On a random Thursday night, my husband and I decided to try a new spot that a family member recommended. In the neighborhood called Cleveland Park on the east side of Nashville, the restaurant called The Pharmacy, has been serving up great hamburgers for the past several years.  As we walked through the door past a waiting crowd, my husband commented that in the late nineties we wouldn’t be just casually walking around in this part of East Nashville. Since that time however, this corner of Cleveland Street and McFerrin Avenue and the neighborhoods around it have undergone significant change. I have to believe that the two restaurants, The Pharmacy and its sister restaurant The Holland House, had a little bit to do with that. Image

In neighborhoods across the country, small coffee houses and local restaurants boasting ‘local food’, are creating momentum in up-and-coming neighborhoods. As I’m writing this article I sit in Portland Brew in East Nashville, the cornerstone of a growing neighborhood center that includes a local Mexican restaurant, a vegetarian spot called the Wild Cow, and growing residential development; and it’s not just an urban thing – its also happening in suburbia.

In the community of Antioch, a suburb 15 minutes southeast of downtown Nashville, sits a local restaurant called 360 Burger. Opened during a time when the regional mall and other big box retailers were going out of business, the restaurant was a sign of hope for a community hard hit by the recession. Across the way in the defunct regional mall, new mall owners began advertising new food court selections from local international food vendors before new retailers, hoping that food would be the natural attractor for new customers.


So the question is, in revitalization strategies should local food be the common thread?

I think so.

Even in the worst parts of a city where disinvestment is wide spread, it’s often the local restaurants that stick around. They stay in business by serving the people that had to remain, and the people who travel back to a dissolving area for some ‘food nostalgia’ – especially if the food is exceptionally good.  So how do we include food in the revitalization strategy – here’s what I think:

Urban planners and city officials should work with local restaurateurs to identify areas where potential restaurants could open and target those areas for revitalization strategies answering questions like - Where is there potential for foot traffic? Can vacant retail spaces be outfitted for new restaurant space? Once those areas are identified, traditional housing strategies (infill and affordable housing) should be focused in those areas.  Urban planners and city officials should work with food entrepreneurs to develop appropriate incentives and fast track approval processes that would assist restaurateurs with a speedy opening.

Similar to the food truck movement, where food entrepreneurs can test new and fun concepts without the risk of a brick and mortar location, a “mobile test kitchen” program should be created to test food concepts in different neighborhoods. This way, restaurateurs can test the market before making large financial risks. Similar to this idea, local chefs are testing out concepts at local farmers' markets and through local non-profits. One such program and test kitchen is operating at Casa Azafran, a community center for Nashville’s growing international community. Similar programs but with business planning and loan assistance may be beneficial in helping a business owner go from testing phase to reality a lot quicker.

Food Truck

Finally revitalizing communities should market existing restaurants online and through social media in order to attract others. If business owners see that there is support of the existing food scene in an area, the perceived risks of opening may be eliminated.

Food always brings people together and I firmly believe that food can also bring communities together.  I encourage urban planners, city officials, and community organizers to really tap the food entrepreneurs in your community to see how we can harness the energy of the local food movement and neighborhood revitalization to effect real change. Food, unlike retail which can and has moved to an online marketplace, will always require a physical location that people can travel to, to see, smell, and consume their food. And its not always about eating, it’s about social interaction, and a sense of community. We would be foolish not to understand the power of this and pay more attention to food’s role in our communities.

Don’t believe me? Well, just chew on that the next time you follow a food review to a 5 star restaurant in a derelict part of town, and wonder ‘why’d they locate here?”. They saw potential and well, the neighborhood will benefit in the long run.


Local restaurants have been a part of the revitalization scene in Nashville for years. These restaurants opened in neighborhoods at a time when the market was lukewarm because they saw potential. Here’s a few to name:

Germanton Café – Germantown

Marche Artisan Foods – East Nashville

Mafioso’s – 12th Avenue South

Taco Mamacita – Edgehill Village

Watermark and Rusans – The Gulch

The Garden Brunch Café – Jefferson Street

360 Burger – Antioch


Food for thought: What’s the food scene like in your city?



Check out cable TV any night of the week, and you’ll find a home-flipping or renovation reality show. That world seems very alluring – buy a home, put in the work, and reap big profits. Or find a client, throw a fabulous open house, negotiate, and reap the benefits. I'm sold! Sign me up!!

But not so fast little urban planner; investing in residential property whether as a primary residence or investment property – takes know-how and capital. This is where a realtor comes in. A realtor can help any first time buyer or investor navigate the world of real estate and financing. A realtor with investment experience can also help a buyer/investor make a sound financial decision. As cities and communities see resurgence, the real estate market will also grow, creating opportunities for building wealth. So if you’ve ever thought about diving into the world of real estate or investing, this post is for you!

In June, I sat down with realtor and investor Damani Maynie, in an up and coming area of Nashville called Edgehill, to talk about his own adventures in investing.  Like many of my CitySpeak interviews, the conversation took a very inspirational turn, as his personal investment experiences revealed some powerful testimonies.

Damani, the city is always speaking. What is it saying to you? 

Well, Nashville is becoming a hot place, for professionals and for those in music. And Downtown is really taking off.  But even with that progress, we still have a long way to go in terms of becoming a major city. But I think the efforts of this mayor and the past mayor has aided that. So what the city is telling me is that there are many opportunities for new businesses, and for family and individual economic growth. I think there is a market for retail growth within neighborhoods, especially for places on the outskirts of the city.  I think Nashville and the inner core has got the idea of walkable neighborhoods, parks, and amenities, but I would like to see more of that in places like Antioch, Hermitage, Mt. Juliet.

So tell me your story, how did you get into the world of real estate and investing? 

Well, my stepfather was a contractor. I hung out with him during the summers and did construction work.  I did manual labor on older homes but he also gave me the opportunity to design. I also saw an opportunity to make decent money at this; I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and realized – okay this is something I can do! That’s when I decided to attend TSU (Tennessee State University) to pursue design work. In the meantime I was fortunate enough to secure my first investment and grow from there. So I’ve always loved real estate, investment, and especially design. And in those years I’ve done design, engineering, project management, I’ve invested, and I’ve been a landlord…I’ve done just about everything within the world of real estate! I really enjoy real estate though and my experience allows me to wear many different hats for my clients.

Do you feel any sort of responsibility being an African American realtor? And being African – American what perspective do you bring to your work? 

I guess being African American I feel like it’s my duty to share my knowledge with other African Americans that may or may not know about this world. But as far as the profession, I don’t look at myself as just an African American agent because it’s really about offering the best service. Good service is key, and if you have good service you’ll do well.  And by good service I mean, being knowledgeable, responsive, and having the ability to guide clients to properties that meet their needs, but that are also sound financial investments.  I also have very diverse experiences that I think helps my clients.

Explain that, diverse experiences…

For instance, my investment experience allows me to offer my clients options that can offer equity and room to grow. For example, advising clients to buy a less expensive home and putting in the equity through improvements, instead of buying the home that’s renovated to a ‘tee’ and then paying an arm and a leg for it. And I think this is important in the African American community. Property is a true vehicle to building wealth, for college, retirement.

Edgehill Renovation Before - A true fixer upper...

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Edgehill Renovation After

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Right! For example when I interviewed Will and Sonceria ( “I Live In – An Up and Coming Neighborhood!) I realized that their decision to renovate a home in an up and coming area was a great investment decision… 

Absolutely. In many cases these areas were or are still historically black but many blacks living there are renting, while the property owner lives in the suburbs or out of state. So in many cases we are left out of the loop with regard to profit and sales.

So is this a major concern for you with regard to the housing market?

Yes and broadly, gentrification is a concern. And it’s hard for me because I’m also an investor – one of my primary goals is to make a profit. But I can’t invest in places like Brentwood, so I have to invest in places where I can afford to invest; many of those areas are African American. But at the same time I think it’s good to educate the people who live in those areas, because I feel like a lot of people who live in those areas are getting ripped off. I know a lady who sold her house because a parent passed away, and she would call me whenever someone would call her making multiple offers on her home.  People need to get educated and know their rights. There isn’t any illegal about doing what I’ve described, but the shady part is what they offer people for their homes.

That’s the tough thing about gentrification,  there has to be a willing buyer and a willing seller. So people just need to be educated about the market and the options they may have. I also feel like blacks can help minimize gentrification, by bringing their money and investment to black neighborhoods to maintain the culture and character... 

I agree if young blacks did that they could change the inner city. They need to bring their resources to where the resources are – city services, amenities – because that’s what others are attracted to, the city services.  Many like that fact that they can walk to the park, to the grocery store, and never have to get in the car!  And many people like the suburbs because its family oriented, and there are large lots. However the city is changing, there are family parks, and other family oriented amenities. But the way the city is growing, the Antioch-s and Bellevue-s will continue to grow and those places will become more urban. But all in all, education is extremely important. I try to do that in the communities I work within. I share with owners what their homes are worth, and what other properties have sold for.  Just so people are not tricked by investors. I want people to come to the negotiation table educated.

The Urban Pioneer - Damani's personal home Before...

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Damani's personal home - After

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So tell me about your first experience at the negotiation table; your first investment. 

My first investment helped me go back to school and focus on that. It paid for school, life, everything – it gave me financial freedom. Now that same investment pays for my personal mortgage, family expenses, and it’s allowed me to dive into my real estate career. But it was a great risk – a divine risk.

So what was that risk like? Were you nervous? 

Yea, I was nervous! I had my eye on a small house, but the deed was caught up in the courts. I knew I could flip the house so I could use that money to live on campus. At my age mind you! (Damani was a non-traditional student).  So I wanted a small house but I ended up buying a 4 unit apartment building.  I walked around it and I walked around it, and the units were boarded up, but I went for it. I sent the owner a letter and he called me and said he’d just prayed about selling the building. And so when we went to closing, I didn’t have enough money at closing. The seller at closing wrote me a check for the difference of $1,500. He said, ‘you know what, I like you, I’m going to sell it to you for what I owe and not make a profit’. He was a black man.

This is similar to Will and Sonceria’s story. They bought the house from a black man in Salemtown who believed in them…

Absolutely, it was divine intervention for sure. I lived in one of the units. And that was the blessing. I was going to live in a small dormitory room, but God gave me a whole building! And this building is the cup that keeps on giving!

The Building That Keeps on Giving! - Damani's first investment property


And I knew that I was being led to invest in this property.  I was like ‘I have to do it’. But, there was a point when I almost went into foreclosure. I couldn’t rent it. Another investor in the neighborhood, told me ‘man just hold on, it will always rent – don’t worry.' When he told me that, I had one more month before I was to go into foreclosure. But it finally rented and I never looked back. I knew God didn’t bring me that far to leave me out there like that. It really tests your faith. I was in school, no job and behind on my car payments. But He didn’t leave me. So when I got the opportunity I started buying more.

So what is your goal for your real estate career?

Wow, that’s a big question!  At the end of the day, aside from growing my business, I just really want to help people. I have seen how real estate can impact my life, how it helped me, so I just want to help others be successful.


Damani is now a full time realtor with Village Real Estate.  To contact Damani Maynie visit www.ddm-thepropertyconsultant.com. 

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Damani’s Real Estate Tips

  1. Find a realtor that is responsive. Real estate decisions are often emotional and when you find a property you love, you want to act on it immediately. Your realtor needs to be easy to get in touch with.
  2. When selling your property, make sure you research the market. Don’t fully depend on your tax assessment for property assessments. It’s probably only about 80% of what the property is worth- it’s just for tax purposes. Get a realtor to give you a market analysis. It’s not an appraisal, but it will give you a good sense of what your home could sell for in the market.
  3. If you are underwater, but can pay the mortgage, keep paying your mortgage. Eventually the value of the home will come back. If you just have to get out, contact the bank because they have options. If you want to sell, a short sale (selling the home for less than what is owed) should be your last option because it could disrupt your credit.
  4. Keep an open mind. Sometimes your dream home could be a different housing style, location, or a fixer upper. In all cases lean on your realtor to help guide you through the process.

SpeakNow! - Are you a realtor or investor? What tips would you add to this list? 


Everyday people make decisions about where to live; downtown, mid-town, the country, the suburbs. But aside from a good school district, being close to work, or close to parents, why do people decide to live in the house they’ve chosen? And on a deeper level, what does “home” really mean to them?

The I Live In! series will answer those and other questions about housing. This series will also educate you about different types of housing and the respective residents. What’s up with renters - do they really care about where they live? Or what about people who live in the country – why would they dare live so far away from the city! Suburbanites – do you feel like you accomplished the American dream? It is my hope, that this series gives you a new perspective on different types of housing and what home means to each individual resident.

I Live...

To begin this series I contacted some close friends of mine from college to interview  them about their home. Will and Sonceria Radford, and their three children (one girl and two boys), live in Salemtown, an up-and-coming neighborhood in Nashville. Located just North of Downtown Nashville, Salemtown is a historically black, residential enclave that for years has maintained its obscurity, despite being adjacent to Downtown, employment centers, and interstates that can get you anywhere in the city of Nashville within 15 minutes. It is now seeing new development and residents, and may be on the cusp of gentrifying.

Will and Sonceria chose this neighborhood roughly four years ago and underwent a massive renovation of a historic bungalow. Having always admired their accomplishment, I wanted to make this couple – my friends – the first subjects of the I Live series.

In our interview, I wanted to dive into the issue of gentrification. Gentrification is usually associated with non-minority residents displacing minority residents. Being that the Radford’s are an African-American family in this up-and-coming neighborhood, I was excited to dive into this issue.

We were able to discuss gentrification, but only after taking a long detour during the interview. During that detour, I learned that for Will and Sonceria, their home meant more than just a place live; it instead defined their family, community, and their future. By the time we got back on course, the topic of gentrification surfaced as a by standard to the real topic – the meaning of home.

CitySpeak: So, let’s start with the question - what does this home mean to you?

WillSpeaks: There are a couple of (meanings) – but one of those would be progression. I recall a moment I had with my uncle from Arkansas. When he visited, one of the first things he said was “Jessie Radford (Will’s deceased grandfather) would not believe this.” What he meant was, just to know where we - the family - came from. Knowing the little house our family started in. A one room house that grew into two rooms, then a four and six room home. One of those homes would only take up half the downstairs of this house. So definitely our house symbolizes generational progression. (Building this house) was something that we have done to move our family forward.

SonceriaSpeaks: It reminds me of the power of our community. Let me share about how we even came to get the house. We were looking for a house and Will’s secretary told him about an affordable house in “Germantown” – I knew nothing about Salemtown at the time. I visited the house and the owner was there – Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown was an older black man, who was part of the original community. We talked to Mr. Brown and we decided to put a contract on the house. This is how I think the house reminds me of a community working together. We were in the financing process, and Mr. Brown waited for us to get our financing so we could get the house. Mr. Brown had other contracts, but he waited for us. Then we had close friends who helped us with every phase of the project. We supported each other to carry out this vision, and God put it on their hearts to help us. This house is the manifestation of (our community helping each other).

Will and Sonceria bought a 1925 Queen Anne Victorian that was in dire need of renovation. Will and Sonceria, having studied architectural engineering at Tennessee State University, worked together to design an addition to the house and renovate the original structure. “Oh the design process!” they would both say cringing at the thought of the back and forth collaboration between CAD files on a personal laptop. This idea of building your home with your spouse with your own "four hands" was an awesome feat for the young couple at the time; without the help of the community Will and Sonceria may not have gotten their start.

In our conversation it was clear that Will and Sonceria were proud of being buyers-investors. The couple could have taken a different path, by purchasing a move-in ready home. But the couple took an investment risk in an “up and coming neighborhood” and bought a fixer- upper. The risk was well worth it…

A Home's Worth...

CitySpeak: Not speaking in monetary terms, what is this home worth to you?

WillSpeaks: Our home is worth its function. Our home is custom to what we wanted. Not just any family can come in and buy this home. It’s designed for our family. I walk in this space and it looks like me, and what fit’s my needs. Any subsequent home we buy would have to be 30 percent paid for because I’d have to invest even more money to customize it for my family all over again.

SonceriaSpeaks: (Function), that’s important because our family is bigger than just the five of us. Our family includes our church family. It’s important for us to have our kids and their friends over and sit them at this (custom breakfast nook, where we did the interview) and fit them all at one time. This home has always been about community.


Image Credit: (Credit: Salon/Svinkin via Shutterstock / via http://www.salon.com/2011/12/24/can_gentrification_work_for_everyone/

Finally we came to the topic of gentrification. In my studies of gentrification, I’ve learned that it is a dynamic concept, whereby the symptoms and causes are numerous and difficult to quantify; it is difficult to quantify the number of people who are displaced and the reasons for displacement. This is why gentrification is often defined in qualitative terms –changes in the essential character and flavor of a neighborhood, cultural norms, institutions, and demographic population. In popular culture, gentrification is often associated with race, but those that study the subject (including myself) understand that there are also income and educational components as well. Therefore, could an affluent African-American family contribute to gentrification? I explored this question with the Radford’s.

CitySpeak: Do you think that you’ve contributed to the gentrification of this up-and-coming neighborhood? 

WillSpeaks: Yes. When you invest money, you expect a return. Meaning if I purchase a house, I expect to sell it and make a profit. If you expect the same out of an up-and-coming neighborhood, you are a part of the gentrification. I expect, money to multiply. But I must say I am comfortable with the current state of the neighborhood. Meaning, I don’t think that the only way that money can multiply is if the people in the neighborhood change. I don’t think that.

I asked an elderly neighbor down the street, who has a for sale sign in her yard, if she felt forced out, and she said no. She just couldn’t afford to keep up the maintenance. So there are various reasons why people have to move, and it has nothing to do with what goes on in the neighborhood. So goes the pattern of investment, when one has to move on, the house is upgraded and someone else moves in. Its unfortunate, but true. 

SonceriaSpeaks: No. I think it’s the natural progression of a neighborhood to gentrify. But the reason I said “no” is because I’m perfectly fine with what the neighborhood is…the Bloods on 4th (we break into laughter), the water company a few streets away, the Mission. (Ironically) I’m comfortable with that mix. I don’t need Garfield Street to become ‘mixed-use’ or whatever, immediately. I haven’t bought into the “my way now” trend. I appreciate the fact that there is the elderly lady up the street that I’m cordial with from time to time. Also we meet existing residents often and they are common people, nothing to be afraid of.

So therefore, (I believe) that I don’t actively participate in it. I may indirectly participate in it because we have a newer house, but we don’t support initiatives that push people out, or that may change the character of the neighborhood, I don’t support that. I would like to see more resources to help people keep their house up-to-date. For instance, this house had a new roof put on it because of a renovation program for low income residents.

WillSpeaks: And with similar programs, I can help to renovate a home, to assist in someone staying in it. (Note: Will is a commercial – residential contractor).

CitySpeak: So you believe that a mixture of people (income and race) who care about the neighborhood would be beneficial. But then why do our peers who have educational and economic resources stray away from up-and-coming neighborhoods?

SonceriaSpeaks: Lack of vision. People don’t often see the potential in a community or a home, in up –and-coming areas. Some don’t know about the future plans for a community, or they may not understand how equity works. Also (our peers) are used to instant gratification; we don’t want to put work into it, we want the glamour now. And there are very few examples of people who’ve done it, to know that it’s doable.

WillSpeaks: There is very little precedent, and there is some level of ignorance to the tools out there for a young couple. People need to not be on the consumer side, but on the investor/owner side. I see my money more for what I can get, not for what I can buy…there is a difference. For a certain amount of money I can buy anything, but if I take that same amount of money and use it wisely, I can GET so much more.

Will and Sonceria took a risk in an up-an-coming neighborhood, and the reward was great. What they ‘got’ was a home that is the representation of community and generational progression. They are also the manifestation of the goals of anti-poverty programs like HOPE VI (a federal program with the purpose of redeveloping public housing into traditional neighborhoods to disperse poverty). In Salemtown, existing residents benefit from the resources, education, income, of new residents – like the Radfords. This intermingling of socio-economic backgrounds is a noted benefit in many gentrifying communities; particularly when the gentry are minority residents that may help to preserve the character and flavor of a neighborhood. 

That's Right!...

Up and coming neighborhoods may mean location and profit to some; to Will and Sonceria however it also meant ‘community’ and ‘progression’. So while they are a part of the new gentry in the Salemtown neighborhood, it’s their outlook on community that sets them apart…

CitySpeak: So do the kids know that you guys built this house yourself?

WillSpeaks: Oh yea, I tell them all the time - I built the house for mommy! (We break into laughter – again)

CitySpeak: Well I guess you won’t have to worry about your daughter accepting anything less from future boyfriends - I mean you built her Mom a House!

WillSpeaks: That’s right!

That’s right.

Now YouSpeak – would you invest in a fixer upper in an up-and-coming neighborhood?

Authortifinie capehart
CategoriesThe Resident
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