Land privatization and real estate speculation have been a defining character in Nashville from colonial settlements and historical development to today.
Given the lack of cash crop cotton or tobacco agriculture, in the 19th century settlers turned into a unique, subdivided landscape for what can be seen as a predecessor of suburban living, marketed to private landowners as a quiet/scenic setting for country living. Real estate was a driving force in the economy (alongside the “Wall Street of the South” emphasis). In the contemporary era, this finance and real estate mix is tied in part to office and corporate development, and the rise of new high-rise structures and multi-unit, mixed-use development.
Nashville’s rapid development has come with significant shifts in the housing market. Since 2000, the renter population has jumped by 32%. With continued stagnation in wages, renters are particularly cost burdened, with a 56% increase in households who must spend more than 30% of their income on rent.
Climate change and natural disasters
Worsening factors have been a series of climate change-fueled natural disasters, particularly tornadoes, that devastated parts of the central city’s neighborhoods. North Nashville most recently faced a devastating tornado in March 2020 that saw many worried as land speculators scoured battered homes for opportunities to buy and flip homes. This threatened to repeat the patterns from the mid-2000s tornadoes devastating East Nashville, which led to waves of land speculation and push-out of Black residents as rents rose and buyers preyed on desperate homeowners.
The displacement adds up to further burdens on BIPOC workers primarily, who find themselves even further from their jobs in the city, and from opportunity. Public transportation options are few and far between, especially across county lines, and most especially for late-shift workers. In a city driven by more round-the-clock work, like entertainment and hospitals, workers are finding a region not built to support them.
Nashville has long struggled with segregation
Policies like the I-40 highway cutting through Northern Nashville — challenged, unsuccessfully, by a Fisk University-led movement that took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court — furthered processes of segregation and urban inequality. This allows wealth to accrue in white neighborhoods due to land values, and when displacement occurs, at the expense of Black (and more recently, Mexican) communities that have resided and kept up these neighborhoods for generations.