About a month or so ago, I began writing an article in response to the Forbes’ article. Around then, there was a relative flood of responses coming out – all uplifting accounts of how stupid Forbes was for not seeing how great Memphis really is.
Not that I disagree that Memphis is a great city. But it seems that everyone was so fixated on the label, and the stigma of being at the top of the list, they didn’t stop to really think about what it meant and how we landed there.
While the list has been correctly pointed out as simply a means to sell magazines, and defining miserable by the factors used in their study is questionable, the two rankings that landed us at the top of the list have to be acknowledged. They don’t publish the complete data for this study, but from my research it looks like the two clear categories that drag us down are corruption and crime. Shouldn’t be a surprise to Memphians, but judging from the reactions I saw it seemed to be. Maybe that’s because by Memphis standards, we’ve had a pretty good year.
Crime continues to decrease – in the past year violent crime was down 5% and property crime was down 14%, building on steady decreases over the past several years. Our police department has made great strides.
Yes – there have been corrupt officers, however at least we have the small comfort that we are actively rooting them out – compared to a systemic corruption like in New Orleans where the Department of Justice is apparently preparing to file civil rights injunctions against the whole Police Department to try and reform the system.
Speaking of corruption, after the circus of last year’s mayoral election, we finally have a new mayoral administration that so far has managed to maintain broad support despite a very tough climate with very difficult problems to address. The new transparency measures outlined by the administration certainly aren’t as broad as I would like to see, but at least they are making sincere efforts to open government, eliminate fraud, and regain the citizen’s trust. Like I said, it’s been a good year.
But just because we are improving does not mean we can get complacent. Yes, we do have a need for cheerleaders like the editorials I mentioned earlier or the recent Spirit of Memphis Pep Rally.
You know why we need these? Because a lot of Memphians actually are miserable! Just because you personally live a happy, well-adjusted life and enjoy your city does not mean that everyone does. Virtually every person I work with has voiced their desire to get out of this city. “Nothing going on in Memphis,” “Can’t wait to get out of here,” “Wish I’d never come back” etc, etc.
When I tell people that I moved here because I love the city, one of the most common responses is disbelief. A major part of this seems to be our obscenely high crime and poverty rates. Maybe if you are one of the lucky ones that aren’t affected by these problems, the city is all sunshine and lollipops. But there are many people here in Memphis who are certifiably miserable.
I’m not trying to be a little black rain cloud. Like I said, I love the city, and I don’t blame others for feeling the same way and wanting to spread that love through cheerleading. Given the city’s inferiority complex, I think that kind of cheerleading is needed. I just hope that the Pollyannaish views expressed in many of the responses to the Forbes article are balanced with a realistic view of the challenges we still face as a city, and the stake every citizen has in improving it. After all, cheerleading is great, but if it doesn’t inspire action, the cheers are nothing but hot air.