Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Ten People Can't Run This City Anymore: Neoliberalism and Governance Change in Nashville, Tennessee

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Ten People Can't Run This City Anymore: Neoliberalism and Governance Change in Nashville, Tennessee

Article excerpt

In an increasingly geographically and economically interdependent urban system, the coherence and dominance of traditional political and economic urban elites in Nashville is challenged. The influx of new capital, new industries, and nationwide neoliberal policies offers changing imperatives of how local capital should be organized to maximize its efficiency. This study indicates that Nashville has shifted from a political system characterized by the dominance of a closed, exclusive power group to broader, inclusive (although still elite dominated) institutions that stress greater concern for strategic planning and long-term growth. In an era of governance rescaling, cities have to adapt their governance institutions to fit the neoliberal paradigm.

KEY WORDS: Nashville, urban governance, urban regimes, neoliberal cities, scale


Most everyone in Nashville agrees that the city today is a very different place than it was some 10 to 15 yr ago. There are directly observable signs of this change: a reborn downtown, increased economic and spatial growth, the presence of two major league sports teams, and increasing ethnic and cultural diversity. Nashville today is one of the most affluent cities in the southeast and the metropolitan area has over 1.3 million inhabitants (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2005). Important growth industries of the new Nashville economy include health care, music and tourism, as well as traditional sectors of the local economy such as finance and higher education. On a different level, a transformation of local governance has accompanied these changes. This paper will explore this new configuration of power and governance in Nashville and its relationship with broader societal trends.

The governing institutions in any given place and time reflect the socio-economic system in which they exist (Knox and Pinch 2006). The current urban-economic landscape has been drastically altered through the post-industrial restructuring process (Beauregard 2003), resulting in what are alternately referred to as neoliberal or post-Fordist cities (Lauria 1997; Leitner, Peck and Sheppard 2006). But even if the economy and corresponding government policies are more laissez-faire and market-driven than in the past, there is still a need for local governing institutions that are properly aligned with the existing national, and even global, socioeconomic paradigm (Cox 1998; Jessop, Peck and Tickell 1999).

Although the connection between economic restructuring and local economic governance has been addressed in the past, this Nashville case study emphasizes previously underplayed factors. To begin with, Nashville is not the typical industrial city that has experienced a painful transition from a manufacturing to a service-oriented economy. Nevertheless, the governance system has undergone a transformation that is related to forces beyond the immediate locale. The level of analysis to understand this transformation is foremost on actions by local individuals, while simultaneously acknowledging that individual actions must be situated in geographical contexts on different scales. Analytically, it is important to distinguish between catalytic forces and underlying, structural forces of change--a distinction that I formulated for this case study. Events in Nashville that have a transformative impact on local governance act as catalytic forces, which may emanate from different spatial scales. But these catalytic events are also influenced by underlying structural forces associated with various forms of economic restructuring. Finally, the resulting new governance arrangements should be placed in the context of governance rescaling where the locality is increasingly important vis-a-vis other geographic levels.

This paper is based on approximately 20 interviews with leading members of the political and economic elite in Nashville (as well as policy documents and secondary material). …

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