The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

Interview: Keller talks about Nashville


This week I had the chance to sit down with one of my best friends and fellow religion majors at Whitman College, Keller Hawkins. She grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and she talks it up quite a bit, (not to mention we’re both devoted fans of the ABC show, Nashville) so I took this opportunity to ask her some questions about her city.


Q: How long have you lived in Nashville?

A: I was born in Nashville, so you do the math. (20 years.)

Q: What would you say is the over all feeling of the city? Musical? Southern?

A: I wouldn’t say it’s a typical southern town at all. You don’t get the quaint southern feel. You do get little essences of it, but I think Nashville’s really interesting because of its diversity. There are four major universities in Nashville so you get a lot of people—not just college students but faculty too—that come from all over the place. That impacted my elementary school years. I was with a bunch of people who would have parents in graduate school or their parents were faculty at Vanderbilt. They were from all over the world. But then you also have the refugee community which is kind of on a different class level. Then you have all the singer-songwriters who are solely there to make music. I think overall there is a big music scene but it’s not necessarily one type. There’s so much different music going on in Nashville.

Q: So it’s not just country music?

A: No, not at all. My favorite Nashville radio station is Lightning 100. It’s all locally funded and they do “Local Lightning Spotlight” where once a week they have a local artist that they play. […] There’s concerts every night no matter where you are. There’s always something going on. And there’s just so many different genres. I’m not into country music so I don’t even know that scene. But there’s tons of singer-songwriters, tons of funk. […] I think the music scene does dominate nightlife in Nashville. That’s what people go for.



Q: What’s the downtown like? Is it active at all hours?

A: It’s definitely not as active as other bigger cities. […] Most of downtown Nashville is geared toward tourists and not city-goers, though there are people that live there. A lot of people live in neighborhoods right next to downtown […] and there’s tons of condos being built right outside of downtown. But most of the downtown scene is honky-tonk tourist stuff.

Q: What are your favorite places to go and things to do in Nashville?

A: Coffee shops. We have so many cute little coffee shops. Some of my favorite moments in Nashville have been spent with cool people at coffee shops. Some of them are owned by the same company—Bongo Java. They have five or six different shops in Nashville and they have all local, organic ingredients so it’s hipster central, but it’s also really good.

We have tons of local food joints. A lot of them happened to spring up in East Nashville. We have a lot of taco trucks. We have this Mexican popsicle place, and that’s one of my favorites. We have a local creamery—Jeni’s Ice Cream. My favorite flavor from them is Goat Cheese & Roasted Cherries. You cannot even say anything until you try it. It’s the best ice cream there is. But we have a lot of little fun stuff like that that I like to explore, especially when I’m home over the summer

Q: Do you feel like it has changed since you were young?

A: Yeah, a lot. There’s a certain section of Nashville—it’s called East Nashville and I actually was born on that side of Nashville. I lived there for three years and it was a really bad part of town. We actually had a bunch of tornadoes there in 1998 and it did a lot of damage. After that, they started rebuilding it so now it’s like hipster mecca. That’s where all the singer-songwriters live and people fix up old houses. […] So now it’s being revitalized. But it’s actually bad for some people—for a lot of low income areas—because they’re basically getting kicked out of their houses because they can’t afford it any more. 

Q: So, is Nashville segregated?

A: I guess that’s the word you’d use. There are definitely lower income places. North Nashville is mostly a black community […] But then we have another section of Nashville that’s much more international because there’s a lot of refugees. So there’s a big Thai-Burmese community that lives in Nashville. There is a fairly big Korean population in South Nashville. So it’s pretty segregated by income. There’s the super ritzy white country club places too.



Q: Your parents designed a lot of the Nashville skyline right?

A: Well, not the skyline, more like the area around it. My parents are landscape architects so they don’t do anything indoors, but […] they do a lot of streetscapes. There are certain entire blocks where they’ve done everything but the buildings. They’re really into bike racks and they do greenways and parks. 

Q: Did you get to watch them in action when you were younger?

A: Yes, before I even really knew what was going on. I helped with the construction of this park [when I was younger] that was actually built for some neighbors of ours because their youngest daughter is in a wheelchair. So they made an entire park that was totally accessible to kids in wheelchairs.

Q: What’s your favorite place that your parents have designed?

A: They designed a greenway called Shelby Bottoms and we always used to go out there every Saturday afternoon as a family to do bike rides or rollerblading. It’s interesting because they’ve actually expanded it. We used to go out there when an extension had just happened so it’s been kind of growing as we’ve grown old.

My mom has also worked a lot with this bike-rack competition for Nashville, so people would submit their designs. […] One of my favorite ones is this big, old microphone and the wire is the bike-rack. So there’s a bunch of neat things that they’ve been involved in but not necessarily designed.

Q: Do you plan to go back to Nashville after college or at some point?

A: I would love to. I probably will end up doing it because I didn’t realize how awesome Nashville was until I left. It’s actually really hard with the music venues because a lot of times you have to be at least 18, and so when you’re in high school you can’t get that scene. It definitely becomes cooler the older you get.

Q: You talked a bit about gentrification. What do you see as the main issues that Nashville faces?

A: Kind of along those lines: I think connecting the different neighborhoods that have different economic statuses [is important]. Right now my parents are involved in what they’re calling a “Connector.” It’s going to connect two separate neighborhoods with a transportation system. That’s actually been a really hard thing for the city government to be able to okay because so many of the richer neighborhoods say, “We don’t want this because it’ll increase crime” and all that stuff. But it’s been a good conversation to have. [The Connector] could be really great because other people get more job opportunities and it would create more dialogue between those two communities.

We also have a big problem […] with homelessness and housing. It’s really rough in Nashville. Nashville is such a car town that we don’t have a great transportation system. We have a bus system but it’s really unreliable. […] So if you can’t afford a car and you rely on the bus to get to work and then you get fired from your job because the bus is late one day […] that’s a problem.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: Oh, we also have “hot chicken.” It’s a Nashville thing. It’s just super hot, spicy chicken. That’s one of the things I want to do this summer: survey all the hot chicken joints.

I’m glad I got to pick Keller’s brain about Nashville and I hope I’m able to visit her there soon. One last note: If you want to know more about Nashville, here’s a great guide from one of my favorite food bloggers and Nashville residents, Shanna from Food Loves Writing.


6 thoughts on “Interview: Keller talks about Nashville

  1. Her parents designed the Shelby Bottoms Greenway! I love the Shelby Bottoms Greenway! Fun interview!


  2. I was really impressed by Nashville; it’s a lovely place. They also have this thing there that may exist elsewhere but I sure haven’t seen it where you bring a, like, growler jug to a filling station, which is just a to-go bar with lots of microbrews on tap, and you get this very large jug of beer filled and then take it with you to, like, consume at home or wherever. It’s neat.


  3. May I simply say what a comfort to find an individual
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  4. Pingback: City Branding | The City Space

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