West Meade has an abundance of sprawling ranch homes. You would need a car, but driving distance to Vandy would be 10 minutes, and can quickly get to the areas you would enjoy for your shopping/dining/etc. Sylvan Park may be a good option for you, but many of those homes have an upper level with stairs, it is likely you would end up ruling out that area. East Nashville is wonderful and describes the atmosphere that you desire, but having sold a lot of homes in East Nashville and once lived there myself, I can confirm that most of those homes have stairs with bedrooms up. For the $300,000 price range, one level.....not quite suburbs (not cookie cutter homes), I think you would be wise to focus on Crieve Hall and Westmeade/Brookside. There might be a step to get into the home and realize this is not most desired, but possibly could easily accomodate an accessible ramp....something that doesn't take over the entire yard. Hope this helps.
1. Germantown: lots of charm and character-filled homes, a nice grocery, several coffee shops, hair salon and three of my favorite restaurants.
2. Hope Gardens: a very small neighborhood across the street from our farmer's market, downtown park, a large grocery, several small stores and restaurants.
3. East Nashville spots: Lockeland Springs, Eastwood Neighbors: Between the two areas they have an organic grocery, a wine merchant, a nationally recognized restaurant (Margot), a gym, a yoga studio, several neighborhood bars, a coffee shop, a bakery and tons more. (In fact, there's a home which is two levels, but has accessible features on the main floor for below $300K, which hit the market 3 weeks ago).
4. Woodmont-in-Waverly | Parts of 12South may be in range.
You said no project or complex, but said an accessible flat...are you ruling out all condos since they may be technically a complex?
I know you don't want a complex, but as a former Bostonian and New Yorker, I have to say that there are several that catch my eye and that I find highly desireable. (Plus, they tend to be much bigger here than on the East Coast). Have you considered the Harrison Square development? Off the top of my head, I can't remember what the curb to door looks like, but I think they might work. The development is by the Farmers Market. Some people call the area the Market District. That area also has a condo complex called The Riverfront. It should have first floor units that don't require stairs. The complex was recently renovated from apartments, so it's shiny, clean, and relatively affordable. I know you can get from the Farmer's Market area to the rest of downtown without doing stairs because my huband used to do it with a baby stroller all the time.
Also, I know you may be set on buying, but renting downtown is also an option. The Cumberland on Church Street is right downtown--it's actually apartments with condos on the top floors. Very diverse population. It's next to the library, half a block away from a grocery store, and just a block and a half away from the number 7 bus stop that will take you right to Vandy in 7-10 minutes. (All Vandy employees ride the bus for free--a good thing, too 'cause if you've visited campus you'll notice that parking is extremely limited--although I assume that faculty gets slightly preferential treatment.) At the Cumberland, you can choose an apartment with hardwood and tile (if an available apartment isn't already equipped, they'll do the installation before you move in). Also, they don't advertise this, but they'll paint for you too. We lived there for two years; it's very city-living.
It's true that Hillsboro is going to be the most walkable overall, though. Best of luck.
You asked about Acklen Row condos in Hillsboro Village. You have a good eye...they are fabulous. However, the 4 currently on the market are 2nd floor units accessible from stairs. They do have 1st floor units. Perhaps we should watch for one to come available. These come with 1 parking space, but as you know, it's really right there among everything. Monthly association fees are $165/month. Hope this answers your question about that development specifically.
Part of me says I should rent a ranch for a while because it's going to take me time to find something that really works....
East Nashville (particularly Eastend/5 Points) attracts starting faculty members and artists since the buyer can get more sq footage for the buck, live in a historic area (a source of pride for some people), and walk to restaurants, bars, studios, etc in the neighborhood. It is a fun area with great restaurants (including Margot Cafe), a hip vibe, and a large gay & lesbian community. The tradeoff is the driving commute to Vandy.
Germantown has new complexes, including flats and lofts. Werthan Mills is a historic building transformed into lofts. To my knowledge, all the units are 2 or 3 floors and the building is not wheelchair accessible (at least not in the first phase of completed building). There are many charming homes in Germantown, which is walking distance to the Farmer's Market and Bicentennial Park. There's an under-utilized trail that I walk/bike to the Riverfront and 2nd Avenue (mostly cheesy bars and restaurants) downtown. It's an easy cab ride to the theater, event venues, and symphony hall downtown. Three of my favorite restaurants are located in the heart of Germantown. I feel that this area may fell too suburban for you due to the low density of restaurants/bars and dearth of cafes and local night life, but downtown is extremely close by.
3. Hope Gardens is located across the street from the Farmer's Market, so it is walking distance to Bicentennial Park and Germantown. Sometimes real estate agents will call this Germantown, but it is really Germantown-adjacent. Likewise, it's and easy cab, bus, or bike ride to downtown events. The commute from Germantown/Hope Gardens is 15 minutes (to cover 5-6 miles) to Vanderbilt, but add another 15-20 minutes if you are parking in one of Vandy's lots.
The 12South area is vibrant with many restaurants, yoga studios, shops in a small walkable neighborhood that is close to downtown.
Hillsboro Village is ideal as it is walking distance to Vanderbilt. Faculty, graduate/med/law/business students and postdocs are not the only residents, although at times it feels this way. It is a very walkable neighborhood, an easy stroll to Hillsboro Village's arthouse movie theater, shops and restaurants. I moved here mainly for the Belcourt Theater.
6. Midtown/Music Row is close to Vandy (walking distance) with plenty of restaurants, some popular smaller concert venues, but not quite a unified neighborhood.
7. The Gulch is a popular place for postdocs and students and faculty who are single. Unfortunately, only highrise complexes are available in this walkable neighborhood.
Check out the adjacent neighborhoods of Sylvan Park and Sylvan Heights.
My life before Nashville was all in Berkeley and San Francisco, where I was forced to walk or take BART because I chose not to have a car. After I let go of my snobbery, I fell in love with Nashville. One cannot compare tiny Nashville to East Coast or NorCal urban. I found out that you can do a lot in a small city civic-organization-wise (start your own group for neighborhood services and amenities)--the big fish in small pond thing works for me. You can make Nashville a walking city if you choose to. I chose not to have a car here, so I walk, bike, or shuttle everywhere, and for social events, have people come to me, or ride with my boyfriend or we just call a cab. Hillsboro Village, East Nashville, and 12South have the walkability quality you are looking for. Regarding a one-level house, a real estate expert, of course, is the best source. But whether you move into a ranch house or Craftsman style, there may be steps or a porch (they seem endemic to Nashville), so the best bet is to add a ramp to your house of choice. It's hard to find a ranch here, though. If you hate the 'burbs, don't move to Green Hills, Forest Hills, West Meade, Belle Meade,Bellevue (a ton of Vandy faculty live in Bellevue, the epitome of suburbia). Good luck!