As food for thought for the new year, we’ve asked an array of people to give us their wish for 2007. The following is the first installment:

Gary Shorb, CEO, Methodist Healthcare:

For 2007, my hope is that we have a safer city. It will take a well coordinated, well led and community supported effort but we can and must do it!

Lee Warren, Senior Vice-President of Marketing, Center City Commission:

I wish our community leaders have an opportunity in 2007 to seek and review best practice solutions and results from other peer cities for the numerous challenges facing our city for possible implementation here. This is in no way to suggest that our own city problems can’t be solved by Memphians, because ultimately they can and they will be. However, sharing ideas with people in other cities will ultimately further raise our awareness, lift our profile, garner respect and in the end, help us attain what most progressive-minded citizens desire: to reside in a city known by residents and visitors alike as a world-class city, one that is a destination and one that offers an even greater quality of life.

Searching for best practice models to learn from and customize to address our most complex issues may indeed lead to an opening of eyes to help build consensus, generate results that further lift our good domestic and international profile, and propel Memphis to the forefront of progressive-thinking cities that proactively deal with the perennial obstacles of crime, poor education, low standards, poverty and a general disregard for civic-mindedness.

Barry Chase, President, Memphis Regional Planned Parenthood:

My wish for Memphis is a comprehensive sexuality education program in every school, public and private, starting no later than the third grade and continuing through the twelfth.

Teen pregnancy and single teen mothers continue the poverty cycle for themselves and their children. We must give young people the tools they need to lead healthy lives so they and their children can realize their full potential. By far the best opportunity to teach our society about the responsibility that comes with sexual activity is in school since most Memphis parents consider discussion of sex the third rail of parenting. As long as abstinence only is the mantra of our sex education, we will continue to have teen pregnancies. If we want to break the cycle, we have to face the realities that our children face every day in our sexually charged society.

Ruby Bright, Executive Director, Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis:

My wish for Memphis 2007 is that the City and the County will find a common space to come together and address the crime crisis that we face at this time. The continued growth of crime diminishes our hope for a brighter future at all levels from education to community outreach for social change. Social justice seems to be a good common spot to begin addressing the matter. For those of us who are on the ground each day battling the community social service issues related to those most marginalized (women and children), we need to have the confidence that there is the basic level of security in place for all citizens.

Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter:

Very difficult to name only one, so here are three briefly:

1. Reconsideration of Joint Board of Control — The county needs to respond to our debt situation relatively quickly. While there are arguments to be made about the impact of development, additional fees, special school districts or consolidation, a joint board of control working in conjunction with the Needs Assessment Committee could set priorities for school construction, develop short-range and long-range plans and funding recommendations and manage school construction costs.

2. Governance and master plan for Shelby Farms — A master plan can’t be completed by the end of ’07, but substantial progress can be made. More importantly, we can establish a governance structure to ensure the master plan is developed and implemented and begin gathering funding from both public and private sources. I believe we can have a governance structure agreed to by this fall, if not sooner. Having the right governance structure and the right people as a part of the structure is the most critical factor to ensuring Shelby Farms reaches its full potential.

3. A comprehensive, reasoned approach to reforming Juvenile Court — Regardless of the second judge issue, there are problems that must be addressed for the sake of children and families affected by the system. As the issue becomes more contentious and racially charged we are getting further and further away from the critical issues of adequate legal representation, alternatives to incarceration, disproportionate minority contact, and organizational and operational issues that make the court confusing and often unfriendly. We know the problems, but an outside expert could tell us how to best fix them.

Andy Dolich, President of Business Operations, Memphis Grizzlies:

For all of its citizens to inject a daily dose of human DECENY in their interactions with each other.

Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz:

My wish has multiple parts. I wish for the County and City to find some more governmental operations to consolidate like the Housing Authorities and the Fire Departments. I wish for the City and County to have the patience to allow Bass Pro Shops to take the Pyramid off the taxpayers back. I wish for the County Commission to choose a jail solution which includes either a privately owned and operated jail or the repositioning of the Corrections Center into a Jail East by allowing the State of Tennessee to house their prisoners elsewhere. I also wish the County and City will adopt a Unified Development Code to update our land use regulations to encourage more livable communities in the City and the suburban county. Except for the consolidation matters which seem to go on forever, I believe these other wishes can all come true in 2007.

Dorothy Gunter Pugh, Founder and Artistic Director, Ballet Memphis:

I know that Memphis has so many challenges we all hope can be met and conquered. So my wish, which leads to another wish, is that more Memphians, particularly those who are in the fortunate positions of being able to “move and shake,” would move like the dancers of Ballet Memphis move, and extend themselves as broadly and thoughtfully as possible. And the way choreographers move and shake, because they want to explore human possibilities, and reach beyond our boundaries and add to our experiences. If we all placed a high value on engaging in artistic experiences, we might understand more about working together to create really valuable opportunities for more people. We’d understand the rush that creative accomplishment at the most excellent level can give us. We could become what we used to be, and didn’t know we were, a city where new, fantastic art for all people was made. But this time, we would appreciate it while it was alive in our midst….

Barbara Holden, Urban Child Institute:

As someone with a passionate commitment for the development of young children, I’m fortunate to be involved in a vitally important initiative to our city’s future – a collaborative effort to improve our community over the long term by improving the health and welfare of children prenatal to age 5.

The work happening at The Urban Child Institute is a strategically vital approach to improving quality of life in Shelby County in the future. By involving stakeholders in government, business, health care, education, child care and philanthropy, we are addressing corrosive social trends in our city that impact poverty, crime, education and quality of life outcomes. It’s the same battle that is taking shape in other large urban centers.

My hope for 2007 is that we enlighten and involve even more Shelby Countians into this effort, because the long-term prosperity of our community is at stake. We will not win the battle this year, but rather continue to make progress down a long, long road.

We know improvement is possible, and that young lives can be impacted in positive, lasting ways. As a society, we have invested relatively little in the cognitive and social development of our youngest children – even though we now know that 85 percent of brain development occurs before age 5 and that behaviors take shape in these earliest years. Instead, we spend much more on courts, incarceration, remedial education, welfare, substance abuse programs and other programs to address problems after the fact.

Science and long-term studies are clear – investing money on early child development by getting the most impoverished and at-risk children in positive, nurturing and academic environs saves money because those children emerge better prepared for life and make better life decisions. At-risk children involved in quality early child programs have better high school educational experiences, are more likely to go to college and earn a better living. They tend to stay clear of drugs and crime. The return on investment is immense – for every $1 spent on early child development we can eliminate $7 in later-life costs.

This is a long-term effort – but it is taking shape in Shelby County. Our ‘First Years Last a Lifetime’ public campaign and the work at The Urban Child Institute is considered a model by other large cities who share our same challenges.

My wish for 2007: get more Shelby County residents to understand that we must develop and nurture our youngest citizens because the generations ahead will determine our community’s quality of life.

Stephanie Gatewood, Memphis City Schools’ Board of Commissioners:

As a local leader in the great city of Memphis, I have yet one wish. This wish is very vast, so much that if we tackle this one issue, all other issues will fall in place.

The wish that I have is greater accountability for our communities as it relates to our youth development. Mentoring future leaders; providing economic development to neighborhoods. Our youth are reaching out to parents, community leaders, churches. What are they saying? They are pleading for us to help them! We must focus on reinventing the neighborhoods to provide them with activities to do after school, on spring break, during winter, and summer breaks. We must provide them with hope, a dream. Provide them with jobs after school, ensure that they have extra curricular activities after 3:00 If we sit back and let nothing happen, who are we to blame?

Research has indicated that an increase in teenage pregnancy, Juvenile crimes and, gang initiations occur most often between the hours of 3-6pm. Why? The primary reason is that children want to feel that they belong, (both children and adults.) How can we make a difference? By lobbying the council, the state legislature, the federal government to fully fund the neighbor imitative, one body cannot do it alone, it will take ALL stakeholders. From the students themselves, to the parents, the law enforcement, the community, the corporations, the churches, and the list goes on and on,

This is my wish for 2007. it is a reachable goal, if all of us would do more than our part, we can make it happen!! Remember… WE MUST LEAD BY EXAMPLE.