PUBLISHER’S COMMENTARY

Comfort zones must go for success of Memphis 3.0.

Bernal E. Smith, II | 7/6/2017, 1:13 p.m.
Comfort zones must go for success of Memphis 3.0.
TSD Publisher Bernal E. Smith II gives his take on the still-developing Memphis 3.0 plan for comprehensive growth and development. (Courtesy photo)

A cultural shift – one that changes how we interact and engage for the best interest of all – is absolutely necessary to truly establish and execute a plan with the high values and vision of Memphis 3.0.

Bernal E. Smith II President/CEO

Bernal E. Smith II President/CEO

That’s the message I delivered last week at the Brooks Museum of Art, the venue for the third of three presentations of findings in the ongoing effort to develop a comprehensive plan for the city of Memphis.

According to the associated literature, the still evolving master plan for Memphis’ future will set a vision for our city. It is to include recommendations to achieve that vision in areas such as land use, transportation, neighborhood development, parks and environment, economic growth and housing.

The City of Memphis Office of Comprehensive Planning staff, led by Ashley Cash, invited me to be the event’s guest community speaker. I was asked to speak to some of the social justice and equity issues that I’ve worked on and written about. I was also asked to discuss progress (or the lack thereof) in terms of employment, neighborhood development and other issues in Memphis communities and how those impact the city at large.

The draft vision/value statements of the Memphis 3.0 Plan include things such as connected communities, advancing equity and opportunity, prosperity and affordability. I sought to challenge the planners and the audience to understand that the culture and actions of Memphians must reflect the vision and values that we espouse.

An evaluation of a few of the plan’s key areas shows that the very recent historical behaviors and existing culture does not seem to match the stated vision.

Cash, administrator of the Office of Comprehensive Planning, preceded me with a review of the findings of the process thus far. Her nearly 25-minute slide presentation summed research, public input, market analysis and other data.

The room overflowed seating capacity with concerned and contributing Memphians. After briefly sharing my personal and professional background, I pointed out the apparent challenge of inclusion and equity in our city, observing that the audience was not reflective of the make-up of the population.

Memphis has a nearly 70 percent African-American population. The audience was about 70 percent white, 29 percent African American and 1 percent other. I made the point that the issues of race, access and equity remain primary challenges and permeate most things in Memphis, including how we address challenges to long-term growth and stability.

Few, if any, would argue the need for a comprehensive growth and development plan for Memphis’ future. The Memphis 3.0 initiative is the first real effort of its type since 1981.

Over the years, we’ve had a number of “plans” surface. The economic development community primarily drove those. During my years with the Memphis Chamber (of Commerce), we had the Think Memphis Plan and Memphis 2.0.

Asked to provide feedback and analysis of the issues based on my personal experiences and professional efforts, I began with the issue of sprawl and real estate development.

According to their findings, the population growth of Memphis peaked in the 1970s and has been maintained only through annexation. Here’s the specific reference: Since 1970, the population of the City of Memphis has grown by only 4% while the land area has grown by 55%. This essentially means that new houses and neighborhoods have been largely filled by Memphians moving from one place to the next.