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Opinion | The Bomb That Struck the Heart of Nashville

The evacuation notices gave the police time to wake nearby residents and get them to safety. Later that day, Mayor John Cooper identified the police — Officers Brenna Hosey, Tyler Luellen, Michael Sipos, Amanda Topping and James Wells, and Sgt. Timothy Miller — and expressed his gratitude for the risks they took to save others.

Thanks to their heroic efforts, Mr. Warner himself is the only one who died in the explosion, and I have no doubt that in time the city itself will recover. As my friend Steve Haruch notes in his new book, “Greetings From New Nashville,” that’s just who we are. After any tragedy, he writes, Nashville will always “quickly and quietly set about doing what it does: taking care of its own.”

But Mr. Haruch also points out that this isn’t only who we are. We are also a community that is growing in ways that often make it unrecognizable to us, a place where too many people who have lived here all their lives feel abandoned. “Nashville and its glittering progress has begun to feel increasingly closed off to an ever larger segment of its less affluent citizenry,” Mr. Haruch writes.

It’s not just the less affluent citizens. I keep coming back to that Petula Clark song and its ironic promises:

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown

The stretch of Second Avenue where Mr. Warner parked his R.V. is both a part of and apart from Nashville’s tourist scene. Once known as Market Street, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Today its historic buildings house a Hooters and a Wildhorse Saloon.

Every longtime Nashvillian I know looks at what our downtown has become — the packed bars decked out in Nashvegas neon, the “transpotainment” industry’s hot tubs on the backs of tractor-trailers — and wonders how on earth our beautiful city ever became this garish, alien place.

In that sense, the bomb that went off on Christmas morning feels like a visible manifestation of a quiet alienation that has been growing here for more than two decades. An alienation that reached its nadir this year during a pandemic that saw locals dutifully staying home but downtown bar owners fighting quarantine restrictions.

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