A few days ago, I was having coffee with the Nashville Business Journal‘s tech reporter, Jamie McGee. The topic of attracting developers (the tech kind, not the real estate kind) to Nashville came up and I quipped something like, “I am a big fan of any effort that encourages tech startups, so I never want to be or sound critical of any efforts that use terms like mentoring or incubating…but I think the best thing Nashville can do to attract young talented engineers and developers is to stay focused on maintaining and encouraging a robust bar scene and to create more bike lanes.”
(Fortunately, she recognized the attempted humor in my comment.)
I told her that I felt that, these days, Nashville has just about everything possible going for it a city could hope for. (Really, when GQ does a multi-page, non-kitschy, fashion spread about Nashville and titles it Nowville, you’ve crossed into a Bieberian zone of hype.)
To me, the challenge to those who want to see more tech-savvy workers move to (or stay in) Nashville is not merely about declaring ourselves a tech center — what city of any size in the U.S. hasn’t declared themselves that?
The challenge is to keep doing the things that make Nashville not only a livable city for families (no city is perfect, but the city usually ranks high in such lists) but to make Nashville an even more livable city for recent college graduates from the best schools in the South — preferably the really smart graduates who majored in math, computer science, engineering, physics and the like — along with the musically creative ones already drawn here.
Expanding the Bike and Bars theory:
In framing the issue using my “bars and bikes” observation, I am using bars to represent the whole “night life, music, entertainment, fun, hanging-out, getting-together” things that make Nashville attractive to recent graduates – when the sun goes down. Bike lanes are a public expression of a city’s commitment to two other things important to the same demographic: fitness, and the ideas about and issues related to the environment and sustainability. (I can get cynical quickly about the “expression” vs. “reality” debate of biking in Nashville, but for today and this post, I’m all positive.)
(Sidenote: I spoke with Jamie about where a Nashville “maker culture” and having the potential to be the ultimate “Americana” city in the U.S. fits in to my theories regarding attracting recent graduates to Nashville, but my long-time business partner John Lavey constantly reminds me that when I start talking about this topic, I sound like I’m, in his words, “going all Portlandia,” so I’ll skip that tangent.)
Back to my conversation with Jamie. As she wasn’t actually “interviewing” me for a story, I was surprised, but pleased, when I saw that later that day, Jamie used my “bars and bikes” suggestion as the basis of a blog post that’s gotten the thumbs up from a few cyclists — and even some techies — around town.
— Green Fleet (@greenfleet) March 7, 2013
You can read it here: “Want more techies? Build more bike lanes, Rex Hammock says.”
Oddly, since her blog post came out, I’ve learned that my “bike lane” observation is not an isolated theory. (Like all discoveries, theories rarely are.) Someone pointed out to me that the mayors of Seattle and Chicago have recently exchanged barbs about the role a city’s bicycling infrastructure and tech jobs.
Also, there are a couple of clarifications related to what I said that made it into Jamie’s blog post. I said something like Portland, Austin, and even Washington, D.C. had recognized the role of bicycle lanes in projecting a certain cool factor of a city.
Some people got the Portland (they watch Portlandia) and Austin (they’ve heard of Lance Armstrong) references, but didn’t get the DC one. Well, this is what I meant. Also, I blogged about being a DC bicycle tourist for an afternoon last summer. And while Nashville is not on Bicycling.com’s top 50 bike-friendly cities, I predict that, thanks to efforts of the city’s mayor* and many bike enthusiasts and advocates who have worked for a long and often lonely time on this (I’m merely a lurker and fan in the bleachers, so far), that will change very soon.
Final clarification: My bicycle commute (which I try to do at least twice a week) is 14 miles, round trip.
*Link humor: Here’s the real link.