Perhaps it’s time to confront a rumor.

“I stopped coming to your studio because you displaced a Co-Op that used to provide the homeless community with free food…”

This is an uncommon, but not completely isolated, comment that I received.  As a business owner, these occurrences make me stop dead in my tracks, in the middle of whatever I am doing.  To reflect and try to understand. To defend myself in my own mind. Even to reconsider my purpose. And, of course, to wonder how many others are thinking this.

Thankfully, this quoted statement isn’t true.  Yes, we do reside in a building that formerly housed the East Nashville Cooperative Ministry that provides food and clothing to those in need. But no, we didn’t ‘displace’ them.  The ministry moved a mile up Gallatin, and the building had been empty for about a year before we moved in. The building did change hands, but I am not aware of the Cooperative Ministry undergoing any hardship, and it remains open today providing health and wellness services to the Nashville community.

I heard a similar misrepresentation reported in an NPR article that proclaimed – where once a black church stood, now a fancy hot yoga studio has moved in. We are saddened that people want to blame the yoga studio for these displacements and we take some comfort in the fact that those statements  aren’t exactly true. However, we are obviously part of the new wave of niche businesses to open in East Nashville, and would like to examine how we fit into the problem that these statements are alluding to– gentrification.

East Nashville has been through its fair share of changes over the past 150 years.  Once the neighborhood was home to some of the affluent of Nashville like the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nashville.  In 1916, 500 homes southeast of 5th and Woodland were destroyed in a fire. Thousands more homes sustained damage in the 1933 tornado.  Since then, many of the historic homes and log house “vacation homes” to the Nashville elite had fallen into disrepair. In 1998, another tornado tore through East Nashville, badly damaging nearly 300 homes and enough trees in Lockeland Springs and Eastwood to fill several football fields.  Ironically, this event is what led the charge of the East Nashville revitalization. Historic homes were restored with insurance money, and the area finally became more prominent on the rest of the city’s radar.

Most of us have heard stories about the neighborhoods we live in and been told – you wouldn’t go to this gas station after dark or you wouldn’t walk down this street, even in the daytime.  O.G. Nashville residents (10 years + status) have passed the story down – how East Nashville has changed – the time that it was down and out and the period in which it began to thrive again.  Indeed, I’ve seen quite a shocking change over the 7 years I’ve been in Nashville – everywhere from Inglewood to Lockeland Springs. I remember when packs of wild dogs would run free in East Nashville. I remember when the very first tall and skinnies went up. I remember when there were no lines at Jeni’s Ice Cream. Ever! I remember being advised not to venture to “the other side of Gallatin” on foot. Right or wrong, it felt a little scarier than my old bohemian, yet family-friendly Seattle neighborhood, and I heeded the warning.

Along with that insurance money following the tornado came the hip bars, coffee shops and restaurants. Yes, even a fancy new hot yoga studio! I remember the grand opening of Barista Parlor and the first month that Bar 308 opened its doors. These young entrepreneurs pioneered the way for the new East Nashville restaurants – moving into old auto shops and abandoned buildings, really anything beyond 5 Points was like the Wild West. Now we have multiple fine dining establishments to choose from, high-end clothing boutiques, and even the mystic legend of a Trader Joe’s moving into the Athlete’s Foot building (Please, please, please, please, please!!).

We don’t hate these amenities. And indeed there are some “upsides” to gentrification.  Crime-ridden neighborhoods are often made safer and cleaner, the tax base is expanded and property values increase.  And the new restaurants, grocery stores, recreation areas that come along with it do provide some improvement to the quality of life for residents – both old and new.  Yet, the problem with this type of neighborhood transformation remains – longtime residents are often forced out of the community due to rising taxes and home values which they can no longer afford….. so what price do we pay for the amenities we want, the houses we want to live in, the yoga studio down the street?  “East Nashville must recognize that its diversity is more than an asset; it lies at the heart of its identity.”

There’s no doubt that it is unfair to longtime residents.  Rather than look the other way while our neighbors are forced to move out of their childhood homes, we ask, “What can we do?”  The answer is definitely not “don’t take the opportunity to relocate to an empty building.”

Since our first year of operation, we’ve supported the Martha O’Bryan Center through donation classes.  The MOB Center (check out this blog post) works to alleviate the causes and consequences of poverty in East Nashville.

Besides investing in nonprofits that strive to help these families, a simple and attainable goal we hold is to celebrate the diversity we still have and to be good neighbors – extending kindness, greeting people we see, building strong relationships, and shopping locally!  Many locally-owned businesses still remain, and we often partner with them or do our best to support them. 

We can also ask and hold accountable our government to intervene and help….. As Peter Byrne of Georgetown Law writes, “the most negative effect of gentrification, the reduction in affordable housing, results primarily not from gentrification itself, but from the persistent failure of government to produce or secure affordable housing more generally.” There are approximately 100 people moving to Nashville every day. There is already a recognized need for more affordable housing to be erected around the city.  Indeed, the former Mayor Barry even admitted that 31,000 affordable housing units will have to be built by 2025 to accommodate the influx of people and had released a plan to invest $10 million for housing for households making around $30,000 a year, about 60 percent of the city’s median income.  A new coalition called “Welcome Home” has surfaced to propose action initiatives and call attention to the Metro Government on behalf of affordable housing.  Welcome Home worries that attention to affordable housing has been diverted due to the transit plan. For more information or to get involved, please visit https://www.welcomehomenashville.org.  

We believe that words certainly matter, but actions speak louder.  Maybe you’ve heard people call it “living your yoga.” In gratitude to the neighborhood that is our home and in respect to people who would like to practice yoga but find it prohibitively expensive, we have unrolled Free Yoga Wednesdays.  (See details in the previous blog post.)