A few weeks ago, two reporters for Grist magazine, a leader in environmental journalism, were in Memphis as part of a tour of Old Man River from Dubuque to Memphis, and we got the chance to meet with them.

It’s always interesting to see ourselves as others see us, and that certainly goes for Memphis when we are seeing our city through the green-conscious eyes of Sarah van Schagen and Katharine Wroth. We appreciated the opportunity to talk with them about our city and its riverfront, and we found their impressions instructive.

Here’s the posts from their river blog that refer to Memphis:

Along the Mississippi: A developing story

Memphis debates what to do with its riverfront

By Sarah van Schagen

After arriving in Memphis, Tenn., birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, Katharine and I headed straight out to Mud Island for a Smashing Pumpkins concert. (Work related, I swear!) The concert was held at the Mud Island Amphitheater, an open-air venue on the long, narr
rrow peninsula created to shelter a small harbor and keep a meandering tributary on course.

While the Pumpkins performed, my attention was focused on the river flowing just behind them. Even in the cold wind and drizzle, the outdoor arena was a great place to reflect and really connect with the river. But then I began to wonder how people interact with the river when they’re not watching Billy Corgan rock aquamarine manpris and stripey knee-highs.

This morning, we headed out to meet with John Conroy of the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation, the group that manages Mud Island Park and is working to develop a number of areas in downtown Memphis. Conroy showed us aerial maps of the city as well as drawings and a 3D model of RDC’s plans for a major project on the riverfront that includes floating docks to accommodate the changing water levels and a mixed-use promenade that would include stores, restaurants, and residential areas.

You can read the rest of the post by clicking here.

Along the Mississippi: A uniter, not a divider
Memphians hope river can bridge racial divide

I mentioned in my last post that there are a lot of complicating factors involved in decisions about what to do with the riverfront in Memphis, Tenn. Yet another complex issue here, though, is the undeniable racial tension.

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, Memphis went through a major decline, with many people leaving the downtown area and moving to the suburbs, and downtown businesses crumbling as a result. The current population of the city area is primarily black while the suburbs are mostly white, and the two don’t often mix.

But embracing the river could change that.

Tom Jones of Smart City Consulting (and not “It’s Not Unusual”) told us that Memphis will be in the next few years the first majority African-American metro area — a fact that, he says, Memphians are slow to embrace.

“Memphis is built on African-American culture and the river culture,” Jones said. “Strip everything else away and those are the two things that mattered then and matter now. And somehow we need to focus on both of them and quit pretending like each of those factors is a problem.”

To read the rest of the blog post, click here.

Along the Mississippi: A flood of coverage
A recap of our week on the river

Huckleberry Wroth and I survived our travels down the Mississippi last week, and we’ve now returned to our respective coasts to reflect on everything we learned. I must say, visiting three cities in seven days is no lazy float down the river — we covered a lot of ground. Here’s a recap:

In Dubuque, we:

· Chatted with the charming mayor, Roy D. Buol.
· Lunched with city leaders at a conference led by the American Institute of Architects’ Sustainable Design Assessment Team.
· Found some interesting bathroom reading material.
· Talked with the city’s planning services manager about re-embracing the Mississippi.
· Drove the Doris Day up and down the river.
· Got a view of the city from atop the country’s shortest, steepest railroad.

To read the rest of the blog post, click here.