Neighborhood Story Projects unfolded in these three settings:

Some Nashville context

Currently home to an estimated 626,600 residents, Nashville is an ethnically and racially diverse city, and becoming more so. As of 2015, the U.S Census estimated that Nashville was 56% White, 28% Black, and 10% Latino - the latter of which is also the fasted growing ethnic group in the area. Since the 1970s, Nashville has also been an attractive resettlement area for immigrants and refugees, and during the 2015-2016 school year, Metro Nashville Public Schools reported 120 first languages spoken Nashville students.

Despite its diversity, the City of Nashville is also highly segregated. Using 2010 Census data, the racial dot map places a single dot per person in the census track where the person resides. The dots are color coded to reflect the respondent’s self-reported racial identity: white is coded as blue; black, green; asian, red; hispanics, orange; and all other racial categories, brown.

With its highly concentrated swaths of blue and green, this map reveals the degree to which Nashville remains racially segregated.

Nashville is also growing at an unprecedented rate, ranking among the fastest growing cities in the nation by population (Nelson, 2012) and jobs (Kotkin & Schill, 2015). Unsurprisingly, the city’s housing market is also booming. In 2017, Zillow named Nashville the hottest real estate market in the country (Allison, 2017). 

Yet the “It City” isn’t benefitting everyone. The Nashville Mayor’s office recently reported that 30% of county residents cannot afford the cost of housing (Mayor’s office, 2017). Racial disparities in income make black and latino residents particularly vulnerable to dramatic shifts in the housing market. Nashville’s black and latino residents are twice as likely to live below the poverty level as their white counterparts (Nashville Social Services, 2016). And, many of these residents live in neighborhoods where housing costs are rising the fastest.

Between 2002 and 2016, housing values across the county increased by 43%, but within inner-ring, neighborhoods—which are disproportionately home to people of color—home values rose more than 100% (Metro Nashville Assessor of Property, 2017). These changing contexts are the ecosystem within which the three Nashville Neighborhood Story Projects took place.

Cleveland Park Story Project

Cleveland Park is an East Nashville neighborhood that’s history as a black enclave dates back to some of the first black neighborhoods established after the end of the Civil War. Today, the neighborhood demographics are rapidly changing. Cleveland Park, which was more than 75% black in 1970—and was comprised of 90% black households between1990 and 2000—is now rapidly losing black residents. According to the U.S. Census, between 2000 and 2010, black residents decreased by 18%. Within Cleveland Park, tensions have arisen along race and class lines, as residents of different tenures recall different pasts, experience different presents and imagine different futures for their neighborhood.

The Cleveland Park Story Project included eight residents. Three identified as longtime residents, all of whom were black homeowners considered elders in their community.  Three others, also homeowners, considered themselves newer residents. These included one Latina woman who recently married a long-time resident, and two black women who had purchased homes in the last decade. The final two members of the group—one Latina and one white woman—were former residents priced out by rising rents, who still felt strong ties to the neighborhood.

As their research questions, the group asked: What holds Cleveland Park together, and how can we make Cleveland Park home again? Members interviewed and took pictures of their neighbors, gathered historic and contemporary images, as well as archival materials. The culminating project was an interactive community exhibition where neighbors could see images of their neighbors, hear voices of the neighborhood, and add to a timeline of the neighborhoods past and imagined future. People were encouraged to write a word on a stone to take home, signifying what they wanted to remember about their neighborhood. A simple video of neighborhood images and voices can be found here.

Edgehill Story Project

The southeast Nashville neighborhood of Edgehill has many similarities to Cleveland Park. It’s growth as a robust black neighborhood can also be traced to the Civil War. Urban renewal was particularly devastating to Edgehill, separating a previously unified neighborhood by two major freeways, cutting-off the once robust commercial area on 12th Ave, and razing the homes of more than 2000 people to build public housing. For years, Edgehill has faced encroachment from Belmont and Vanderbilt Universities, as well as Music Row. Proximal to downtown, between 2002 and 2016, housing costs went up 135%, and—in a neighborhood that was nearly 90% black from the 1970s through the 1990s--between 2000 and 2010 the number of black households decreased by 68%.

Six of the eight Edgehill Story Project participants were renters. With the exception of one white man—a former renter priced out of the neighborhood—all participants were black women. Concerned about the vulnerability of their neighbors, the Edgehill Story Project asked: What is driving development and the displacement of our neighbors, and how can we intervene? Members collected and analyzed data from on housing values, foreclosures, evictions, and demographic changes. They created a comic book to explain how zoning works and how community members can get involved. And, drawing on video interviews they collected with neighbors, they made a video that can be used as an educational and organizing tool. They pulled much of the data gathered, as well as resources for renters and homeowners, into a report, that was distributed at a culminating community event. Attended by more than 80 people, the event was a call to action, and many members of the team have continued organizing their neighbors against displacement. The report and film can be found here.

Stratford Story Project

The third pilot setting for Neighborhood Story Project was a school zone. Located in East Nashville, Stratford High School draws from two long-time black neighborhoods—including the largest public housing project in Nashville—as well as a cluster of historically white, and affluent, neighborhoods. Opened as an all-white school in the 1960s, the school has weathered years of challenges related to court-ordered desegregation, white flight, disinvestment, and high staff turnover, and the struggles of students to succeed in school. As Nashville associated problems in the school with the student population, rather than broader issues of lack of district and community investment, the school and its predominantly black student body were stigmatized.

In recent years, Stratford has had more than $20 million in renovations, and begun distinguishing itself as a STEM school. Concurrent to the transformations within the school, the surrounding neighborhood is also changing, and the Stratford zone is now one of the most desirable places to live in Nashville. There has been a 105% increase in home values over the last decade, and white families now make up 56% of the zoned neighborhood. Yet, given that only 22% of Stratford students are white, many of the new residents still do not see Stratford as their neighborhood school.

The 14 participants of the Stratford Story Project included seven current students, four alumni, and one parent of alumni. The Stratford Story Project had the greatest amount of ethnic and gender diversity, including 8 black members, 3 white members, and 1 southeast Asian member, 7 women and 5 men.  The Stratford Story Project asked: How has the changing reputation of Stratford impacted people’s investment in the school, and how can we change it for the better?

Members collected interviews from students and teachers from every decade of the school’s history, along with archival data, ultimately weaving these together into a feature length documentary film. At an early showing to more than 100 people, the team gathered feedback regarding perspectives that were missing. The team conducted a second round of interviews, and the final film is now available here