The 10 year anniversary of Nashville’s Great Flood will occur on May 1st and 2nd of 2020–less than four months marks the remembrance of one of the biggest natural disasters in Nashville, Tennessee. The Great Flood of 2010 in Nashville resulted in approximately $2 billion dollars in damage. Previous literature have noted that natural disasters create long term effects on local areas and residents. Lee found that natural disasters create more socioeconomic disparities among residents. Masozera, Bailey and Kerchner researched income disparities in relation to the impact left by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana. In this article, the authors noted that income did not play a role in who was impacted by the hurricane, however levels of recovery and coping were greatly affected by socioeconomics. Additionally, Cutter, Ash and Emrich advocated for taking a different approach to disaster resilience, since their research found that urban and rural counties each have differing factors that contribute to how they recover from disasters. Furthermore, Darden and others (2018,2010,2000) found, respectively, that the portion of Hispanic residents was modest but still less in affluent neighborhoods as compared to Non-Hispanic White residents; that neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics influence the racial distributions of neighborhoods; and that suburban communities comprise residents of higher socioeconomic statuses than in the central city of metropolitan areas. Most literature have researched the socioeconomic effects of Hurricane Katrina on residents and neighborhood change of the surrounding area, but no information exists about these effects of the Great Flood on Nashville residents.

I remember waking up on a Saturday morning and walking in the living room to see the news playing on the television. At the time, my interest was low about what was being said, but my parents were very engaged. The rain had been a little more intense than usual but my area did not seem to be hit too bad. My area had to take a few days to recover as the water dissipated but by the next week things seemed to be back to normal. My parents still remained updated with the stories from family and the news that followed the flood damage, to check on family but also to learning about the conditions of the interstate through Nashville. Shortly after the flood and after the water had went down considerably, I was riding on I-24. I looked out the passenger window, and a mobile home was floating on the grass area under the interstate. I saw it, but I didn’t fully comprehend what it meant. That was somebody’s home, their shelter. Where did they end up going? Did they have kids? Did they survive? I didn’t understand what the flood meant at the time, but after learning more about spatial mobility and what makes a neighborhood disadvantaged, I see that the mobile home I saw that afternoon floating along the interstate should mean more–to me but also to the city.

Aerial Photo of Flood Water Levels in Nashville, Tennessee.
Source: Woody Hatchett

Project Description

This project isn’t about how or why the flood happened in Nashville. This project is about the socioeconomic groups and racial populations that have been most affected by this natural disaster. It is about assessing whether or not White Flight has occurred in the most damaged and vulnerable areas.

Questions Unanswered

Several things about the flood are still unknown. After reviewing literature, to my knowledge, there is no study that has examined neighborhood change or economic recovery in relation to Nashville’s Great Flood of 2010. This project will be the first study to examine the changes in racial composition and socioeconomic status by damage level and census tract in Nashville, Tennessee before and after the flood. I aim to answer the following questions with this study: A) How has neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics changed since the Great Flood of 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee?, B) Are Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately residing in neighborhoods with lower neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics? and C) Is there an association between damage level and the age of the building structures?


This project does not have access to the race/ethnicity of the owners of the flood-damaged building structures. Roughly 11,000 building structures were evaluated for damages and placed into four categories: minor (1), moderate (2), major (3) and severe to destroyed (4). I am able to research the age of the building structure in relation to damage level and damage level by census tract.

This project will use the Modified Darden-Kamel Composite Socioeconomic Index (D-K CSI) to identify the socioeconomic positions of census tracts in the Nashville and the surrounding area. More information about the Modified D-K CSI can be found in this 2010 article. Since its publication it has been used to evaluate blood lead levels and asthma in Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan. This methodology has not been used to evaluate Nashville, Tennessee or natural disasters before.

This methodology contains nine variables: poverty, unemployment, vehicle ownership, median household income, education, occupation, median home value, rent and home ownership. These variables will assess the level of neighborhood effects within a census tract. Neighborhood effects describe various components of a neighborhood and how they influence the opportunities and experiences of people living within a neighborhood of higher socioeconomic characteristics versus lower socioeconomic characteristics. Additionally, this project will use census data to identify neighborhood racial composition and socioeconomic positions before and after the flood.

There are a few topics that I aim to discuss with this project. The final result will be visualized in maps to demonstrate one or more of the following topics:

  1. Damage Level by the Year the Building Structure was Constructed
  2. Racial Composition of Neighborhoods (Census Tracts) before and after the flood
  3. Socioeconomic Positions of Neighborhoods (Census Tracts) before and after the flood

Next steps

I’m very excited to find out how Nashville has recovered, but also more specifically, who has recovered most and what factors have contributed to disaster recovery in Nashville since the Great Flood of 2010. I expect to launch this project in May 2020.

About the Author

Kyeesha M. Wilcox ( is a second year master’s student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University.