Making Nashville a More Livable and Sustainable City for All

This report summarizes efforts, under Mayor Megan Berry, to make Nashville the “greenest city in the Southeast.” The authors argue that, while recent planning by the Nashville-Davidson Metropolitan Planning Commission are likely to enhance environmental quality, more must be done to address poverty and historical inequities. Specific to climate adaptation, the report delineates how regional climate change will disproportionately impact low-income communities in Nashville, and describes how proposed initiatives can be expanded or adjusted to enhance equitable outcomes.   

Understand how sustainability goals can be enhanced to better reach low-income people. 

The report explains that after the housing market collapsed in 2008, Nashville’s low cost of living and job opportunities allowed the city to rebound quickly. Even through Nashville is the third-fastest growing metro area in the United States, that prosperity is not reaching all people. In fact, the poverty level has grown 6% since 2000. North Nashville’s predominately black and low-income area is characterized by poor housing, limited job opportunities, and high air pollution. Black and Latino residents earn less than white residents, and public transit commutes take black residents an average of six minutes longer than white residents.

The paper argues that climate change can exacerbate inequality. In 2010 rainstorms and flooding left residents with fewer affordable housing options. Additionally, increasing temperatures are predicted to cost the state of Tennessee more than $1.3 billion each year in labor productivity by 2050. As more extreme weather moves through the area, low-income communities are likely to see increasing health problems, financial instability, and less access to healthy food, clean air and water.

While Nashville is planning for climate change, their plan Livable Nashville (draft released in February 2017) does not use an equity lens. The plan includes only one goal focused on low-income residents: it recommends encouraging energy efficiency and weatherizing homes. The report lauds this goal for lowering energy bills and for creating job opportunities for low-income residents.  The report recommends that Nashville expand its community outreach and education to better reach small businesses not in the downtown core and a more diverse range of residents and community groups. Nashville could also benefit from more green infrastructure solutions and increasing its tree canopy, but should ensure investments actually reach low-income people.

Publication Date: March 9, 2017

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