• Dave McGuire

Clarksville's Missing Trendy Neighborhood

Updated: Sep 7

The Clarksvillian

Declaring there is no importance in a community having hip and trendy neighborhoods seems to be a timeless event in Clarksville. That conversation simply comes with the territory when recognizing the transient nature of military life and our proximity to one of the country’s more exciting cities.

This isn't restricted to a conversation about fashion trends, it's also a critically important review of the never-ending battle against brain drain. What is missing from these pronouncements is the misunderstanding of people willing to seek out “cooler” areas as they look to blend their roots with more trendy fashions found in other cities. The cookie cutter restaurants and shops that have defined Clarksville are, at times, only shallow reflections that sacrifice authenticity. The introduction of remote worker friendly neighborhoods wired for home-based employees, business incubator opportunities to encourage small business growth, artistic engagement and immediate social contacts among full-time residents are only part of the foundation.

There seems to be a generational gap when it comes to defining how younger people view trendy neighborhoods. The previously mentioned characteristics of trendy neighborhoods are the key ingredients for areas like Nashville’s East Nashville, Sylvan Park or Memphis’ Cooper Young being magnets. Those areas keep cities fresh and tapped into the highly sought after younger demographic.

The suburbs – insert Clarksville neighborhood here – are more appealing to different people for a variety of socioeconomic reasons. What makes those areas attractive to existing residents and less attractive to artists, which results in cultural stagnation? That answers can be found in preferences for larger home acreage, school districts, access to the interstate or golf courses. Okay, I’m kidding about the golf course. Maybe. How someone defines a quality of life will be the ultimate factor. And regardless of the heavy lifting by some local businesses and organizations, Clarksville does not provide the wide enough net to attract those options.

Urban crowds view the suburbs as uncool because they are, well, quiet and filled with people more focused on a different phase of life. You remember how it was to be 25, right? For many younger people, it's just too expensive to live in the ‘burbs as an aspiring artist or rent space to develop a uniquely experimental business. As previously mentioned, the byproducts of sprawl are major obstacles to the more density minded urban set.

Where could we start the conversation Most people in the neighborhood development business will say it’s one phrase: central place theory.

The easiest explanation is this: If there is a boardwalk on the beach, and your plans are to open two restaurants or shops on that boardwalk, where would the best location be for those businesses? Did you guess both restaurants spread apart in a mixture of ways? Wrong. Both restaurants will do the most business if placed next to one another in the middle of the boardwalk. They become the epicenter of the boardwalk with other businesses building in close proximity to tap into their customer volumes.

Let’s use downtown Clarksville as a reference for the central plan theory. In planning, it’s commonly believed one strong business or restaurant may survive on its own but may not be able to anchor a new neighborhood by itself. A handful of similarly focused venues or outlets can combine and push a neighborhood past a tipping point resulting in new attention from locals, media, real estate agents, etc. Activity begets activity, right? To bring this example even closer to home, let's use downtown’s Blackhorse Brewery as an example. It’s not difficult to make an argument Blackhorse is the best restaurant operator in Clarksville, and even they have struggled to support secondary venues in the neighborhood. You read that correctly - One business attracts customers and provides a secondary opportunity for surrounding businesses to benefit and grow. The Blackhorse attracts strong crowds, but how many of those patrons have found a secondary place to visit after leaving the establishment? There are current venues that would make the argument against that statement being true. Understood in the short view. However, the honest answer acknowledges a revolving door of historically inconsistent results with downtown often being a one-and-done visit to Blackhorse.

If we’re using the central planning theory as a baseline, does Clarksville have any areas with the potential to quickly develop into a hip and trendy neighborhood? Over the next week, we’ll look at 3 neighborhoods with differing levels of opportunity.