The 1st Hip Neighborhood is Inevitable
Declaring there is no importance in a community having trendy neighborhoods seems to be a timeless event in Clarksville. That conversational topic simply comes with the territory when recognizing the transient nature of military life and/ proximity to one of the country’s more exciting cities.
We should not limit this topic to fashion trends because of its critically important relationship to the never-ending battle against brain drain. What is missing from the naysayers is the misunderstanding of people willing to seek “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's recent history are only shallow reflections that sacrifice our authenticity. Introducing 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 challenges cities around the country are facing.
Without question, a generational gap exists for defining how younger people view trendy neighborhoods. The previously mentioned characteristics of trendy neighborhoods are the key attractive ingredients for areas like Nashville’s East Nashville, Sylvan Park or Memphis’ Cooper Young. Those areas keep community culture 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? We can find those answers in preferences for larger home acreage, school zones, interstate access or golf courses. Okay, I’m kidding about the golf course. Maybe. Regardless of the heavy lifting by some local businesses and organizations, Clarksville does not provide the wide enough net to attract those unique options. When population growth is a major factor affecting infrastructure, it forces local leadership to place legitimate interests on the back burners.
Urban crowds tend to view the suburbs as uncool because they are quieter and populated with people focused on a different phase of life. Some of us remember how it was to be 25, right? For many younger people, it's also too expensive to live in the ‘burbs as an aspiring artist when considering rental space to develop a uniquely experimental business. As previously mentioned, the byproducts of sprawl can be obstacles to the more dense urban developments trendy neighborhoods tend to favor.
Where could we continue 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 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 encourages activity. To bring this example closer to home, consider downtown’s Blackhorse Brewery becomes a perfect example. It’s easy to make an argument that Blackhorse is the best restaurant operator in Clarksville - and even they have struggled to support secondary venues in the neighborhood. Yes, only one business attracts customers and that develops 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? Some current venues and operators would make an argument against that statement being true. It's an excellent discussion and possible to make points with shorter windows of time as examples. The hard 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 develop into a hip and trendy neighborhood beyond downtown? If so, where would they be located?