Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Skating Toward A More Vibrant Downtown

Eight years ago, we were in Louisville and the mayor wanted to show off the things that showed how serious his city was about its future.

He took us to two places that he considered proof positive – the new, improved riverfront and the new skate park within a stone’s throw of the riverfront.

It was middle of a weekday and the place was alive with activity. The mayor said that it was open around the clock, and it was never empty. Most of all, it sent the message, he said, that Louisville was serious about attracting young talented workers and in creating a new, more progressive brand for itself (shortly thereafter, his fellow citizens approved the first large city-county consolidation in 40 years to punctuate his point).

The skate park had just served as the site for a nationally televised X-games competition, and the mayor was still basking in the glow of this validation of his leadership to get the facility built.

Getting A Decade Jump

A friend of ours says that Memphis is always on the cutting edge. Unfortunately, it’s 20 years later than every one else.

Well, in this case, we have a chance to get it right within a decade if we can come to grips with the wisdom of the proposed skate park on Mud Island. Clearly, in the public process run by the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), no group has been more passionate or armed with more facts about the impact of its project.

And yet, the interim report about the process quoted the Greater Memphis Chamber as suggesting that Mud Island wasn’t an appropriate place for the skate park. And this comes from an organization that looks out over the moribund Mud Island park and that sets talent recruitment and retention as a major priority.

In other words, from where we sit, the business community ought to be leading the fight for the skate park – and the vision of the tip of Mud Island teeming with the kind of activity that we saw in Louisville. In the great scheme of things, we suggest that the presence of the skate park could pay bigger dividends than all of the big projects that we pursue in the name of “talent attraction.”

Talent, Talent, Talent

These days, any Chamber that isn’t anchoring its work in the creation, attraction and retention of talent isn’t really working on economic development. That’s why we’ve seen so many cities invest in skate parks as a convincing way to send new messages to today’s highly coveted 25-34 year-olds.

Hopefully, we won’t do what we often have done – add it after everyone else has one. It’s sort of the outdoor recreation version of Hard Rock Café. By the time one located here, it seemed that everyone had one, but still, we acted like we had just landed an NFL team. We did, however, get an NBA team, but, come to think of it, it was after there were about three dozen of them by then.

At any rate, the skate park is a relatively low-cost way to do something before it’s old hat. But we need to do it now, and we need to do it in a high-profile place like Mud Island, where it sends an unequivocable message about our city, where it animates a downtown that critically needs it and where it becomes a hub of vibrancy 24/7.

We are confident that our Chamber will come to recognize the value of creating new energy downtown and in creating a more successful future. In truth, that’s what the Chamber’s mission is every day.

Not Either Or

In addition, we hope that the Memphis Division of Park Services will come to realize that this is not a question of either a large-scale, prominent skate park downtown or a number of smaller skate parks throughout the city. Actually, we need to be doing both. And soon.

We confidently predict that there are more skaters than golfers and tennis players, and city government provides courses and courts for both of those devotees.

Here, we often seem so obsessed with studying and planning and less committed to implementing and executing. And an idea like the skate park on the south tip of Mud Island – a source of animation, a magnet for families, a repositioning of the park as a vibrant, dynamic hub of activity and a use that can bring all sides of the controversy over the future of our riverfront together – just seems too good to pass up.

If other cities can do it, we just don’t know why we can’t. In many other cities, there’s just a stronger predilection for action. They are simply hard-wired to take action and to do something.

Just Do It

We think that Memphis may save a great deal of time by emphasizing data-driven decisions more and master plans less, because they consume so much of our time. And in today’s highly competitive global economy and with our dire economic indicators, time is the only thing we don’t have enough of.

Let’s decide on three things we need to do and go do them. When we’re done, we’ll pick three more and work on them. We put the Mud Island Skate Park in our list of the top three.

Skateboarding is among the top four outdoor activities of Americans with 64 outings per participant, according to information gathered by Skatelife Memphis. Meanwhile, skaters are willing to travel 10 or more miles to their favorite skate parks, and it’s hard to imagine one destined to be more special than one on the banks of America’s greatest river.

In number of participants, skateboarding has now passed baseball, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers, and Sports Illustrated has called it “the great influence on American youth culture in the 20th century.”

The tip of Mud Island – the physical equivalent of the city’s toe in the water – should be dedicated to a special public purpose, and it’s hard for us to think of a better one than the skate park.


packrat said...

Good post. great ideas.

sherman said...

I wish (hope?) the Chamber of Commerce was at the meetings the RDC held last week. What I saw at the Mud Island meeting was the future of Memphis: approximately 50-75 teenagers (most with their parents!) showing up on a weeknight at a downtown government planning meeting for the future of their city!

If the Chamber understands anything about how communities grow & thrive, they will understand (from this community involvement) the importance of this skate park on Mud Island to the future of this city.

Think about it! I have never seen teenagers engaged in our political process on this level before. The group attending was just the tip of the iceburg lettuce for whom would utilize a world-class skate park on the south end of Mud Island.

I hope the Chamber "gets" it finally and gets behind this important Memphis project.

Anonymous said...

Its really great information
thanks for sharing with us

Entertainment at one stop