English, now 14, only survived euthanasia because Ed Freeman’s mother paid for reconstructive back surgery from the crippling injury that pretty much has sparked a polite grassroots sidewalk rebellion in Belle Meade.
Anyone who recently has driven through the luxurious little city likely has noticed the 100 green yard signs that punctuate the real estate and read “We Need Sidewalks: Link Our Community.”
Citizens for Sidewalks in Belle Meade aren’t limiting their campaign to these signs that proclaim their political activism for passersby to see. They also have the http://www.sidewalksforbellemeade.org Web site that includes the reasons for the organization, their mission plan and an on-line petition that at last check contained more than 230 names.
Anyone who thinks grassroots neighborhood activism is out of place along these lanes of wealth and taste never met Ed Freeman…and never asked him about English.
“She’s an old girl now,” says Freeman of the English springer spaniel who spends most of her time lounging around the family residence on Lynnwood Boulevard.
But Freeman says the dog wasn’t just lolling around “six or seven years ago,” when she was nearly killed by a hit-and-run driver, the action that eventually led her master into this sidewalks campaign.
“My dog and my wife, Cynthia, were jogging along Lynnwood,” Freeman remembered. “There really is not a place to run except on the road. They could have run in the neighbors’ grass, but they were running along the side of the road when this car came.
“Instead of scooting over, the car knocked the dog and we think that the driver would have hit Cynthia if he hadn’t hit the dog first. He hit the dog and just kinda scooted on and ran away,” he said.
The trauma of the next few hours may eventually lead to a change in pedestrian habits in Belle Meade. “It was a very horrifying experience for my wife,” says Freeman.
And it was a near-mortal experience for English. “Her back was broken and she would not have survived.
“I was ready to put my dog down, when my mother (Hillwood resident Nina Margaret Freeman) came to the rescue and had the surgeon put her back together. English loves my mother dearly. Smart dog.”
'A real safety issue'
While Freeman can smile about the occurrence now, it was traumatic for the whole family — which also includes children who now are ages 15, 19 and 21. And it got him thinking: “None of that would have happened if we had sidewalks. It’s a real safety issue.”
As he went about his business at the Freeman Group, a real estate firm that operates StorPlace Self Storage, he often would ponder the sidewalk issue. It was a nearby stretch of fresh sidewalk that made him decide to take action.
“In the spring, I got to thinking that the Lynnwood Terrace sidewalk was put in because the neighbors got together and petitioned the commissioners and they got it done.
“I live at the corner of Lynnwood Boulevard and Signal Hill, and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a little sidewalk that came in front of my house so that people in the immediate area could walk?’”
He even laid out his sidewalk plan — 1,700 linear feet — and began talking to his neighbors.
“I started walking and meeting my neighbors. I met a lot of nice people that I should have known anyway, but I hadn’t.”
Neighbors’ enthusiasm greeted him. And no one was more eager to join the campaign than Kemp Buntin, 35, a mother of two boys, ages 6 and 3, with another child on the way.
“I just jumped on board with him,” says Buntin. “I’m just right there with him trying to get this done.
“I’ve got young kids and I’m out there in the morning in my jogging clothes and with my stroller, trying to dodge cars.
“If there ever was a time to get sidewalks it is now, as we’re all trying to get back to some of the simpler things in life, walking down the sidewalk with our kids, visiting our neighbors.”
Commissioners' reactions mixed
Buntin, who came up with the “We Need Sidewalks: Link Our Community” slogan and the basic sign design didn’t have to go far to secure professional help: Her husband, Jeffrey, is president of the Buntin Group advertising agency, and he willingly was drafted to help with the yard signs.
Kemp Buntin hopes the day will come when she can push her third child’s stroller down the sidewalks of Belle Meade.
“Children need to know about life with sidewalks,” says this resident of Royal Oaks Drive.
As she notes, there are “tons of people” involved in the campaign. Freeman and Buntin were a part of a core group of 15 citizens who took their pleas to the city commissioners.
They found the commissioners’ reception gracious, but the end result was that “the commissioners said we are not ready to move forward on this particular project because we want to put together a long-range capital budget,” said Freeman.
City Manager Beth Reardon says any action on sidewalk plans will have to wait for the next couple of months as the city commissioners hash out a capital improvement plan, which would look at budgeting for projects both in the short term and over the next decade.
“They can’t commit to a sidewalk plan now until we get our capital budget established,” she said.
And she doesn’t dismiss the campaign. “We certainly encourage residents to form groups if they have a common interest in projects in Belle Meade and to come to the commissioners with them.”
The commissioners said they would study a master plan for sidewalks throughout the city, consider the costs and determine the community mood for such an endeavor. To Freeman that all made sense, especially the part about finding out what other people in the city thought.
“I got to thinking that I have walked the neighborhood and I’ve talked to a lot of people, and the people I’ve talked to have been enthusiastically behind the sidewalks.”
He figures that mood may well prevail throughout Belle Meade.
Metro Councilwoman Emily Evans — whose District 23 includes Belle Meade, West Meade and part of Hillwood — applauds the citizens.
“I love any community action that focuses on bread-and-butter issues like sidewalks,” she said. “I think this will provide a great framework in which Metro can work cooperatively with the satellite city of Belle Meade.”
Evans emphasizes cost-sharing and says the two governments can do that by identifying places where both deem sidewalks important and “we can just use one cement truck” to get the job done.
Freeman finds it satisfying that so many have joined in the effort.
His little idea of 1,700 linear feet for him and his immediate neighbors “has mushroomed” into a movement where the citizens are urging the entire master plan be adopted and sidewalks installed throughout the city.
“This idea of sidewalks is very popular with young parents,” says Freeman, 52. “I wish there were sidewalks when my kids were younger. But it also goes beyond that. There are plenty of people my age and even some seniors who are in favor of this. They say ‘We want to get out and see the neighbors.’”
Besides forming relationships among neighbors and making walkers and joggers — and their dogs — safer, Freeman points out that the sidewalks are “a deterrent to crime. People walking around being observant can scare off a would-be burglar.”
And it’s not just that people would always walk with no particular place to go.
“In Belle Meade, we have a lot of attractive things to walk to. There’s Parmer Park, Belle Meade Mansion, Percy Warner Park and a golf course. We’ve got two churches and we are close to Harpeth Hall School,” he said. “There’s a lot of cool things to do and walk to. I think it would be something if we could connect it all together.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for the sidewalks, though, is the one Freeman discovered for himself when he finally met his neighbors during his door-to-door campaign.
“It would encourage people to get out from their castles,” he says. “People do tend to hang in their houses. A sidewalk encourages people to get out and walk about. You meet your neighbors, you develop relationships. It’s a good thing.”