Saturday, January 31, 2009

Preserving New York And Accelerating Capetown

New York City and Cape Town South Africa are two cities with two very different histories. This week on the show we're talking about the history of New York and the future of Cape Town.

Guy Lundy is the CEO of Accelerate Cape Town, a business-led initiative that brings together all the stakeholders in the Cape region to develop a long-term vision for sustainable economic growth in South Africa. He'll tell us about the unique challenges Cape Town faces and the solutions they can share with so-called "second cities" all over the world.

And, while all cities are looking to build toward the future, New York City has a legal mechanism designed to protect its past. Anthony C. Wood is the author of the book "Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City's Landmarks" which traces the history of New York's struggle to protect its natural and architectural heritage.

Smart City is a syndicated, weekly hour-long public radio talk show that takes an in-depth look at urban life: the people, places, ideas and trends that affect us all. Host Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, talks with national and international public policy experts, economists, business leaders, artists, developers, planners and others on the pulse of city life for a penetrating discussion on urban issues.

Smart City is broadcast at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sundays on WKNO-FM, but it is also webcast and podcast so you can listen to it anytime you like. For the webcast, times for the broadcast in other cities and to sign up for the podcast, visit our website.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Refusing To Shrink From Memphis' Problems

Here’s the hypothesis:

Tennessee’s liberal annexation law means that Memphis – unlike many similarly-sized cities across the U.S. – is not landlocked by small towns, and because of it, its population has been growing or relatively stable for several decades.

However, if we use the 1970 Memphis city limitsas the definition of the “core city,” Memphis is losing population, and annexation creates a false sense of security while older neighborhoods deteriorate and their problems intensify.

The Hard Facts

Here’s the fact that we mentioned in our last post: within the 1970 city limits of Memphis, population is 20% less now than then. In the meantime, Memphis has cut its density in half as it annexed about 150 more square miles of land.

The lure was new property taxes for a city – like every local government in Tennessee – strapped by the most regressive tax structure in the United States. In other words, the less you make in Memphis, the more you pay as a percentage of your income, and as the city hollowed out and middle income families moved out of the city limits, there seemed to be little alternative but to chase new revenues wherever they could be found.

But it’s time to step back and look at it all again. It’s time for a reality check. If the price for that new revenue is more responsibility over a larger area and no more to spend on core neighborhoods that are the heart of Memphis, the entire transaction may have been built on a false economy. Now, as the Memphis City Council has courageously forced a new look at the old way of doing things here, perhaps it’s also time to conduct a comprehensive return on investment analysis – one that tells us more than how much property tax is being produced in the new annexed area and the cost of the new public services. More to the point, the analysis needs to determine the cost to the neighborhoods left behind as the city searches for the green pastures of additional money for its coffers.

It’s A Simpler Place

This isn’t intended to criticize an annexation policy that was unfortunately about the only arrow in the city’s financial quiver. The truth is that we are lucky to have the current state law on annexation, because it does not produce a county more balkanized and where decisions are made even more difficult. For example, every time the St. Louis airport has to enter into new agreements about its facilities, it must deal with a dozen different cities. Louisville is surrounded in Jefferson County by about 90 governmental units (even after consolidation), and Cleveland, just in Cuyahoga County, is smothered by 36 cities.

In some ways, we perhaps were whip-sawed by the fact that our government structure is so much smaller than other cities. In those places, it’s often harder to give away taxes when it requires so much complicated cooperation between cities, villages and townships.

But back to the subject, Memphis is a shrinking city, so it’s no surprise that we’re showing many of the symptoms that perplex other cities. More to the point, we need to get into the serious discussions about the futures of shrinking cities and what they can learn from each other.

Changing Vocabulary

It won’t be easy. Elected officials and economic development officials prefer understandably to talk about population growth, but we need to remember that shrinking isn’t necessarily the same as sinking. Perhaps, just perhaps, when it comes to cities, size doesn’t matter or at least it doesn’t matter as much we have traditionally thought. Now, thinking about cities like our does require a new way of thinking, looking for assets that can be leveraged and competitive advantage to be maximized.

In Memphis, more than anything, it requires our city to change its way of conducting business. Now, it feels more like we’re playing not to lose, rather than we’re playing to change the game so we have a chance to win.

At CEOs for Cities, our colleague Carol Coletta’s research has already shown that “cities that measure success by population growth have an outdated view of what success is all about.” She pointed out that arguing that there is a correlation between population growth and economic growth and per capita income growth is wrong as much as it’s right. For example, Las Vegas topped the list in population growth while coming in 38th in income growth.

The Right Size

Pretending that it doesn’t exist is sort of like being in the ER but refusing to acknowledge that you are hemorrhaging. In cities, it results in massive public infrastructure that a smaller number of taxpayers have to pay for. As part of the shrinking city discussion here, we also need to consider how we right size the relationship between who needs and who pays for these kinds of expensive services.

The shrinking cities movement began in Germany following the fall of Communism and the historic shift in populations from East to West. As part of its research, it looked to Halle/Leipzig in Germany, Detroit, Ivanovo in Russia and Liverpool/Manchester in England.

The city that has embraced its shrinkage is Youngstown, Ohio, just as planner Gerald Nicely has turned around Tennessee Department of Transportation, is another planner, Mayor Jay Williams, who made Youngstown come face-to-face with its dire realities. He was elected after shaping a broad-based blueprint based on a simple fact: Youngstown would be smaller.

Straight Talk

He talked bluntly and embraced the philosophy that his city had to act radically and quickly. He’s not taken anything off the table, including de-annexations and digging up utilities and roads. It was a gutsy move for a mayor, but he refused to gloss over the problems and the reality of the future they would create if nothing was done.

Youngstown was always a “mill town,” and that’s why the shutdowns of the mills that began 30 years ago turned the city upside down – financially, civically and culturally. It took 30 years for the dose of reality that would lead to the election of Mayor Williams, and today, he and his city are now recognized for Youngstown 2010, which advocates strategies ranging from increasing density, removing streets from the traffic grid, tough changes in the delivery of public services, plans to remove large areas of abandoned houses and programs to lure people to areas where city services can make financial sense. That last one is particularly tough politically. If it were not so, residents of the Lower Ninth Ward is New Orleans would not be building new houses.

We’re not saying that the shrinking city movement has all the answers. We’re just saying that we need to start the discussion. We’ll be in good company, or should we say, we’ll be in company. More than 450 cities with populations more than 100,000 have lost 10% of their populations since 1950, including 59 in the U.S. For every two cities gaining population, three are losing population.

Talking The Talk

One conclusion that has received consensus already: traditional urban planning tools don’t work. That’s been proven by the slum and blight removal programs, followed by the urban renewal projects, followed by the economic development initiatives. Now, some cities are appealing to the young creatives who are not scared off by urban challenges but often find the funky environment and cheap digs that are so often lacking in boomtowns, and they are important.

However, they certainly won’t create solutions at the scale needed by cities like Detroit, where city housing is now going for $7,500 or for Memphis whose number of vacant properties has doubled since 2000 to about 14,000. But what it just might do is tap into the creativity and new thinking that creative workers and young talent offer for real solutions for Memphis. We have some now who need to be part – if not leading – this new discussion about the future.

In other words, this isn’t about creating a throwback to the past, but injecting new vibrancy and activity into nodes that together can stitch together the torn fabric of a shrinking city.

But first, we have to decide to begin. Too often, dealing with urban problems in Memphis is like the stages of grief. Just this once, maybe we can move past denial, anger, bargaining and depression, and unabashedly move to acceptance and develop the kinds of bold plans that can truly make a difference in the trajectory of our city.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Getting Memphis Into The Shrinking City Movement

Memphis is a shrinking city.

We’re not talking about the slight decrease in the raw population numbers since 2000. Rather, we’re talking about the practical impact of significant population losses in the traditional city – represented by the 1970 Memphis boundaries. It’s these areas whose neighborhoods need to be healthy and whose success is crucial to the future of Memphis.

Because (thankfully) we’re not like most similarly sized cities that are land locked and surrounded by dozens of small towns, it’s easy at times to think that our relatively stable population indicates a city that is doing well.

We’ve masked the fact that we are in truth a shrinking city by annexations that prop up our population numbers and grant us a false sense of security. As a result, we’ve side-stepped the serious discussion that is needed about whether annexation today is actually a boon to the budgets of Memphis city government and whether stretching already faltering public services over a larger area is the sound public policy for our city.

Genesis Of The Exodus

Here’s what we are talking about: the population within the 1970 city limits of Memphis is now 20.2% less than it was then. In other words, 124,348 people within the 217.4 square miles 1970 Memphis borders are no longer there.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the largest exodus took place between 1970 and 1980 when 57,987 people left our city.

No amount of annexation is cosmetic enough to prevent the inescapable conclusion that in our pursuit of new taxes, we may actually have escalated the decline of the urban center. Operating on the theory that annexation areas are the sources of much-needed new property taxes, city government has taken a decidedly optimistic viewpoint of the overall net fiscal effect.

Perhaps, it’s not enough to calculate the costs of the new services to the new area. More to the point, the analysis needs to evaluate carefully and thoroughly what the impact is on services and neighborhoods in the former city limits.

We Need To Be Denser

When the 20th century dawned, Memphis covered an area of 18.5 square miles with a density of 7,125. No one would have expected that Memphis should have stayed that small, but even by 1970, it was only at 217.4 square miles (a doubling of the size of the city in about 20 years since 1950).

Today, the size of Memphis is bigger than the size of New York City – 346 square miles to 305 square miles. The overlay of public services over such a massive area stretches already underfunded services even more, and to us, it suggests to us that our city needs a serious debate over the relationship between the size of the city and the effectiveness and economy of its public services.

Maybe, just maybe, the optimal size for highly efficient public services and the best quality of life is smaller, and if it is, we need to decide that now before Memphis expands to almost 500 square miles under the existing annexation reserve agreements with the other Shelby County towns.

When “annexed out,” Memphis will be the size of Los Angeles.

A New Perspective

Already, the density of Memphis is down to just over 2,000 persons per square mile. That’s down from about 4,000 in 1960, about 3,000 in 1970, and about 2,500 in 1980. Not only are cities more sustainable when they are denser, but public services are easier to deliver economically.

Perhaps, a comprehensive return on investment analysis will show that annexation is the best course of action for city government, but we need to be sure. We need to see the evidence.

And, the evidence must be more than an accounting exercise. More to the point, it must reach conclusions about what the older parts of our city are likely to look like as a result of more annexation, including the needs of these area and the ability of the city to respond to them. Most of all, the analysis should consider investments that would improve Memphis’ ability to compete for 25-34 year-old college-educated workers and middle class families back into Memphis.

Before we begin, we need to set aside the obsession by cities in growing population. Growth at the expense of quality of life means nothing. Growth at the fringe that consumes funds that should be invested in the “old” city is not really growth in its broadest sense.

Getting In The Right Conversation

That’s why we believe that Memphis needs to get involved in the shrinking cities discussions under way by several cities. It’s a field of study just now getting attention, but it will become more and more important in coming years. After all, for every two cities that are growing, three are shrinking.

We may not like the company we will be keeping – Detroit, Dayton, Cleveland and Youngstown, to name but four – but we need to consider that success may not be in celebrating 40 units of housing in a badly deteriorated section of Memphis but in considering how we move people around so our city operates more economically and efficiently.

Cities like Cleveland seem to be failing fast; 115,000 people have left that city in this decade alone, and cities like St. Louis have half the population it had 50 years ago. So, while we need to look at Memphis in new ways, the dimensions of the problems here have not reached the levels of these Rust Belt cities, and that’s why we need to start this conversation now.

We admit that the prospects of a downsized city may be bruising to our civic ego, but it is nonetheless essential. Just as the slow food movement started in Europe, so did the slow city movement. Its singular message is that a smaller city does not necessarily mean that it is a failing city. Most are victims of forces beyond their control.

Bipolar Behavior

In this way, the shrinking city movement is about holding two opposing ideas at the same time – hope and despair. It is in embracing contradictory forces that success may be found, and if any city is to do it well, there’s little reason that it shouldn’t be Memphis, because we’ve built a history on our conflicting character – Beale Street in the Bible Belt, flourishing African-American culture in the segregated South, outsiders changing world culture in the midst of hide-bound conservatism.

And yet, the driving force in our history is passion, and that’s why the shrinking city discussion isn’t about despair. It’s not about an academic exercise. It’s about passion, and a belief that we can reimagine a future for Memphis that captures national attention but captures the attention of the toughest audience of all - Memphians.

Next: What Are Other Shrinking Cities Doing?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bail Constitutional Amendment Guilty Of Over-reaching

You can count us among those civil liberties advocates who were expected to oppose the Tennessee Constitutional amendment being pushed by a cadre of elected officials that include Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton, Attorney General Bill Gibbons, Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy and Shelby County Commissioners Chair Deidre Malone.

Apparently, the political upside that comes from looking tough on crime trumps the Tennessee Constitutional. These elected officials have teamed up to push an amendment to the Constitution that would allow judges to deny bail. It feels an awfully lot like taking a nuclear warhead to kill a gnat, because Constitutional amendments should be reserved for the rarest of issues, and this one feels largely feels unnecessary.

Already, it would seem that in Shelby County courts, high bails are tantamount to denying bail for defendants in the first place, because by and large the people marching before a judge in our criminal courts have no capacity to pay hefty bails.

Unlighting The Ideals

That this push was publicized a few days after U.S. President Barack Obama said in his inaugural speech: “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.”

It seems that the push for the amendment to Tennessee Constitution seems all too rooted in fear and expediency, the same kind that our new president courageously confronts by underscoring the basic beliefs of our justice system with the announced closing of Guantanamo and secret prisons. Just as we try to get our balance following eight years of the Bush Administration’s thumbing its nose at well-accepted legal principles, our local politicians embark on a crusade whose political upsides seem too irresistible.

After all, who really cares if people charged with crimes are kept in jail until their cases are heard? Who really cares if we erode the purpose of bail to use the worst people among us for political benefit?

Paying Down

For one thing, we should care as taxpayers, but we should also care because there is such a temptation these days at the federal and local level to address safety issues by throwing more people in jail and stretching out sentences, even if it means that we have to wink at or change Constitutional guarantees and even it means that we do it while research shows that it has little effect.

It’s not too surprising that Attorney General Gibbons is in favor of this change in the Constitutional rights of Tennesseeans. He needs something to put some life into his bid for governor, and that impulse is destined to amplify now that he has announced his interest in entering the race for governor. In a race where he has as little chance for success as this one, it seems a given that he will pound his law and order themes as he criss-crosses Tennessee. In supporting the Constitutional amendment, he decried the criminal justice system’s “revolving door,” saying some defendants are released on bail the same day they are arrested.

We presume that he’d prefer for county taxpayers to foot the bill to pay for an insatiable appetite for new laws that keep people in jail longer (even though much research suggests that criminal activity is relatively age specific). For example, there’s no denying that headline-grabbing public calls for longer sentences for gun crimes pay off at the ballot box, but they also pay off in the bills that taxpayers have to pay to keep people in prison into their senior years long after they have passed the ages when they are highly unlikely to commit crimes.

Prophetic Words

It was about 25 years ago that Shelby County’s second mayor, Bill Morris, a former sheriff, rightly concluded that it was pure insanity for local government to think it could “build its way out of the crime problem” with more cells in bigger prisons when it makes more sense in economic and human terms to address the roots of crime. As he pointed out then, we could pay for all state prisoners to be sent to Ivy League universities more cheaply than paying for their yearly upkeep at state expense.

And yet, here we are, decades later, still wrestling with the symptoms rather than the problem itself. Still, today, it is more politically palatable to advocate policies that cost taxpayers $30,000 a year per prisoner than to crusade for interventions that could cost 80% less and open up options that could keep adolescents from lives of crime.

As former U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman rightly points out, there is unquestionably different treatment of African-American juveniles in the justice system. The statistics are too compelling and the anecdotal evidence too strong to disagree with her conclusion that institutional racism is alive and well in the juvenile justice system, and that somehow, we have to invest money to move youths from paths to Juvenile Court and instead to the mainstream of our city.

Forgetting What Bail Is About

Here’s the thing about bail. It’s intended to guarantee the appearance of the defendant for court hearings and trial. That’s it. It’s not about punishment and it’s not punitive. It’s not intended to make money for the state and it shouldn’t be used by prosecutors as leverage to encourage defendants to cop a plea.

We abhor the smirk on Bernie Madoff’s face as much as anyone as he shuffles back and forth to court after bilking $50 billion out of good people in his megalomaniacal Ponzi scheme. Victims called for him to be locked up without bail, but his bail is working. He’s showing up in court, and just because we’re mad about what he’s done, bail still isn’t supposed to be punishment, because when it is set, the defendant is still is cloaked with the presumption of innocence.

We’ve heard public defenders – some who were working at the time for the future Shelby County Mayor when he was chief public defender Wharton -- and defense attorneys say this for years, and despite the theatrical portrayals of the justice system on television, it is nonetheless true. Bail is only intended to make sure that the defendant shows up for trial. Period. End of sentence.

Right Signal

In a letter written by Mayor Wharton, he said: “It sends the wrong signal to our neighborhoods when they see individuals accused of grave and serious crimes continuing to walk the streets…while the judicial process proceeds at a slow pace.” He is certainly right that the judicial process proceeds at a slow pace, and all these elected officials ought to band together to fix that. There is no greater deterrent to crime than quick and certain justice.

To us, the wrong signal is amending the Constitution of our state for some transitory benefit that does nothing to strike at the seedbeds for crime in the first place. As President Obama said during his campaign for the presidency, when we give up freedoms out of fear, it only means that the terrorists and the criminals have won.

They seem close to winning in Tennessee.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Week On Smart City: City Dividends

Change is in the air and we've got the numbers to prove it on today's show. At a time when tax revenues are declining and city budgets are strained, our first guest has a modest proposal that could produce big dividends for cities.  Joe Cortright is an economist for Impresa Consulting in Portland, Oregon, and his latest work shows how profitable it can be for a city to be greener, smarter, and with fewer people living in poverty.  The full report is available at

Plus, is Chicago the new New York?  We'll speak with Wendi Taylor-Nations of the global PR firm Porter Novelli about numbers that show Chicago may be a trendsetter, in more ways than just national politics.

And, how do you teach your children about city planning? Planetizen's Tim Halbur will be with us to discuss his new children's book: Where Things Are, From Near To Far.

Smart City is a syndicated, weekly hour-long public radio talk show that takes an in-depth look at urban life: the people, places, ideas and trends that affect us all. Host Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, talks with national and international public policy experts, economists, business leaders, artists, developers, planners and others on the pulse of city life for a penetrating discussion on urban issues.

Smart City is broadcast at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sundays on WKNO-FM, but it is also webcast and podcast so you can listen to it anytime you like. For the webcast, times for the broadcast in other cities and to sign up for the podcast, visit
our website.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tweetering On The Brink

In a previous life as a journalist, one of us had an editor fond of yelling at offending reporters who failed to bring back a story: “There are no bad cities. Only bad reporters.”

Clearly, it’s an adage that applies just as aptly to public relations professionals.

Or at least that’s what came to mind when we read the intemperate – or should we just call it like we see it, stupid – Tweet sent by a high-ranking representative of the illustrious global public relations firm Ketchum trashing the hometown of a client that just happened to be global giant FedEx.


Apparently, James Andrews, vice-president of Ketchum Interactive Digital in Atlanta, engaged in the same kind of stereotyping that he’s fought against in his own career. Apparently, based on the behavior of one jackass in Memphis, he wrote off all of us as if he’s never encountered similar behavior in his hometown of Atlanta, the city allegedly too busy to hate (also too busy to discuss race relations honestly).

His lame attempt to explain how he essentially treated Twitter content as a spontaneous utterance only compounded the problem. We had images of Ketchum’s advice to a client in a similar situation, because we suspect it is “Apologize and ask for forgiveness.”

And the knee-jerk defenses by many who worship at the altar of social media was enough to inspire another stereotype – that they live in a Pollyannish world known for its naivete – but unlike Mr. Andrews, we’ll resist the temptation to tar everyone with the same brush.

A Couple of Things

There are two things that stood out for us as the dust settled: 1) Mr. Andrews’ bi-coastal background seems to have stunted his knowledge of Americana; and 2) Contrary to many in the blogosphere, the reaction about his comment wasn’t because it was an attack on Memphis but on FedEx.

First, as a former senior employee of Columbia Records portrayed as one cool dude who’s on the front edge of the digital frontier, Mr. Andrews needs a refresher course on how Memphis has changed world culture. From forms of music that became the beat driving the sexual revolution to entrepreneurial innovations that changed the lifestyles of all Americans – from motels to self-service groceries, from drive-in restaurants to the place where a radio station was programmed by African-Americans for African-Americans, Memphis has been seminal to contemporary culture.

As penance, we assign him to read, “Cities in Civilization,” a thick tome by the brilliant Peter Hall who distilled the story of civilization into the story of about two dozen cities over 2,000 years. And yes, one of them was Memphis, right up there with London, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris.

Missing The Point

Second, Mr. Andrews just flat missed the point about the local outrage following his Tweet. “I understand that people have tremendous pride in their hometown,” he said. In adding a comment that should be filed under the heading of “physician, heal thyself,” he added that he is “extremely committed to educating my clients and community on better ways to use social media.”

At this point, we need to admit mixed attitudes toward Twitter here. There is strong advocacy for the immediacy of its communications to friends during the day and for its ability to convey the feeling that we have a support network and advisers as our day unfolds. Meanwhile, there is the contradictory attitude that Twitter is the digital embodiment of a world too self-obsessed and primed for immediate gratification.

It makes for an interesting debate, but in the end, it’s not really what matters, because Mr. Andrews’ Tweet was the digital equivalent of killing an innocent bystander. In the end, his shot did not strike Memphis as much as it wounded FedEx. In criticizing Memphis, he perpetuated negative generalizations that the originator of global commerce fights to overcome every day as it recruits the best and brightest to its workforce.

The Real Memphis

As FedEx acknowledges, it is challenging to get the kind of workers that it needs to come to Memphis, but when they do come, they fall in love with the city. Over the years, the inventor of global commerce has learned that recruitment is more about selling Memphis than FedEx.

That’s because the vast majority of young professionals decide where they want to live before they decide where they want to work. In other words, Memphis has to be a magnet for what we’ve called the “young and the restless” in our talent reports for other cities. Unfortunately, Memphis – and most of the top 50 metros – isn’t on the list of cities attracting young college-educated professionals. Only about 16 cities are winning the competition for these knowledge workers.

Years ago, confronted with this recruitment problem, FedEx dissected its recruitment process and realized that potential employees saw little more of Memphis than the airport and the suburban Winchester/Hacks Cross area where the World Headquarters is located. Hidden from these prospective workers was the funky vibe of downtown, the great music being made by bands in Memphis right now, the rich African-American culture, the uncommon hospitality and friendliness of our people and the charm and “heart” of city neighborhoods.

Benefit Of A Doubt

To give Mr. Andrews the benefit of a doubt, perhaps he’s been trapped into the airport/world headquarters merry-go-round, and he’s not been acquainted with the fundamental essence of Memphis. While we often worry here about trends of our city and talk candidly about events that trouble us, here’s the underlying fact: we wouldn’t live anywhere else in the U.S. but here.

That’s why we appreciated so many people contributing hopeful resolutions and wishes for 2009 in the past two weeks. It’s not disturbing to us that some people disagreed with their opinions (or ours), but what is disturbing is that we have a worrisome cadre of people who seem to take pleasure in simply criticizing without offering solutions and berating anyone who dares to say something positive about our city.

There is so much right about Memphis. As we’ve said before, the most exciting and encouraging things going on here are from the bottom-up, change bubbling up from the grassroots, and new thinking spreading like a virus from self-organizing people dedicated to a better city.

Bruised And Beaten

Unfortunately, Mr. Andrews hasn’t met these people, and instead judges all of us by the worst one of us. But in trashing Memphis as the kind “one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here,’” he sent the message that all the people being recruited by FedEx that they are misguided if they even consider a job here.

That’s what so many defenders of Mr. Andrews seemed to miss. This wasn’t about our civic pride being bruised. More to the point, it was about someone who campaigned for FedEx’s business bruising their corporate recruitment programs. That’s why this isn’t about whether Twitter is a friendly aside or a casual comment to acquaintances, or whether it is personal opinion, and like all opinions, can have professional ramifications if people don’t agree with you.

In that regard, the mandate seems pretty simple: all of us need to think before you post.

Postcard For NYC

In closing, we turn to a Memphis expatriate blogging from New York. She said it well:

“I was not going to feel the need to actually defend Memphis…I was going to let it go the way of yesterday's news. But this morning, wending my way to the train, it all came over me anew. You see, recently I've made a concerted effort to be less of a cynic. I don't think my old contempts were natural; they were a pose of youth. The opening and softening of my opinions and sensibilities have been revelatory, quite pleasant. However, even I was shocked at the ‘softness’ of the thoughts occurring to me this A.M.: Memphians have poetical souls. Only poetically-souled people could love a dying city. The phrase ‘poetical souls’ was a particular surprise. But there you have it.

“Memphis is a tricky place. The crime rate is high, the gap between rich and poor enormous, the city government wicked and farcical. Much appears to be decaying about one, out of use, out of order, a lover struck with plague. But—partially because of, not in spite of its troubles—the place is full of human beauty and richness (if you don't trust the biased natives, just ask Jim Jarmusch or Cat Power). None of this artfulness is an accident. It is the product of the incredible highs and lows, near magical forces at work. It is the product of poetry, Memphian soulfulness. SOUL MUSIC!!!!! I may live in Brooklyn now, because it's where a young artist ought to be, but it's not for lack of love for my hometown or the glorious friends that I have there (Pillow and Alpha!). Look across this country and you will find so many places loved by poets, loved because of their inherent flaws and feats, downs and ups, loved without hope or promise. Where are you from, Hamilton Nolan? What do you love? Are you one of those people who only love clean, easy, hermetically sealed places? Soulless places? Harrumph!

“It would be pedantic of me to make a list of all of the great soul records made in Memphis, for there are many many many, but I will provide a snippet sampler (Otis at Monterey!”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nancy Coffee: My Wish For 2009

Nancy Coffee is president and CEO of Leadership Academy:

"The state of the economy calls for action bold and swift.” The remark by Barack Obama in his inaugural address is one that resonates with the mission and the work of the Academy Masters and Fellows. As we look at the year ahead, there will no doubt be challenges. But there will also be opportunity.

Last fall, The Leadership Academy had the honor of hosting Cory Booker, who reminded us that Memphis is “big enough to be significant but small enough to be manageable and show change quickly.” And as I saw Memphis-born Aretha singing in Washington this afternoon, I was reminded how our beautiful songs have touched the nation and the world. Now, the sprit behind those songs must compel us to act for positive change. Our advantage is that in a time when we need change, Memphis can edge out other cities by bringing change faster.

One place where leadership is already in action is in the Memphis City Schools. TFA (see Brad Leon’s eloquent post), with its corps of inspiring younger leaders, along with other great teachers at our city and charter schools, have blazed a trail for excellent education and shown us how to make education attainment a reality. We need that educated workforce to stay here and help make Memphis a city of choice.

Other exciting developments are shooting up in greening this year. From the million trees that will soon be planted at Shelby Farms to the opening of new trails down to things like the spruced up Belvedere Pocket park, Memphis is going green and taking the responsibility for environmental stewardship down to the individual, grass-roots level.

We must act — boldly and swiftly — in making our community safer. This means working with Operation Safe Community to help their strategies for safety succeed. It also means building on the initial success of the Real Time Crime Center by bringing to bear more technological innovations that make Memphis safer.

The resources, the desire, the talent — it’s all here. Let’s keep it here and build on it by working for positive change.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Beverly Robertson: My Hope For 2009

Beverly Robertson is executive director of National Civil Rights Museum:

It is my hope that we can galvanize a substantial base of young people to assume leadership roles in this community and become engaged in the political process. As we usher in a new era of leadership in this country, we should embrace new thinking, fresh ideas, and create new paradigms; free from some of the baggage that has held the city back.

Anthony Siracusa: A Dream For 2009

Anthony Siracusa is the guiding force behind Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop:

My dream is a city with flocks of bicycle commuters riding to work each morning.

I dream of schoolchildren riding with their parents in to school, bundling up against the chilly winter temperatures and enjoying the pleasant breeze across their noses in the fall and spring.

My dream includes bicycles lanes on Cooper St., Central Avenue, Third Street and Riverside Drive.

It is a dream where Memphians see bicycles not simply as a tool for the poor and disfranchised but as a means to save money and maintain a healthy way of life. It is a dream where all the citizens of our city see the simplicity of a bicycle as a way to transform crime, poverty and depression. Memphians will lobby the city council for increased spending on safe routes to school, free blinky lights for all Memphians to protect them during night rides, and demand an interconnected system of trails, greenways and bikepaths that allow all people to safely travel by bicycle to any destination in the Metropolitan area.

This dream is not so far-fetched -- Memphis can follow the lead of cities in our own state: Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville.

My dream for Memphis is a city that is livable -- with clean air, healthy bodies, interconnected neighborhoods free from the vestiges of segregation and Jim Crow, a city that prides itself on providing for its citizens rather than locking them up, a city that can boast thousands of bicycles commuters and dozens of bicycle shops all working to nurture a new way of life in our city.

My dream is shared by many, actualized by some, and in truth planted deep in the hearts of all. My dream goes on two wheels. My dream is that someday, you can too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Year's Resolutions And Observations

As we enter a new year, we asked a number of Memphians for their resolutions, observations, and insights for 2009. We continue to post them today.

AC Wharton: Reflections On 2009

AC Wharton is Mayor of Shelby County:

To use an old phrase, the end of the year 2008 and the beginning of the year of 2009 represent the worst of times and the best of times.

It is the worst of times in terms of our country’s overall economic and financial meltdown. Unemployment bordering on an all time high, foreclosures at an all time high, business failures at a record level, and with the poverty gap widening, the American Dream seeming to slip farther and farther away for more Americans.

It is the best of times, however, in the sense that we have a golden opportunity to “be born again” and to start from a totally new perspective as we move into 2009.

In terms of physical attributes that make a great city, Memphis is not exactly poverty-stricken. As a matter of fact, if you look at those things experts usually prescribe when listing the ingredients for a great city, we have many if not most of them. For example, it is often said that in order to become a great city, you need major league sports. We have the Grizzlies. Great cities have an abundance of cultural outlets; we have that in the way of the Brooks, the Dixon, the Orpheum and many other offerings. Research is another prescribed item; we have that in the form of the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences, the Medical Education and Research Institute, St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital, and Bioworks. What about a world-class airport? We have that and we are making the most of it. What about a headquarters for major corporations? We have that. FedEx, International Paper, Medtronic, and Service Master, to name a few.

What then is missing? I would submit that it's not that we are missing much in terms of physical infrastructure. I am of the firm belief that our greatest shortcoming is an investment in our story and our people.

The Urban Land Institute Magazine for November – December 2008 lists the elements needed for a “vibrant city" -- a compilation of origin, creed, context, symbols, and action that attracts people and commerce and consumes resources. While they seem to happen organically, they are actually developed through a systemic construct, or shared narrative. What is the Memphis story - not merely an account of the Chickasaw Indians, and the Winchester Family?

Rather, when I ask the question about our story, I refer to what is the soul, the spirit, and the inspiration that moves this place. I would submit that we have a rich story which, if told, would give our residents a sense of connectivity, not merely to the present day but to the history, good and bad, which gives Memphis so much potential. It is the story of a city built on struggles that always manages to bounce back through it resiliency. Much the same as Atlanta is known as Phoenix City because of its rise from the ashes.

While we have not suffered a physical burning down, the death of Dr. King and all of the fury surrounding his death amounted to a spiritual burning down. Yet in spite of that, we see an unprecedented coming together of the races and period of sustained and genuine reconciliation. That’s our story. It’s a story of folks who are honest with each other and do not seek to brush under the rug the evils of the past. Rather we use them as stepping stones to move on up to a higher lever.

This is a story of a city on the Bluff, not on some man made tributary, but on one of the mightiest of rivers. This is place which a recent study by Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance described as having infrastructure unsurpassed in the U.S. How many of us know that?

A story is only a good story if people are comfortable enough to tell it and not constantly living in fear. Just as we arose to break the grips of the Yellow Fever, we are now confronted with another fever that could be just as devastating, that of crime. Drastic steps are needed. Those of us in leadership positions should not leave this cause to our prosecutors and law enforcement officials. We must demand a reexamination of the bed rock principles and laws on which our Nation rests and examine them and see what lawful steps can be taken to deal with an extraordinary situation. It is for that reason I will very shortly call for a reexamination of our state Constitution which basically prohibits the pretrial detention of many dangerous individuals who while facing charges are released and continue to commit heinous crimes in our streets. Regardless of what comes of this effort, the symbolic step of showing that we are willing to go every inch of the way to render our streets safer would speak volumes to our citizens and give them something to hold on to.

With respect to our story, we need a “keeper of the flame”. We have no keeper of our story. We have no keeper of the great culture of our city. Great cities have offices of cultural affairs or similar offices whose sole job is to tell the city’s story to the world, the good and the bad. To herald the good, and to show what we learned from the bad and why we are stronger as a result of having learned those lessons.

We are losing talent to the world. We have done little to stem this loss. We have taken great steps to ensure the greater participation of minorities and women in all of our governmental activities. Yet, for some strange reason we have omitted taking steps to ensure that we develop and retain young and new talent. It is for that reason all of our governments must take affirmative steps by way of executive orders, and resolutions to dictate that all appointments, services, and governmental activities are required to take affirmative action to see that our youth are fully engaged in our governmental, political, civic and business affairs.

To the degree that new talent is excluded from government and civic affairs on the grounds that they do not have the experience, it is our responsibility to see that the individuals holding this potential do get the experience desired to enter governmental service. This can be accomplished by innovative ideas such as creating what I have chosen to call an “Urban Fellows Institute” which would work with our local colleges and universities to offer “for credit” courses which have as a part of the curriculum internships with our local governments. The interns will be assigned to real-life governmental issues such as transportation, healthcare, crime, and the preservation of our natural resources. Their research will serve as the basis for actual policy decisions and direction. It is well worth it for the Internships to carry stipends. Students completing internships will be given preference for jobs with our government. This is small, but and emphatic way of saying that we value your service and we want you to stay and grow in Memphis.

A similar effort will be undertaken with respect to newcomers to Memphis. We once had a business known as Welcome Wagon which saw to it that every family arriving in Memphis would receive assistance in navigating their new hometown and becoming involved. We need to reinstitute an electronic welcome wagon which will work with our major employers so as to ensure that every person they hire and bring into Memphis will receive a welcome to let them know that we want to make every use of their talents.

Likewise, we should see that every high school graduate leaving Memphis to go off to college is tracked electronically and kept abreast of developments and opportunities back home. Again, just another way of saying that Memphis is your home and we want you to play an integral role in its future.

Shea Flinn: Looking Ahead To 2009

Shea Flinn is a Memphis City Councilman:

The word change was beaten into the ground, dug up, and beaten into the ground again in 2008. But we as a city and a country did go through a transformation.

For me this was beautifully illustrated by the Police Residency vote and subsequent firestorm. Back in February, when the new Council was really new, we had an extremely similar resolution, with the exact same arguments, and ultimately the same outcome. Councilman Jim Strickland (the resolution's sponsor at the time) and I showed how green we were by being shocked that there was no response from the public at all.

What a difference a nine months made. Now one can agree or disagree with the stated purpose of the resolution(s), but we can all take some measure of hope from the change in the citizen’s response after the vote. People, on both sides of the issue, got engaged.

My wish for the citizenry of Memphis in 2009 is that they keep the fire burning and stay committed to demanding accountability and results from their elected officials.

My wish for the political bodies is to abandon the words, “ad hoc,” from our vocabulary. We often feel the need to create a committee to study a study committee that came from a legislative body’s committee. Now we should always perform our due diligence, but studying an issue is not the same as acting on an issue (except on political promotional material).

And action is what will be required of all of us in the coming months. We need to stop talking about consolidation and actually draw up a consolidated charter that would explain specifically what a consolidated government would look like. After the “model” metro charter is completed, we call for a vote, we run a campaign, and we see who wins. Because if consolidation is not going to happen, we need to prepare for it, and stop holding it out as the deus ex machina that will turn it all around on that glorious “someday.”

We need to change (that damn word again) how we interact with the rest of the state and region. To this end, I would propose that our federal delegation get in the on the bailout package and try to get some high speed rail for our region. A few billion (remember when that used to be big money, now it seems like small change) would allow us to connect not only our city to Nashville in a greater way, but also with Jackson, MS, and Little Rock, AR, as well as providing the requisite short term jolt to our local economy. We need to remember that while we have a difficult road ahead of us, that we have been heading down this road for years, but it is still not too late to go another direction.

PS: I will also be erasing change from my vocabulary along with ad hoc.

Greg Thompson: Reflections For 2009

Greg Thompson is director of education for Hyde Family Foundations:

“To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” – Franklin Roosevelt (1936)

Seventy three years later – with hard economic times befalling us, with racial harmony eluding us, and with the promise of economic and educational equality not yet realized, these words are a renewed calling to this generation of young people assuming the responsibilities of leadership.

In Memphis, we have a legacy of greatness – a city which represents all of the triumphs and failures in the American story. On our soil, the most gifted musicians, revered civil rights leaders, and successful entrepreneurial ventures the world has ever known, have dwelled. Also, on our soil, we have known great tragedy (bigotry, hatred, and the slaying of one of America’s most courageous leaders). That is our heritage (and the story is long from finished).

It’s up to us, particularly our young leaders, to reclaim the greatness of this city which America once crowned the quietest, cleanest, and safest city.

And they are answering that call.

We have inspiring and tireless leaders changing our politics (I think of MPACT and New Path), educators giving our kids, many first generation college goers, a renewed sense of hope and optimism (I think of some of the charter schools, Jubilee schools and Teach for America loaded with talent), young community leaders attacking poverty, homelessness, joblessness (I think of Seedco, New Directions, Habitat for Humanity) and many others which are too numerous to name.

The call of this generation is to not just lead our nation’s best companies, but also our best social enterprises tackling society’s most pressing problems. Now, more than ever, we need our nation’s brightest minds formulating solutions to what holds us back as a nation (a well-educated workforce capable of maintaining the country’s economic competitiveness, equality of the races – not just equalizing of civic rights but true equalizing of the opportunities for economic and social mobility).

We are, and have always been, a nation of doers. We have faith, but we also act, we have hope, but we also have the will. Our diversity is not a source of division but one of strength. The world has never produced a more idealistic civilization filled with the spirit of faith, charity, volunteerism, and patriotism. As president elect Obama has frequently said “Only in America is his story possible.” I would also add that his story became possible in a nation, which facing many great odds, should not have been possible. But we, with all of our ideals, did become possible.

As we enter 2009, I humbly encourage you all to realize that our city, and what we make of it, will define not only our own destiny, but America’s destiny. Memphis, as one of the first African American-dominated cities, has been an historical battlefield for the fight for human justice, and we can become the first city to capitalize on American diversity in all of its splendor.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Year's Resolutions And Observations

As we enter a new year, we asked a number of Memphians for their resolutions, observations, and insights for 2009. We continue to post them today.

David Williams: Hopes For Memphis In 2009

David Williams is president of Leadership Memphis:

I think the problem most people have with developing a list of hopes for Memphis is feeling overwhelmed with the potential length of such a list. For those that see the Memphis glass as half full, there is a long list of opportunities to pursue, such as the plan put together by Memphis Fast Forward. For those that see the Memphis glass as half empty, they probably feel like they don’t have enough paper on which to make a list.

So, prioritization becomes important, largely in part due to the limited resources most communities, including Memphis, have available to bring hopes to life. Lack of resources requires prioritization. Prioritization is complex because in the community everything is so interconnected – like spaghetti. You can’t touch one thing without touching so many others.

If there one was hope I have for Memphis it is to make better decisions. There are so many forces at work that challenge Memphis and its hopes – but the ability to make good decisions is what we expect from good leaders. How can we make better decisions?

• Insist on data-driven decisions. Not every good decision can be based totally on data, but Memphis tends to completely ignore data when making decisions. The inclination to ignore data and make decisions based on whims and influence often lead us down the wrong path.

• Encourage constructive public discourse about things that matter. The inability of citizens to have constructive open discussion cripples most efforts to address or solve pretty much anything we might want to do.

• Advocate for inclusivity. The tendency for solutions to be left to a small group of leaders instead of including people from throughout the community often results in less than optimum outcomes, and has trained many citizens not to participate.

• Don’t settle for mediocrity. If we want a great city, let’s have a great city. Let’s not make decisions that result in a Memphis that is mediocre.

• Elect the best leaders. Although not all, many of the decisions regarding the challenges and opportunities we have in Memphis are made by elected officials. Let’s be sure to know who we are voting for, what they think about the issues, and then work to get the best leaders elected. Without that, we will be making a hope list every year without much hope of anything changing.

All that said, here is one attempt to identify another kind of Hope List for Memphis. If I were to do this tomorrow, it might be a different list. But here goes, based on approaching such a list from multiple approaches – ranging from “stop the bleeding” to “start the weeding.”

Stop the bleeding – the urgent items that are undermining everything else Memphis tries to do.
• Crime
• Poverty
• City revenue system


Focus on the basics any city needs to be successful – and to make Memphis a community of choice for people to WANT to live.
• Great public schools
• Clean and beautiful city with a sense of place
• Effective city services with a reliable public transportation system

Insist on advancing opportunities that will feed and nurture Memphis as a successful city.
• College graduation rates
• Early childhood development
• Workforce development/Updated PILOT program

Use the city’s long recognized tradition of entrepreneurship to seed truly creative and innovative opportunities for Memphis.
• First majority African American metropolitan area in US
• Largest K-12 population – future workforce
• Green and sustainable initiatives – anchored by Shelby Farms Park

Stop what isn’t working and put those resources to work on something that is proven to work.
• It would be prudent to review such opportunities carefully and not list them carelessly

Linn Sitler: A 2009 Resolution

Linn Sitler is the president of the Memphis and Shelby County Film Commission:

A resolution?

One of my new year's resolutions is to -- as Knox Phillips, bearer of Memphis' biggest heart -- told me years ago, "...get on The High Road."

From Knox, my Mother, my religion, and the teachings of Norman Vincent Peale, I've learned time and time again how things seem so much better, when I look for the positive in every person, every situation, and in myself. How easy though to forget this. For 2009, I resolve to think positively. Hope to see more than Knox on "The High Road" in 2009 also.

An observation? Although I (voluntarily) have no children, I am amazed at how much time, money, love, effort, and thought are really needed today to ATTEMPT to successfully bring up a help form a human being. So why do so many women have so many children? And where are the fathers? No wonder there is so much crime with too many children with little or no support system and safety net.

Insight? Memphis has changed a lot since I moved here at an undetermined age (ha) in 1964 from three years in Wiesbaden, Germany. We've grown up. We're a lot more interesting. We're a lot more accepting. And some of us know how cool we are when we didn't back then.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Aaron Shafer: 2009 - The Year Of Our Hearts

Aaron Shafer is a researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the driving force behind Skatelife Memphis:

My hope is that this is the year that we stop pointing fingers at each other and rid ourselves of a toxic welfare mentality. There is this pervading attitude that someone else needs to take care of our city's problems. Indeed there is a strong need for leadership to provide vision and plans to improve our children’s educational opportunities. There is a need for strong accountability, efficiency and transparency within our city government. Indeed there is a need for leadership that will inspire us to see a better day. But in the meantime we need to stop looking for the government and others to come up with the entire plan and realize that a large share of the problem is an issue of the heart- our hearts.

The elusive silver bullet

Sheriff Mark Luttrell politely touched on the core issue that we are dealing with here in Memphis. We have a “crime cycle’ that will only really be stopped by our participation. It is a cycle that will derail ALL other efforts to make Memphis a place that “attracts and retains” working professionals and most importantly to make Memphis a place for all of our children to grow up safely.

The Sheriff spoke at one of our neighborhood meetings recently, and I asked him about whether we needed stiffer sentences and he told me that we simply don’t have the funds to pay for bigger prisons. Stiffer sentences are bankrupting the California prison system. He was more concerned about the participation of the church and individuals.

In 2009, may the church take its mission seriously and follow the example of its founder, social revolutionary that held nothing back, he put other people first, he hung out with the dregs of society and thanklessly devoted and sacrificed his privileged celestial lifestyle for people that hated him.

What does this look like in Memphis? Consider Fellowship Memphis: Fellowship Memphis has adopted an entire high school and witnessed a complete turn around in the schools math scores thanks to their efforts.

It deeply saddens me that a city with several thousand churches can be the same city that possesses the highest infant mortality rates, highest crime rates, high drop-out rates and high HIV infection rates. Let’s all hope that this year that our leaders will promote an adopt-a-school program for churches.

If that’s too big- adopt a class room. On an individual level, our children need mentors. If we take our beliefs seriously, regardless of their origins, Memphis will rapidly experience a long needed healing and a restored beauty reflected in its citizens.

John Kirkscey: A Wish For Memphis In 2009

John Kirkscey is the creative force behind Memphis Art Park:

I wish that Memphis would take greater pride in its historic role in greatly influencing the uniqueness and trajectory of the American culture. Such pride would lead to a high level of confidence that this city sorely lacks.

We still have the capacity to inspire our country's soul once again. And given that the American culture seems to have spiralled off into wafer-thin materialism during the recent, but now-defunct, bubble age of easy money, perhaps now's the time for Memphis, with its historic capacity for meaningful art, to shine once again.

In such trying times, our nation will likely become more introspective and crave more meaning and depth from its culture -- such times need art that speaks to the soul and regrounds us.

Memphis, once again, could become that cultural beacon. So my hope for 2009 is that Memphis prioritizes the nurturing of our arts, so that we may come to know ourselves more and appreciate our unique capacity to influence the American culture in a soulful way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Brad Leon: Reflections For A New Year

Brad Leon heads up Teach For America in Memphis:

Every time Barack Obama said, “Yes we can,” during his presidential campaign, and especially on election night, I was reminded of why I became an educator. Teaching in New Orleans, I saw firsthand the effects of the academic achievement gap between children in low-income communities and their counterparts in wealthier areas. Most importantly, I saw that this gap can be closed.

In my daily work in Memphis I see President-elect Obama’s message of hope and change continuing to resonate. I urge Memphis to seize this historic opportunity to strengthen our country by addressing our educational challenges. Based on my experience, I believe we can do this by focusing on three essential strategies.

First, continue to hold schools accountable for the achievement of all students, using assessments and data to identify effective policies and teaching methods. If our nation is going to raise achievement levels for low-income students, we must establish clear, consistent standards and be fearless about collecting and analyzing data to measure our progress. These measures can then be used to inform policy decisions, resource allocation, and better classroom instruction.

Second, invest in programs that produce leaders at the classroom, school, and district level. By increasing the pool of top-notch education professionals, we can bring new energy and ideas to our schools. Here in Memphis, the school district should continue to recruit new teachers and administrators from the top graduates of outstanding local colleges and build on its partnerships with programs like Teach For America. Schools, like any workplace, require effective leadership and top human capital to produce results.

Finally, we should build on the energy and leadership of young people as a force for change. At Teach For America, we have seen the impact that young people can have in the classroom and beyond. Our alumni, numbering more than 14,000 across the country, are bringing entrepreneurial, visionary leadership to address our nation’s education challenges. One example is Chris Barbic, a Vanderbilt alumnus and the principal of YES College Prep in Houston. While 80 percent of YES Prep students are economically disadvantaged, 100 percent of the school’s graduating seniors in the past eight years have been accepted to four-year colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Rice, and Stanford. With 91 percent of YES alumni having graduated from or currently enrolled in a four-year college, Barbic is demonstrating that students in low-income communities can learn at the highest levels when given the educational opportunities they deserve.

Yes, we can make educational equity the reality in Memphis. By focusing on student outcomes and supporting leadership at all levels of our education system, our city can fulfill America’s promise to our children. They deserve no less.

Dorothy Gunther Pugh: New Year's Observation

Dorothy Gunther Pugh is founding artistic director an CEO of Ballet Memphis:

Well then, it is my hope that Memphians will find within themselves the capacity to find their own joy, and creatively spread their discoveries to as many people as they can. Leadership that provides opportunities for this exercise of discovery would certainly be appreciated. These are times that need all kinds of generosity. In my Nutcracker program letter, I said that I had never met a human being who was happy by hoarding what he had, be it money, talent, ideas, laughter, or intelligence. Give something you're good at away, and it will come back to you tenfold! Hold on to something tightly, and it will shrink, and may even strangle you!

Henry Turley: My One New Year's Wish

Henry Turley is the head of his eponymous firm:

Let the Fair Ground commence.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year's Resolutions And Observations

As we enter a new year, we asked a number of Memphians for their resolutions, observations, and insights for 2009. We continue to post them today.

Deidre Malone: New Year's Resolution For Memphis

Deidre Malone is chair of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners:

In 2009, I hope we can solve some of the long standing problems facing our community or at least make a substantial dent in finding solutions.

Examples include finding sustainable funding for Memphis and Shelby County Schools, realizing that efficiency and accountability go hand in hand with that solution. Over the years single source funding has been discussed for schools. Maybe we can put that in the achieved column for 2009.

I also wish that we can get a better handle on our healthcare disparity and funding issues this year. We are on all the “worst” lists when it comes to health related issues – obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and infant mortality.

It would be a terrific year if we can turn some of those statistics around and become more serious about our health.

I’m really hoping for a major positive impact with our economy. Job loss is at an all time high. I’m hopeful that President Obama’s plan can help get this country on the right track and stabilize our economy.

Tomeka Hart: Thoughts For 2009

Tomeka Hart is chair of the board of commissioners of Memphis City Schools and executive director of Memphis Urban League:

My prayer is that Memphis leaders (elected, appointed, community, faith-based, etc.) will develop a holistic and comprehensive plan to fight the real enemy of our progress — POVERTY. I hope that all plans related to crime, education, health, and economic development attack the root problem so that we can see sustainable growth and improvement in this great community.

Additionally, I pray that all in the Memphis region will finally come to the realization that we are in this together. All cities, towns, and neighborhoods in this region depend on and need a strong Memphis. By working together and building on each others’ strengths, we will see great economic development opportunities, which will lead to, well— sustainable growth and improvement in this great community!

Charles Santo: Live Where You Live - A Thought For Memphis In 2009

This post is written by Charles Santo, Ph.D, at City & Regional Planning
School of Urban Affairs & Public Policy at The University of Memphis:

Maybe you’ve seen it around town – the bumper sticker with the simple and curious message: Live Where You Live. (If not, be on the lookout.) Live Where You Live is campaign in its infancy stage, spearheaded by the Coalition for Livable Communities –and it’s our thought for Memphis in 2009.

What is Live Where You Live?

It’s a call for resolve, for commitment, and for behavior that supports livability (or sustainability, if that’s your word of choice) in Memphis.

First, Live Where You Live means supporting your community by becoming an advocate -- and by living your life locally: shopping, eating, playing in your neighborhood.

In today’s recession, supporting local businesses is more important than ever to the health of our city’s economy. The local shop or restaurant might cost a bit more than the national chain, but more of the money spent at the local place stays in the local economy. And when you shop locally you are supporting your neighbors and sustaining the local character that makes Memphis unique. (Don’t get me wrong. There are many conscientious franchisees in Memphis whose businesses support and sponsor community organizations and events. Those businesses clearly deserve our support, too.)

Live Where You Live also means encouraging Memphians who might otherwise run away from the problems of the city to stand firm -- to stay and face those challenges in their city and in their neighborhoods.

We are not naïve. We realize that Memphis has real problems that require more than just a pep talk. But the long term solutions all require us to find ways to keep talented people here, and to promote a vibrant central city. We’ve seen too many talented people – people drawn to Memphis by short-term opportunities that exist at La Bonheur, St. Jude’s, UT Medical Center and the University of Memphis – leave town at the first chance because we essentially express to them that Memphis not good enough. We let them get the story of Memphis from the local media and think that it’s the whole story. And we’ve seen too many people who feel like the only way the can live in Memphis is to live outside of Memphis. We cannot have a sustainable community if we cannot contain or footprint.

A commitment to this city -- like any city -- involves risk and raises legitimate concerns; especially for those raising families. (A vibrant community needs households of every type, and we know that singles, young couples, and empty-nesters have their concerns, too.) While recognizing this, we believe that more people would be more willing to make the commitment to Memphis if they knew they were not alone in doing so. There is strength in numbers.

So think of this campaign as an effort to build a support group. Live Where You Live is not an explicit call for government action, but rather a clean and simple grassroots effort to find a tipping point, where the desire to stay is the norm.

We have plenty of opportunities to vent about the negatives, and many good forums (such as this one) for dialogue about solutions. The purpose of Live Where You Live is to provide a forum to celebrate the good, recognize what is worth preserving, and mark the reasons that Memphis is worth fighting for.

How to Help: Sport a Bumper Sticker, Tell a Friend, Share a Story

The Coalition for Livable Communities is asking you to join us in letting others know you are willing to LIVE WHERE YOU LIVE!

Share your stories with us. Tell us what you love about your neighborhood, how you get involved in your community, how you live locally, or what makes you feel good about Memphis. We'll post your stories on the Live Where You Live website, which will be a place for positivity, hope and encouragement.

Share as much or as little as you'd like -- there's no formula.

Whether you represent South Main or South Memphis, Cooper-Young or Cordova, High Point Terrace or Hickory Hill, or anywhere in between, our fortunes are all tied together.

Let us know why you are willing to Live Where You Live -- and help build a commitment to a livable Memphis.

Send your story to And we’ll send you a Live Where You Live bumper sticker.

For more information, visit, or

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Year's Resolutions And Observations

As we enter a new year, we asked a number of Memphians for their resolutions, observations, and insights for 2009. We begin to post them today.

Mark Luttrell: New Year's Resolution For Our Community

Mark Luttrell is sheriff of Shelby County:

Recently I spoke with a 35 year old mother who expressed concern for her 20-year-old son in our jail for multiple criminal offenses.

Her request was not for mercy but instead was an expression of frustration over the criminal way of life she inherited from her mother and that she had passed on to her children. This mother touched all the bases: teenage pregnancies out of wedlock, numerous children without parental supervision, a school system incapable of holding the child's attention, juvenile delinquency and drug involvement leading ultimately to another generation entering the adult criminal justice system.

Those of us in law enforcement call it the "cycle of crime."

Criminal behavior must be addressed swiftly and surely but to really make a difference requires a paradigm shift of monumental poportions.

The societal issues that fester criminal behavior such as those expressed by the young 35-year-old mother require a community commitment unseen in recent years. A profile of the average jail inmate confirms that the breakdown of so many family support systems produces a lawless society that makes an entire community uncomfortable and disillusioned.

My hope for 2009 is that we, each citizen, look inward for ways to
impact some of the core issues impacting our future as a city. Pick
one -- teenage pregnancies, domestic violence, neighborhood schools, substance abuse, summer youth programs, and family values -- and focus your energy toward making a difference.

All of us have a sphere of influence where we can make a difference and help is definitely needed from all of us.

Betty Mallott: Looking Ahead

Betty Mallott is a member of the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners:

All of Memphis will be tested in these coming lean years.

Scarcity of resources will force us to reevaluate and change. Individuals, families and organizations must do more with less. We will be forced to reconstruct our habits and our institutions. Hopefully we will do so in a way that ensures a better future for the generations to come after us. For the children of Memphis, the future is in our hands.

As we plan for 2009 and 2010, I urge all citizens to train your sight on a vision for the future of the children of Memphis. We have to think more long term and less about today. We have to plan more for the future of our children

They are counting on all of us.

Providing for the future means taking better care of all our children. We must support and nurture every child, especially those whose parents do not have the resources to do so. We must be intentional and proactive about their health and safety. We must be deliberate and strategic in preparing them for the future world in which they will live, a world that will demand more training and education than ever before. Every child will need skills in reading, math, and science that will open doors to future job opportunities.

We must instill in all children a mindset that equips them for life long learning. The world is changing rapidly and our children will be faced with conditions that we cannot predict. We can prepare them to meet these challenges. We can encourage them to always work hard to achieve; to continue to acquire new skills and knowledge; to turn mistakes into valuable lessons; and to become resilient and resolute when facing obstacles and setbacks.

We need the commitment of all adults in this community to work toward a better future for the children. I encourage everyone to make 2009 the year that you personally commit to making a difference for the children of Memphis.

Their future is in your hands.

Mike Ritz: Looking Ahead To 2009

Mike Ritz is a member of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners:

The priorities for our County Commission in 2009 must be all about the challenges the national and local economy are imposing on our fiscal situation.

In anticipation of some fiscal challenges, the County Commission for the current FY 2009 budget year froze compensation for all employees, offered early retirement for eligible employees, and set up an administrative process to reduce employment by not automatically filling positions vacated by retirement, death, or employees leaving for any other reason. What we did was immediately challenged by certain elected officials and the deputy sheriff organization. To date the Commission has fought off these challenges.

We did not anticipate the great national economic melt down of calendar year 2008 with the attendant loss of jobs, devaluation of home values, home foreclosures, business closings, loss of consumer confidence, and deterioration of family retirement accounts/nest eggs/education accounts.

The new County reappraisal for 2009 will not have the normal 5 to 10% growth expected from the reappraisal process every 4 years and may produce a countywide value even less than the reappraisal value of 2005. It appears that the Commission will have to establish more draconian efforts with the 5800 county positions. About 70% of the County General Fund is spent on employee compensation, benefits and retirement. We cannot manage the budget downward without reducing employment. Capital spending will also have to be slowed down if not eliminated.

Quite frankly the challenge facing the Commissioners as a group and individually will be the constant efforts of the employees and their organizations to secure more funding for their departments and functions. It is difficult to keep saying no but we must face the fact that we represent the citizens, taxpayers and voters first. These people are losing jobs, having their compensation cut, losing their homes to foreclosure, and seeing their nest eggs disappear. We can be assured that these people do not want taxes to grow and would accept some local government shrinkage if that is what it takes to avoid tax increases.

I hope that those who want to see the County budget managed with no tax increase will contact their elected representatives. It is quite the truth that the only people sitting through the County budget hearings are those seeking more money.

Emily Trenholm's New Year's Resolution For Memphis

Emily Trenholm heads the Community Development Council in Memphis:

Thinking back on 2008 and ahead to 2009, my desire for our city and county is that we not let our economic woes slow our momentum in creating a more livable and sustainable community.

In recent years, several new initiatives have taken shape that promise to make our city healthier, more attractive, and economically viable, including Sustainable Shelby, Greening Greater Memphis, and the long-awaited Unified Development Code, among others.

Even when our economy was more robust, such efforts often were viewed as frivolous and not worthy of our time and energy, as compared to the (very real) problems of crime and schools. Now that foreclosures and unemployment are rising, and tax revenues falling, it will be even more tempting to put these initiatives on the back burner to await a better day.

Let’s not do that.

Even as we turn our attention to helping those that need the most, we must also maintain our positive momentum in areas that promise to deliver long-term benefits to all of our citizens, help attract new businesses and residents, and shape the growth and development of our community in a manner that supports our urban neighborhoods in addition to our suburban communities.

Friday, January 09, 2009

This Week On Smart City: Infrastructure and The Economic Stimulus Package

President-elect Barack Obama has begun discussing the details of his economic stimulus plan. This week we'll talk to two experts from Canada who have some smart ideas on public investments for the long term. Anthony Perl is the Director of the Urban Studies program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. He as also co-written an exciting book called Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil. He'll talk about his radical prescription for the world's transportation systems, and what the world will look like, after peak oil.

And we'll stay north of the border and speak with the President and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, Glen Murray. He's here to tell us about his experiences as the Mayor of Winnepeg, and how investing in sprawling infrastructure will cost more in the long run.

Smart City is a syndicated, weekly hour-long public radio talk show that takes an in-depth look at urban life: the people, places, ideas and trends that affect us all. Host Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, talks with national and international public policy experts, economists, business leaders, artists, developers, planners and others on the pulse of city life for a penetrating discussion on urban issues.

Smart City is broadcast at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sundays on WKNO-FM, but it is also webcast and podcast so you can listen to it anytime you like. For the webcast, times for the broadcast in other cities and to sign up for the podcast, visit our website.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

For Sale: Coliseum And Common Sense

It’s hard for us to fathom, but a Shelby County commissioner – whose constituents are Memphians - is proposing that county government should not get out of the way and allow Memphis City Hall to redevelop the Fairgrounds until it wrings money from city government.

Of course, money from city government only comes from city taxpayers, so in effect, for Memphians, it’s like moving money from their city taxpayer pocket to their county taxpayer pocket and comes at a time when Shelby County’s overriding interest these days should be to give Memphians a fairer tax burden.

This issue could have been the poster child for fairness for city taxpayers. After all, the suggestion is for Shelby County Government to waive any rights to Mid-South Coliseum and Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Now, county government owns only 40% of the Coliseum and in addition, there’s a small sliver of land under the stadium that belongs to county government.


Because we respect Steve Mulroy, we were especially baffled that this response came from him after Commissioner Sidney Chism called for Shelby County Government to deed over its minority interests at the Fairgrounds, clearing the way for Memphis to proceed with its plan for redevelopment of the site.

It’s all so schizophrenic, like so many decisions reached by local government, and it speaks again for the need for consolidation of city and county governments. It seems like just this once, the emphasis should be on doing what’s fair, rather than thinking that Memphians – who are the majority of county taxpayers – should now pay their county halves money to allow their city halves to move ahead with the Fairgrounds project.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners previously rejected a proposal to give up its ownership of these two properties along with The Pyramid for $5 million. In those discussions, there was the general sentiment that the payment would be for the latest former arena and that the older former arena would be lagniappe in the deal.

We Just Don’t Understand

It’s almost as if the suggestion that the city should pay for the Coliseum and the sliver of land is based on the county’s perceived “nuisance value.”

Let’s say it one more time. When the Coliseum was built, Memphis taxpayers paid 100% of the city’s 60% costs, and then paid 75% of the county’s 40%. If our math is right, that means that Memphians paid for 90% of the cost of the Coliseum in the first place.

It sounds like to us that if Memphis taxpayers are owed anything, it’s an apology for being taxed twice for the same facility and they deserve a credit from Shelby County Government for overpayment.

Taxing Hotel Stays

Meanwhile, Commissioner Mulroy is pushing a proposal to sue on-line travel companies for failure to accurately pay the county’s 5% hotel-motel tax. With one of the highest motel-motel tax rates in the U.S., we’re sympathetic with visitors who choke when told they need to cough up 16% in taxes on a night’s room, but there’s no reason that Memphians should be subsidizing big companies like Travelocity and Expedia to the tune of about $2 million, the back-of-the-envelope estimate by Commissioner Mulroy. (We resist the urge to point out that there are a couple of beneficiaries of county tax freezes that are waived more than that amount.)

While he’s at it, we hope that Commissioner Mulroy will look into the collection of the hotel-motel taxes on the ground in Shelby County. The last time we checked, the taxes paid by local hotels and motels are produced by a system of self-reporting companies. The checks mailed to the county clerk’s office are what the businesses say they owe, and perhaps, it’s time to get really serious about auditing and collecting the so-called “bed tax” in our county to make sure that all of it is being collected.

With so much hanging in the balance – Memphis Cook Convention Center, the international marketing programs of Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and a complicated swap of Tourism Development Zone funds so that FedEx Forum could, well, come to think of it, it’s more than you want to know.

Here’s the thing: we need to make sure that every cent of hotel-motel tax is collected.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Wanted: A Stimulus Package For New Thinking

The Obama Administration’s poorly conceived and vaguely defined economic stimulus package shows signs of a much-needed fine tuning.

It’s high time, because the announcement that a pot of gold containing up to $1 trillion for “infrastructure projects” has done little but produce the most unimaginative, city-adverse proposals in memory.

Most are heavy on public works projects and light on public sense. It should be little surprise, since when you use terms like “shovel-ready projects,” you’re really asking for the usual suspects to ask for money for the usual projects – more and more lanes of asphalts for roads.

The Real Stimulus

It’s too bad, because the economic stimulus package should have actually stimulated some imaginative thinking by governments across the U.S., but instead, it’s become an inventory of the favorite projects of traffic engineers and public works directors. As our friend Jeff Speck pointed out in his presentation in Memphis last year, the first step in taking back a well-designed, connected and sustainable city is not to leave the quality of life to engineers.

So far, the economic stimulus has been sad news for cities, because at a time when the federal funds should be incentives for investing in the new economy, it’s likely that much of it will be spent chasing the old oil-dependent economy and growth patterns that have hollowed out Memphis and driven Shelby County Government to the brink of bankruptcy.

In other words, it would be the perfect time to invest in a green infrastructure, bike lanes and a technological grid that speaks to the realities of the future. Hopefully, the frustration recently shown by the new federal administration at the lack of imagination by local governments is prompting it to redefine its earlier broad statements so that the stimulus encourages more sustainable and more energy-efficient infrastructure.

The Right Path

After all, it shouldn’t be enough that the federal is aimed at putting to work. More to the point, it needs to be about creating the platform for the essential infrastructure for cities competing in a knowledge-based economy.

The hasty effort by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to put together a compendium of ready-to-go projects resulted in such an emphasis on more sprawl-inducing public works projects that it became the poster child for the missed opportunities of the stimulus package. It was a paragon of pork barrel thinking.

One local television station suggested that Memphis missed the boat by not submitting a list of these kinds of projects to the Conference of Mayors, but to the contrary, we think city and county governments deserve commendation for refusing to fall into the prevailing herd mentality and instead took a more deliberate, more strategic path.

Asking The Right Question

In other words, most governments have treated the stimulus funding as a way to transfer the cost of projects already in the pipeline from their government to the federal government. As a result, the emphasis seems to be on spending money fast rather than spending money smart.

Rather than ask, “How do we spend money as quickly as possible,” cities should be asking, “How do we reinvent the American infrastructure because this one is too expensive, too unsustainable and too uncompetitive?”

Of course, we’ve compounded these problems here by our obsession with paying people to love us in the form of tax freezes, by our lack of vision about workforce improvement and by our missed opportunities to build an economy on quality rather than cheapness.

Park The Pork

We’ve shown no interest in creating the kind of 21st century public transit system that is more and more a backbone for attracting and retaining highly-skilled workers. We’ve failed to develop early childhood interventions and the quality education system that prepare our children to compete in the global economy.

And, as we’ve written before, we’ve placed the financial rewards in our economy on people who can build incomprehensible schemes rather than people who build new technology and real products. Is it asking too much that this economic crisis should be the catalyst for getting our priorities straight?

We begin here by shifting our emphasis from pork projects to projects that increase productivity, inspire research and build a competitive workforce. There was a time when Memphis was known as a cauldron of imagination – both musically and entrepreneurially. We refuse to admit that these bursts of innovation were merely aberration and not an essential part of our local culture and character.

Principled Thinking

Recently, we asked the Sustainable Shelby working team what principles and goals are suggested by the 51 recommendations and 150 strategies of the initiative. Here’s what they said:


* Focus on projects that will spur local job growth by awarding contracts to local and minority owned businesses (multiplier effect).

* Focus on projects within areas with under utilized infrastructure in order to promote infill and reduce sprawl.

* Focus and prioritize projects that incorporate sustainable design principles, such as green building retrofits for schools and public buildings or using natural infrastructure in roadway design.

The Standards

Sustainable Stimulus Criteria:

Does the project .....

* reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled.

* promote infill development/discourage sprawl.

* promote alternate modes of transportation (BRT, Light rail, Trolley, Carpool, Carsharing).

* provide infrastructure that encourages biking and walking.

* locate infrastructure improvements near approved substantial infill development projects in an effort to add value to community redevelopment initiatives.

* encourage school and public building retrofits to include energy efficient and green building standards.

Yes, We Can

In the words of the Sustainable Shelby team, “the basic idea is that the projects selected/prioritized for the stimulus money should be those that help to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, revitalize our cities and provide good jobs to local workers.”

If only they had been advising the Obama Administration before it announced the stimulus package. In the end, the election of the president-elect was all about hope and a new era. That’s precisely why we can’t afford for his first major economic stimulus initiative to just be more of the same.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Well, It's Recyling Of A Kind

Memphis may not be a national leader in recycling. After all, city government can’t seem to figure out business and restaurant recycling.

However, Memphis is a leader in one area: the recycling of policy issues that seem to have a longer half-life than Styrofoam - consolidation and single source funding for schools.

Consolidation has been called the answer to all that ails Memphis for 37 years – since the last time it lost at the polls – and single source funding was first proposed about 25 years ago.

Flash Point

And yet, despite the fact that both issues have for decades largely been sound and fury signifying nothing, they may actually now have their best chances for passage ever. The fact that they have moved from futile to feasible - neither yet approaching probable – is testament to changing demographics outside Memphis and softening of long-held attitudes.

It was an attitude that propelled a SRO crowd to assemble in a Bartlett school auditorium only hours after then-Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris floated the idea of consolidation more than two decades ago. To defuse the volatile political environment that included a campaign to secede from Shelby County, the former mayor named a special committee to consider other options for school operations and funding.

Two new ideas were debuted about a year later – 1) county government as the sole source for school funding, and 2) an umbrella school district that handled administration and operations for four separate, smaller school systems with their own superintendents. However, no one was willing to lead an explosive fight for change and the recommendations were shelved.

Improving Odds

It was just the most dramatic of numerous eruptions by so-called “county voters,” a sobriquet that stems from the divisive local custom of referring to “city residents” (Memphians) and “county residents” (people outside Memphis), although both are of course residents of Shelby County.

Today, prospects for consolidation are improved. More than 40,000 African-Americans and a burgeoning Latino population have moved outside of Memphis, and the population in the unincorporated part of Shelby County (which could prefer consolidation to annexation) is roughly the same as the population of all of Shelby County outside Memphis in 1971.

But one thing has not changed: a major hurdle in the form of Shelby County Schools. It’s always been the deal breaker for voters outside Memphis, and without their support, there is no consolidation. That’s because the Tennessee Constitution requires two passing votes: one inside Memphis and another outside Memphis. In other words, although every other major county in Tennessee already has consolidated schools, it can’t happen here because it dooms overall government consolidation at the polls.

Sending A New Message

Louisville is the only city comparable to Memphis that has consolidated in the past 40 years. There, they didn’t promise tax cuts or smaller government budgets. Instead, there were two key strategies: consolidation was all about economic growth, and it was a vote of confidence on former Louisville mayor – and now consolidated mayor – Jerry Abramson.

With Memphis’ economic indicators ranking at the bottom of the top 50 metros, serious economic competitiveness - one built on quality rather than doling out tax freezes - and with Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton as the prohibitive favorite to be the next mayor of Memphis or a consolidated government, Louisville is the relevant model for Memphis.

In Louisville, consolidation was a strategy to move up the list of America’s largest cities in hopes of attracting more investments and jobs. With consolidation, Memphis would be within 19,000 people of breaking into the top 10. While consolidation is not the magic bullet to solve all of Memphis’ challenges, as it did in Louisville, it would send the unmistakable message that a new era has begun.

Don't Bet On It

Meanwhile, Memphis City Council’s dramatic $72 million cut in funding for Memphis City Schools by Memphis City Council forced a new discussion about local funding of education. It was a gutsy decision to attack the double taxation paid by Memphians for schools.

In the wake of that decision, Shelby County Board of Commissioners took the lead and organized the obligatory summit, however, the ultimate challenge is to move beyond more discussion and into definitive negotiations to produce a bill for a vote by the Tennessee Legislature. It’s unlikely to include the DOA idea of the two school superintendents for taxing authority for their boards of education.

At this point, prediction markets would still be heavily weighted against success on either front, but the fact that there’s bullishness at all says volumes about how times have changed in Shelby County.

This was published in the December issue of Memphis magazine as its City Journal column.