commentary (2006-37)

Using God as a marketing tool

Rapture Realty

by Matt Edens

Victory Station, Kingdom Ridge, Providence Pointe—as far as subdivisions go, the names are not all that exceptional. Even the affected “e” at the end of point is pretty much a cliché at this point. But the branding strategy behind these three suburban developments outside Nashville is a bit unusual. 

Developed by Murfreesboro-based Swanson Development, all three are “Christian Themed Communities”—meaning, as best I can determine, that the white-column flanked ornamental entryways have a vaguely churchy feel and that the streets have names like Lazarus Way and Covenant Boulevard.

Oh, and speaking of covenants, deed restrictions in for the developments’ commercial parcels forbid things like bars and massage parlors. “Nothing like that that would be damaging to people’s character,” said developer Joe Swanson in a Tennessean article about the development, although such deed restrictions aren’t all that uncommon in the world of real estate development, religious-themed or not. Though I wonder where the deed covenants of these Christian communities stand on money changing and “them that sold doves”? Is there a distance requirement, like Knoxville’s liquor laws, measured from the church door?

Probably not. Besides the street names and the marketing pitch, these places are pretty much standard subdivisions, more tract house than theology: brick-fronted, vinyl-wrapped and value-priced ($130 to $250K, for Kingdom Ridge, rather on the low end for the Metro Nashville market).

It’s God as a sales gimmick. Not surprising, really, once you realize that Swanson Development is the real-estate arm of a mail-order marketer of Christian supplies.

On the secular side, I’ve seen equally silly schemes for naming subdivision streets. Whittington Creek, out in the “Blankington” section of West Knoxville, is a particular favorite. Seeking to one-up the nearby subdivisions of Farrington, Farmington and Kensington, the streets and “neighborhoods” within Whittington Creek sport hoity-toity sounding literary names. There’s a whole section of the subdivision named after Hemingway, who rather famously said that the upscale suburb of Chicago (yes, they had such things 100 years ago) he grew up in was a place of “broad lawns and narrow minds” (an opinion that didn’t prevent Papa from living like a squire in Key West and Cuba just as soon as he was able to afford it). Another street is named for Thoreau. 

In Walden , pretty much a sacred text to environmentalists and critics of America’s consumer culture, he writes of neighbors whose “misfortune is to have inherited farms, houses, cattle and farming tools; for these things are more easily acquired than gotten rid of.”  Maybe that’s why “resale value” is such a mantra among McMansion buyers? There’s a cul-de-sac named for Emily Dickinson, who, since she wrote her poetry at home, would today risk the wrath of her homeowner’s association and their rules about home-based businesses.

And I get a real kick out of the notion of some conservative accountant, avid-talk-radio listener and upstanding member of Concord Baptist or Cedar Springs Presbyterian coming home each day to his three-quarter of a million dollar house on Isherwood Trail, named for the English novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood. I wonder if the homeowners know that Isherwood, in addition to writing, spent most of his life flirting with communism, Hindu philosophy and men.

Do people purchase houses in Whittington Creek because they love literature? I don’t know. For what it’s worth, the one homeowner the Tennessean interviewed about Christian-themed Victory Station said she bought her house on Lazarus Way because she liked the floor plan, not because of its biblical associations. A Christian and self-professed “religious person,” she did appreciate them after the fact. Maybe that’s an ominous sign of “The Coming Theocracy,” but I doubt it.

We buy homes that are a reflection of who we imagine ourselves to be, whether it’s in a “Christian-themed” community, a faux baronial estate outside Farragut, a Fourth and Gill bungalow or a kudzu-covered shack in South Knoxville. Some people live on Lazarus Way, others wear Che Guevara T-shirts. It’s a free country.

Who knows? Maybe these Christian communities are worth checking out. Even if you aren’t a believer, consider the investment potential. Should The Rapture ever come, you could probably buy a bunch of these houses cheap.

And furnished.