Collaborative Conversation on Transportation 2017

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From the desk of the Academic Director: 

It’s no secret that Nashville is growing. The current local conversation, and the topic of this year’s Collaborative Conversations seminar series, is transportation. We explored questions like:

-       How do you build transportation infrastructure now what will enable future growth in a way that’s equitable to all neighborhoods and citizens, thereby avoiding destructive patterns of previous eras? 

-       How do we decide where and what kinds of options are needed?

-       Who pays for transportation infrastructure, and how?

-       What do we do with the fact that transportation systems are open systems, meaning that what happens in one neighborhood, city, and county influences others? 

-       How can we better understand how this system works?


When I teach ESS 2023 Principles of Sustainability we explore the systems behavior of how areas grow and decline: how factors like population change (birth/death; migration) and age structure influence job creation, migration of young people, property value, tax base, and educational spending per pupil.


When I teach SU 6103 Zero Management, we explore growth machine theory, a prominent theory in environmental sociology that explains city and regional growth as the interplay between local government, local news (print and TV), and local elites. My students are particularly interested in how investment in infrastructure (e.g. a sports stadium, convention center, or a commuter train) influences property value, quality of life, and yields benefits for all populations in a community. 


I love how the Mapping America’s Futures interactive map above breaks our country into commuting zones. When you start seeing space in terms of where people live and work, it’s easy to see that Nashville/Davidson County must coordinate with the ten surrounding counties. Currently 350,000 cars come into Nashville/Davidson County every workday. This is a major consideration for how transportation infrastructure is paid for—which has yet to be decided. In my opinion, sales tax is regressive (disproportionately affecting poor people) and property tax doesn’t quite cut it because people pay property tax on land they own and vote (either to elect representatives who make decisions about taxes on their behalf or directly for tax increases) where they live. As a rural sociologist, I’m strongly against sales tax and toll roads coming into Nashville because of their disproportionate on already disadvantaged rural communities. For example, taxing Wilson County residents on shopping they do in Nashville and charging them tolls to use the roads to get to work further erodes the Wilson County tax base, already compromised by the fact that so many residents are employed outside their communities.  


As a community, we’ve got big decisions on the table. I support transit and I encourage you to keep reading, learning, and participating in the conversations about transportation in Nashville.