Friday, October 14, 2005

What to Do Now: An Addendum

Sixteen bullet points makes for a full Memphis agenda. (See "Kicking the Addiction to Tax Freezes.") But here are four more to make it 20.

Examine City, County and MLGW Compensation and Pension Systems and Report Their Status Annually.

This one is obvious. If Memphis Tomorrow is looking for something to do, forget the efficiency study. Start with the real money categories -- compensation and pensions. Competitive wages for government employees are good investments. But only when they are, indeed, competitive and only when the employees are necessary. Beware the experience of San Diego where pension giveaways broke the government.

Plan for the Day When Memphis Becomes America's First Majority African-American Metro.

Having spent two days earlier this week moderating focus groups with college-educated African-American 25-34 year-olds who had recently relocated to a fast-growing Southern city, I quickly realized that Memphis is simply not on their radar screen. Disturbing. Very disturbing. These talented young professionals were seeking opportunity, success, and association with people who, like themselves, were on the fast track. They were running from cities they perceived to be slow and mediocre. We need a bold, imaginative strategy to make a mark on this one. Why not identify a dozen black super achievers in various fields and recruit them to Memphis? Why not go after the nation's 100 top black grad school graduates to locate in Memphis? Why not target 5 significant black organizations to relocate to Memphis? Why not create a truly great black university? Why not create a "super talented" black niche strategy in specific fields that link to the larger economy?

Anticipate the Future and Get There First.

Research by CEOs for Cities shows that successful cities are becoming more successful while weak cities become weaker. Incremental improvement in Memphis' status will not make the city competitive. We must leapfrog our way into the future. Studying best practices gave us the Mid-America Mall. We must resist the temptation to study the success of other cities. That success was achieved in another time and place with a different set of assets. Instead of studying other cities, study trends. Anticipate the future. Then get there first.

Throw Out All the Rules and Think Boldly.

Detroit is a city built for 2.5 million people that now has fewer than 900,000 citizens. Twenty thousand blocks of Detroit are vacant or seriously deteriorated. Now, ask yourself, what would you do if you were in charge? Detroit can't rely on community development corporations and subsidies to redevelop the city's way out of this enormous problem. What do you do? Shrink the city? Cultivate an urban forest? I don't have the answer, but we need to ask questions of similar scale and drama about our own city.

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