Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Suggestion Of The Week: International Design Competition Blending Authenticity And Aspiration

A few months ago, Melissa Anderson Sweazy emailed us with an interesting idea, which gave birth to the weekly "suggestion box" feature that we've added to our blog. It's the weekly discussion topic and your opinions and ideas for new thinking about Memphis.

As a result of her email, we asked Melissa to elaborate on her idea - which is a great one - and to send it to us as the prototype for this feature. In the interim, she's given birth, which definitely changes your perspective on the city's challenges, but she's been kind enough to follow through with the post that we requested from her.

Here it is, and we welcome yours:

Keeping And Attracting Creatives
One of the best blogs about Memphis is written by a Californian (well, “Fearless VK” was a West Coaster until nearly a year ago when she made the decision to leave one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world for a place still struggling to fit its big city classification).

And since her move, she’s been a surprisingly passionate and eloquent defender of a city plagued by a seemingly endless litany of troubles. I’ve been a close watcher of her blog as a Memphian-turned-Californian who also moved back nearly a year ago., and I’ve been impressed by her take on our city as the Little Engine That Could. Because, I suspect like her, I want to believe I made the right decision to come back.

Most recently she tackled the idea of “authenticity,” a label used by those seeking to describe what Memphis has that other cities lack. While I won’t delve into the semantics of her argument – but you should – it got me thinking. To me, Memphis’ “authenticity” – its music cred, smoky divebars and fried soul food are representative of what I feel could be Memphis’s unofficial slogan: “It’s great for a weekend, but you wouldn’t want to live here.”

Quality, Not Just Family and Affordability

I want people to want to live here.

I want the Fearless Vks of the world who are looking for an affordable, fun and progressive place to live to be able to realistically consider Memphis beyond just the "affordable." (I'll be honest - "affordable" and "family in town" were the only two reasons I agreed to move back.)

And how can we coax those slippery subjects of Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class to flock here? I’d like the city to invite them to tell us how.

The Suggestion

My idea for the suggestion box of the week?

I think the city should sponsor an international design competition that combines Memphis’s "authenticity" with the city it has the potential to become. It would be like the innovative Paducah Artist Relocation program, except the living/work spaces would be the target.

Take a stretch of urban blight, or the Brewery, the Harahan Bridge - the sky’s the limit when you are daydreaming out loud – and invite those willing to create a space that combines Memphis’ strengths with the city it aspires to be.

Integrated Working and Living

For example: a live/work space that includes a cooking school with a restaurant staffed entirely by students. With a nod to green/non-impact design, the building would feature a rooftop vegetable/herb garden that would provide local ingredients for the restaurant in addition to making it energy efficient. The cooking school would offer classes for children, the restaurant a heart-healthy spin on southern classics.

Another example: The Brewery would house a smoke-free concert venue/production facility that would feature local artists and broadcast a weekly series a la Austin City Limits.

I'm not suggesting that Memphis needs to become a San Francisco or Los Angeles to succeed. But cherry picking and applying what makes those cities attractive - access to top notch entertainment, advances in environmentally-friendly technology, outdoor greenways - ahem, not a $50 million stadium overhaul - could be the first step toward keeping our "creative class" close to home.


john said...

Isn't this more or less what has already happened with the Broad Street and Winchester Park Charettes?
I get a real thrill when I look at either one of those, but don't realisticly expect to see many of their suggestions adopted. (side note: the Winchester Park charette's final paper called Morris Park underutilized...this is possibly the most utilized park in the city).

Amanda said...

Great idea!

We have some friends in El Paso working on a similar idea: http://www.elpasotexas.gov/Texico/Initiatives.aspx

Go Memphis!

Smart City Consulting said...


We heard today that the Memphis Tourism Foundation is working with a well-known downtown chef to create the kind of live/work space that you envisioned. Great idea. We'll keep you posted.

fearlessvk said...

thanks for the kind words about my blog :) needless to say i'm a regular reader of this one as well.

i have had a surprisingly great time in memphis since i moved here. i don't know about my long-term plans, but i'm here for a few years at least, and i don't mind that fact at all.

will think more about the question here though...

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