Parking Lots to Craft Fairs

Nashville. Photo shows two boys on skateboards
Photo by Flickr user “A Virtual Unknown,” CC BY-NC-SA.

I am always surprised by how few Nashvillians actually grew up here like I did. A lot of people have moved here over the years to make a break as a songwriter or musician, of course, but more and more it seems like people are moving to Nashville because it is such an approachable city with reasonably priced housing and ample opportunities to start or relocate a business. It is also, increasingly, a city with vital and walkable neighborhoods and new places to engage with a diversely talented community.

Nashville never seemed that way to me as a bored teenager living in the outer suburbs. On weekends, my friends and I usually went skateboarding in a random commercial parking lot or we hung out at a nearby public park. On rainy days, we sometimes met up at one of a few coffee shops around town, but beyond one independent bookstore and music venue that offered underage shows, it seemed like there were very few public gathering places here, particularly for young people.

These days, Nashville offers a much wider array of public spaces throughout the city, ranging from new community centers, skate parks, ball fields, greenways, libraries, and many more. But I think the most remarkable change — and something I am actively working to extend — is a wave of neighborhood spaces and community events that are bringing people together and building stronger ties and greater pride in our city.

In the last 10 years, Nashville has added dozens of neighborhood coffee shops, farmers markets, festivals, outdoor concerts and movie series, food truck battles, and other public and semi-public venues and events. At their best, these community venues not only create new spaces for Nashvillians to come together, they also highlight and connect us with some of the lesser-exposed talents across our city. Last year, for example, some friends of mine and I launched Porter Flea, a free, semiannual artisan market in Nashville based on hugely successful modern craft fairs in Chicago and other larger cities. Porter Flea quickly outgrew its first two pop-up locations and our summer market this year drew well over 3,500 people, who came out to support dozens of talented local designers and artisans. We are expecting an even larger turnout for the next one.

I will admit it: as a bored teenager in the mid-‘90s, I had some doubts about Nashville’s creative and cultural vitality. But Porter Flea and the wider universe of new venues and events like it are proving Nashville holds—and supports—a diverse, creative community that adds as much value to our city as the musicians and songwriters for which we are better known.

Brent Elrod is the project developer for Urban Housing Solutions, Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee.


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