I don’t care who slept with your ex-wife five years ago. It’s not my problem if you can’t get along with your former business partner. And no, I will not feel sorry for you because you lost an election while I was in elementary school. None of those items are on today’s agenda, and hanging on to that baggage will not get us any closer to a strong, vibrant city (or help you get a promotion / win an election / find a date).
Today’s agenda includes the following:
Citizens dying faster than third world countries.
A shoddy public transportation system that only serves a small percentage of our citizens.
A tax base that is shrinking faster than my new white shirt.
An education system that fails to educate more than 30% of our children.
A workforce that is woefully unprepared for the jobs of the future.
And no clear path to health and prosperity.
These are real issues that need to be addressed TODAY.
With more than 7,000 nonprofits, approximately 7,200 city employees and 6,000 county government employees, all working to provide for our citizens and build a stronger city. Yet, we still rank at the bottom, if not dead last, on many of the indicators of city success. It seems pretty clear our current modus operandi isn’t working. It’s time for a new perspective, higher standards, greater accountability.
Bring Out the Crayons
Want a fresh vision of Memphis? Give a child a box of crayons. They are uninhibited by past hurts, professional greed, or political rhetoric. They have simple needs and expect their environment (the people, places and structures around them) to meet these needs. Isn’t that what government is all about, meeting the basic needs of its citizens?
The child’s drawing will likely have both people and buildings. Makes sense. A successful community needs strong people and well-designed infrastructure. We know that building placement and pedestrian access are critical to a successful neighborhood.
I suspect the people will be of normal width, pictured with clean clothes and smiles on their faces. They might even be holding hands. That would be nice. Healthy citizens who are happy and engaged with each other.
The picture will likely be pretty, maybe with flowers and trees. Sounds good. People want to live in neighborhoods that are aesthetically pleasing. Access to green spaces is also good for your health.
Hopefully the drawing won’t include guns or dead people. We’ve made so much progress in crime reduction, and I believe our children truly are safer than they were five years ago.
I’m also hoping it won’t have piles of trash or heaps of tires. Memphis used to be the cleanest city in America, and thousands of people are working every weekend to bring that award back.
The drawing might be finished off with a rainbow, which I always like. Unfortunately there’s not much we can do on that one. Mother Nature has her own agenda, which rarely coincides with ours.
Tap Into Fresh Visions
I’m not saying we should bring in a gaggle of children to color the walls of city hall or write our strategic plan in crayon, but I am saying it’s past time for a new approach – one as revolutionary as kids & crayons. And no, we’re not going to start dispensing crayons at City Council meetings, but we’ve got to find another way to drive our revolution. We need people who are young enough to be fearless, yet mature enough to be purposeful and effective. Do we have these people in Memphis?
Yes, they are the hundreds and hundreds of young professionals who are a part of MPACT Memphis. Many of the members have college degrees, but not all. That’s ok. They don’t all want to be leaders, some just want to be engaged. That’s ok too. They have fresh ideas, new energy, and an entrepreneurial spirit. What they generally don’t have – and this is really important – is the baggage, the political constraints, or the weight of the past. Just passion, energy, ideas, and high expectations.
We’ve won a few battles lately, but we’re still losing the war. Now is the time to tap into new energy, creative ideas, and new ways of thinking. What’s the worst that could happen? We end up exactly where we are now – our citizens dying, our tax base shrinking, and our children uneducated. Jaime Lerner, a world-renowned architect & urban planner, recently described urban growth like this: “If you want creativity, cut a zero off your budget. If you want sustainability, cut off two.”
The zero has been lopped off and we now face one of the direst fiscal situations in recent memory. It’s time to get creative, and chart a new course for our community. Kindly leave your baggage at the door, bring your crayons, envision the future, and know that Memphis’ young professionals are ready for action.