Today, we drove down Winchester from FedEx World Headquarters to Lamar Avenue and drove by a former home in Hickory Hill. Later, we drove down Germantown Parkway from Germantown to Wolfchase.

They were two depressing drives. With one, we passed empty big box buildings, more check cashing companies than restaurants, boarded up gas stations, deserted strip malls and a disturbing array of deterioration. On the other, we passed miles and miles of nondescript shopping centers drained of all eye appeal or positive energy for the neighborhoods around them.

As we drove, we thought of the words of a local planning official in today’s Commercial Appeal. In a report about Gray’s Creek laudable preservation efforts, she sounded like she sees her role as being a defender of development: “They haven’t taken this posture of no change and against all development. The city and county have to be able to continue to grow and develop. If they don’t, then they will just become stagnant.”

Real Growth

Funny, but it seemed to us that what we are doing now is creating two kinds of stagnancy – one on Winchester connected to dying areas and the other on Germantown Parkway for its stagnant sense of place.

If government has been trying to make sure we “grow and develop,” we sure could use some benign neglect.

After all, there’s not any real growth in Shelby County. Instead, city and county governments have conspired through their incentives and policies to fuel the most massive relocation of citizens in the history of Memphis, as the middle class abandoned the city for suburban sprawl.

Masked And Anonymous

In that way, it was peculiar for her to suggest that Memphis should “continue” to grow. Take away its ability to mask its loss of population through annexation and Memphis should be a leader of the shrinking city movement.

Words matter.

At this point, we’d consider it a success if our planning officials could just use some adverbs. We’d feel better if instead of saying that “city and county have to be able to continue to grow and develop,” she could at least say, “city and county have to grow sensibly and develop responsibly.”

And if the words could be converted into an operating philosophy for city and county governments, it would be the greatest legacy that our planners could give us.