Inspired by the Memphis Flyer’s cover story of a few weeks ago, we asked you the same question:

What would you do if you were in charge of Memphis?

Thanks to those of you who took the time to comment.

Here’s a few of your answers:

Santo said…

Start a campaign called “Live Where You Live,” encouraging Memphians who might otherwise run away from the problems of the city (by relocating to the suburbs) to stay and stand to face those challenges in their neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods are not disposable. Ideally this would warrant government action and policy changes, but to be realistic, I’m thinking of something that is free of bureaucratic or political affiliation – a simple and clean grassroots effort. For those of us raising families, a commitment to this city involves risk and legitimate concern. Might some of us be more willing to take that risk if we knew we were not alone in doing so? Would you send your kid to the neighborhood school if you knew I would? What if you knew there was a whole group of Live Where You Livers who would too.

Exile On South Main Street said…

1. Merge the City and County Governments, schools, and police forces.
In no particular order…

2. Reopen precincts and co-act units in neighborhoods throughout the city. Combine them with code enforcement offices, so that residents have a “one stop shop” for their public safety and code enforcement needs (could also be great places for free tax help, voter registration, etc.).

3. Visit Nashville with a contingent of several hundred high performing charter school students to testify and force a change in charter school law. Make these schools the dynamic, functional neighborhood institutions that they can and should be.

4. Make our city’s contemporary arts and music scene a priority. Try to find a way to work with our local non-profit community development industry to create mini-neighborhoods of affordable housing for working artists and musicians. As much as I love South Main, it represents a missed opportunity to me because so few artists can afford to live in our vaunted “arts district.” Maybe we engage artists/musicians in renovating existing housing stock throughout the city in exchange for free or discounted rent?

5. Create a good-natured competition among our local advertising/marketing agencies to see who can develop the best rebranding campaign for Memphis–one that is targeted TOWARD MEMPHIANS. What is great about our city? How do we communicate that to people who already live here? How do we make our own citizens our own best ambassadors? Although the CVB would have you believe otherwise, Memphis is more than fatty foods and old musicians. Who can do the best job of proving that?

6. Invest in free municipal, city-wide, wireless internet access.

7. Require PILOT businesses to commit their employees to a certain number of volunteer hours in public schools (caveat: I stole this idea from my wife because I think it’s genius.)

Zippy the giver

As a person who has been in the real music biz, I find the opportunities for me to make money here disappointing and the political atmosphere that affects it equally so. If I had moved here only for my job, I would have moved away a long time ago. I can’t think of one good musician I know that has moved here that hasn’t voiced the same opinion, unsolicited. That Music Commission has had long enough to produce some fruit on the vine and I see none. I haven’t given up though; it’s not an option. There are good people here; it just takes so long to find them.

Anonymous said…

1. Consolidate city and county governments.

2. Remove any disincentives to live in Memphis (financial/educational/safety).Make it cheaper to live in Memphis than in the suburbs.

3. Attempt to revitalize what were once solid middle class neighborhoods (Whitehaven, Oakhaven, Parkway Village, Raleigh, etc.), shifting attention from high profile areas (downtown, etc.). This will “spread the love” where it is needed most.

4. Create zero tolerance policies (like was done in NYC) for graffiti, code violations, etc.

5. Clean the asbestos from East High School and make it the best school, public or private, in the metro area. Attract all of the high achieving students that have left MCS to return.

6. Help the homeless find shelter, intensifying campaign against soliciting.

7. Turn Pyramid into aquarium, better than Atlanta’s or Chattanooga’s.

8. Create greenbelt/bike trail along rail line, as proposed. Complete the deal. Police with bike patrols and cameras to ensure safety.

9. Develop light rail along train route from Collierville to Downtown.

10. Remove the stain of self enrichment and duplicity that has dominated politics in our fair city for many, many years.

anti-socialist said…

1. Build ginoromous skate park to appeal to the creative class.

2. Nip sprawl in the bud. Nip it!

3. Stop I-269 in its tracks.


First, we need to undertake a comprehensive review of the Raquel Pinderhughes study on Green Collar Jobs in Oakland/Berkeley. It would be a great way to quantify the local industries and give Memphis something else great to talk about, akin to Sustainable Shelby. I’ve already taken more than a cursory look at the study and we have a tremendous opportunity here.

Green Collar Jobs is a great strategy for a community whose assets include a huge workforce that is undereducated and underemployed and underpaid. Rita Harris had a great op-ed in the CA earlier this week about this very thing.

I really believe that once we get people to work in jobs that pay a living wage, with benefits and a career ladder, that are not exploitative of the workforce or the environment, so many other social problems will right themselves.

The other thing we should do is convert Overton Square into a park with grass. That huge parking lot is such an eyesore, and it’s driving away businesses. I use the Memphis Crime Mapper all the time and that parking lot attracts theft. Wouldn’t it be great if it were a Park-n-Bark, a fenced-in area where people with dogs could come frolic? With trees for shade and water fountains? Something more attractive to look out on from the patio at Sidestreet rather than concrete. A place to stroll after seeing a play at Playhouse on the Square…

Here’s what should go in Overton Square (the empty building at the corner of Madison & Cooper): a yoga studio, a bakery, an art gallery, a coffee shop… I can picture it. Can you?

What would someone have to do to promote such an idea?

Harvey said…

1. Hire a full time KIPP Academy Coordinator to facilitate Memphis as the city selected for expansion of multiple KIPP Academies in the City.

2. If I am mayor, then I would hire Willie Herenton and Nick Clark as my two top advisors and not let them leave the room until they figure out how to work with each other.

3. Commission a feasibility study to figure out if it makes sense to create a light railway transportation system that connects Frayser, Downtown, Raleigh, East Memphis, Airways and Midtown.

4. Buy the Sears Building at Watkins and North Parkway. Have a study done on the building (under 40K) to figure out its potential uses. If it makes sense to use the building as a college, offer Crichton College tax breaks to occupy the building and offer it to them to own if they pay 30 years of rent at $140,000 per year.

7. Hire 5 sub superintendents at $150,000 per year. These superintendents would be over a geographical “sub school district” and would report to the superintendent. Have the superintendent mentor these “sub superintendents” with an eye toward: 1) Having one of them be the next Memphis superintendent and 2) Memphis becoming a factory for future superintendents in other districts.

Anonymous 3:46 said…

I would focus on making Memphis an alternative energy manufacturing hub. Our proximity to the river and train frieght, plus cheap, clean water, relatively inexpensive electricity, and a large workforce could be major competive advantages. I would try to get solar, wind, and hydro manufacturing plants to locate in the Firestone area (after just about the entire area is leveled). I’d also create a mass transit rail line using the pre-existing, unused line that runs from second street to the Bungalow-Crump area. The city could work it’s way east redeveloping these neighborhoods. A nice thing about these neighborhoods are their close proximity to the Wolf river. You combine mass transit, new urbanism, and short walk to a large nature area. The city has already rebuilt Manassas high school and is building a new High school in Bungalow-Crump, so some educational infrastructure is in place. With Peak oil coming, energy manufacturing will be an increasing sector of the economy, plus it will be cheaper to live in the city than out is suburbs. Memphis has a narrow window to prepare for the changes coming.

Anonymous said…

I would focus on making Memphis an alternative energy manufacturing hub. Our proximity to the river and train freight, plus cheap, clean water, relatively inexpensive electricity, and a large workforce could be major competitive advantages. I would try to get solar, wind, and hydro manufacturing plants to locate in the Firestone area (after just about the entire area is leveled). I’d also create a mass transit rail line using the pre-existing, unused line that runs from Second Street to the Bungalow-Crump area. The city could work its way east redeveloping these neighborhoods. A nice thing about these neighborhoods are their close proximity to the Wolf River. You combine mass transit, new urbanism, and short walk to a large nature area. The city has already rebuilt Manassas High School and is building a new high school in Bungalow-Crump, so some educational infrastructure is in place. With peak oil coming, energy manufacturing will be an increasing sector of the economy, plus it will be cheaper to live in the city than out is suburbs. Memphis has a narrow window to prepare for the changes coming.

Anonymous said…

Having 385 as a toll road is smart. Tax the exurbs for their real use … quick and easy commuter conduit for the rich around the city to the airport.

Overton Square does not need to be a park. We have Overton Park three blocks away. The square needs to be a dense mid-rise conglomeration of new office space, living space and retail for Midtown (the true example of New Urbanism in Memphis as always). Midtown needs an injection of smart new digs for creative offices and living.

I love the idea of the Sears tower as a museum. How about a subsidized open space for art collectives, non-profit headquarters and housing for those artists and volunteers/activists? To get an office there or space, you have to commit to the development of the Watkins/Cleveland corridor from Orange Mound to Frayser. The Sears Tower goes from being a towering ornament of decay to a towering ornament of progressive action. The word “action” would be the operative word there.

How about a University of Memphis bus line (instead of a 4 million dollar railroad pedestrian overpass) that covers the surrounding neighborhoods and cuts down on the lame 2-mile commutes of some students. Makes the apartments along Southern even more enticing and opens up more areas for students to rent in the Sherwood Forest neighborhoods that have been sliding for 10 years now. Oh, have the buses run every 10 minutes instead of 45 minutes too!

Get rid of those warehouses on Broad and open up the north side of that street to some cheap retail and housing developments.

Get a damn grocery store in Uptown!

Put bars and restaurants all over Mud Island and let the River Museum move over somewhere in downtown and let the Island be what it can be … a great entertainment district that will eventually be the site of casinos when the state of Tennesseee pulls its head out of it’s a$$.

Anonymous said…

I’m Anonymous 3:46. I read about how well Charlotte, NC, is doing redeveloping areas of their city along their rail lines. Memphis has a vast amount of space in North Memphis. The populations in these areas, especially in New Chicago have dropped by close to 2/3’s over the past 25 years. You already have the sewer lines and infrastructure in place.

Here is the problem the city faces, energy prices will continue to rise. (There may be short term fluctuations because severe recessions may drop demand.) If we attract alternative energy manufacturing, we will be ahead of much of the rest of the country as the switch from fossil fuels occurs. But, and this is a big but, we have to do it quickly because as energy prices goes up, there will be less and less money available to invest in infrastructure changes. Does anyone think Memphis will be in a better financial condition in 2013 than it is today? It won’t and by that time, we will be competing with other cities for those renewable energy manufacturing plants. We have advantages (water, transport, labor force, cheap electricity) if we invest in attracting manufacturing companies now it will create positive momentum to bring even more companies in as the trends picks up speed.

As for gentrification, I don’t have a very negative opinion about Hope VI projects and section 8. Some modifications can be done to better track people and coordinate supportive services. Some gentrification will happen like in Uptown, but here is the most you can offer lower income people in Hyde park and Douglas-Bungalow: access to economic opportunity by providing fast public transportation and close proximity decent jobs.

We reached the zenith of globalization a couple years ago. Shipping costs and rising wages in China, have started to shift manufacturing again. In a decade or less you are going to see relocalization of production and the suburbs will die. (They already are starting to now.) We have to move quickly on this. Forget convention centers and shit like that, tourism isn’t going to be what it used to be either because of fuel costs, look at the future and prepare.

Aaron said…

3:46: You’re on the money again! I love the way you cut to the chase and focus on what the positive actions that must be taken.

I think Memphis is strongly poised to move back into the manufacturing sector of materials involved with generating alternative power. However, what must change is the mission of the company. A new business sector with the same corporate philosophy of being the biggest, the best and returning the most the shareholder is not going to change our economic condition – it will merely continue to put money in a select group of pockets.

What we also need are new companies that exist to serve their local communities. What does this look like? Companies should be partnering with government organization to work towards empowering their employees with property ownership and have ongoing educational classes that teach employees how to downsize their consumption habits and be leaders in their own communities.

Humans are faced with learning to once again be better stewards of the earth and we are seeing this with the alternate energy sector growing. But will we learn to be better stewards of our fellow humans during this energy evolution. Will our souls continue to co-evolve with our technologies? (MLK touched on this).

Zippy the giver said…

Aaron, you’re turning it into a “hope” for the future instead of a future. We have a huge population of ex-convicts here right now, that can’t get a job. Lots of ex-cons re-entering — new industry needing to be born — retraining program to teach success and value needed that pays a living wage — city in need of major budget trimming — Utility in need of total restructuring — It all equals a surplus in tax revenues and a possible removal of taxes.

When you aren’t generating convicts due to a more enlightened society that gets paid enough, you don’t need a big jail or a lot of stuff that makes that happen, when you retrain the ex-cons you have they don’t go back to jail and they don’t make more aspiring inmates because they have found real value not being one or doing that. You would have to get the new working school systems to happen at the same time too because they could destroy all the good work if left the way they are.

I bet 50% or more of Memphis is ex-cons, I’m lowering the numbers from my personal experience of Memphis. We are making more exponentially every day. We don’t do an “effective” job of retraining them at all for many different reasons including badly designed, or undesigned, programs and lack of trainers.
That said, we could train those getting out in the manufacture of the very energy products that ANON 3:46 spoke of. We have plenty of wind, year round, in Memphis. Wind power generation is going to be useful here, hydro-electric could be useful, geo-thermal is the big one.

Energy smart (on a different paradigm than the current definition of the moniker) product manufacturing could be done here and we could teach Vo-Tech classes on modification of existing HVAC units to include hot water assist, (currently used in Canada), There is also a solar hot water assist that can be coupled to a very large tank, using the HVAC cold return to assist built in food refrigerators, different roofing techniques and products to lower heat transfer to buildings, train them to be valuable contributions to society that can get paid doing it and I bet you have a 3 way winner.


Anonymous said…

3:46 here again.

Aaron in reference to: A new business sector with the same corporate philosophy of being the biggest, the best and returning the most the shareholder is not going to change our economic condition- it’s will merely continue to put money in a select group of pockets.” I would suggest you look at the Mondragon Cooperative in the Basque region of Spain. Started in 1956 by a priest and it now has 150 companies ranging from financial to manufacturing. One word to describe the Mondragon is “amazing.”

Zippy the giver said…

If I ran Memphis, these are the things I would do:

UTILITIES: I would sell MLGW and I would take the profits and put some Vertical and Horizontal Axis Wind, Solar, and Solar Heat Powered Sterling motor Generators and distribute them around the city for free electric for city service. I would absolutely power all city functions from this system, each city building having its own plus generating power into the system, and cut the tax burden to near nothing. It’s time the City actually benefits the citizens. If you run it right there will be no need for handouts to those in need. MLGW’s billing practices are highly suspect and the lack of accountability and accurate record keeping should be looked into by the federal government. I had it proven to me by a meter reader and two supervisors that meters were read correctly by their people and MLGW consistently over billed “as guestimated.” I was informed that they do this to large targeted areas. I thought my bill was high, so, I asked my neighbors because I just could not fathom the “conspiracy.” The neighbors confirmed their bills were also way too high. So, the meter reader wrote a letter stating that he had read the meter and that the bill was a lie. I took that to customer service and they immediately called his supervisor and threatened his job. Something is very wrong there.

ENERGY PRODUCTS: Homes need to be retrofitted with AC units with hot water heater assist (the hot coil wraps around the hot water tank). We don’t need to be selling any AC units not designed that way. We could put solar hot water cells on the roofs for heating and hot water. This technology is fully developed and sold regularly. We can build them here. Solar lights in the house can be gathered with a roof reflector system and brought into the house via fiber optics then distributed inside and assisted by bulbs. This technology is fully developed right now and already has distributors. The patent is open. We can build systems here. We can manufacture and deploy passive heating panels made from old metal security doors that heat to 120 degrees and run them off sunny south walls. This technology exists and is commercially available now. We can manufacture them here. Begin purchasing 100% electric vehicles for city services.

PENSIONS: I would put all pension plans to 401K-style plans that require no further money from the citizens once vested. That way you can open as many as you’re willing to invest in till you retire costing the citizens nothing. Take that excuse away for raising taxes.

SCHOOLS: I would consolidate the schools and the tax base to one base. I would abolish the School Board and City Council since they have proven to be impotent at creating success and very wasteful with pensions and state funds and unaccountable to oversight. They have created parochial infighting, racism in the Boardroom, and destroyed entire districts. That is unacceptable and it must end. I would begin keeping stats on educational excellence per school, per grade, per class, and get rid of those who can not deliver results, but, I would take the individual students for a second assessment after they prove to be trouble to put them through mandatory additional training. I would take two full weeks of school and put all students and teachers through a self actualization course that would have them work cooperatively to generate excellence on purpose in grades and citizenship from the ages of 8 on up in every school in every neighborhood. Two weeks to successfully generate excellence is cheap! With the money saved on board members salaries and pensions and utilities it would be no problem. I would start year round schools, all of them. Let both parents work one job. I would integrate a public service school into the curriculum complete with projects to affect neighborhoods.
Every School would get a playground, a generator system, a community garden, a track and field (where possible) and after school coaches for sports and academics free to all. Make all school system records public other than students personal identification records and get a 100% transparent reporting and budgeting system.

RE CRIME: Chief of Police would be an applied for job regardless of who is in power, no more appointees. That is not meant as a slant against the current chief, he just should not ever be beholding to a political entity. Real-time cameras would be deployed on a statistical basis throughout high crime areas to help identify offenders and facilitate arrests. I would change the laws for sexual offenders, they get life. Murderers are easier to rehabilitate and not one instance of a successful rapist or child molester has ever been garnered.
Gangs and offenders with guns would be treated as domestic terrorists since that’s what they are. I would make it mandatory that we hire enough prosecutors for the case load required. Three years is a long time for an offender to be out on the streets committing more crimes while awaiting trial.
Bail amounts would rise considerably. Judicial Oversight would become mandatory to stop corruption on the bench. I would make sure we have enough judges also, a new jail would be necessary too, outside the city center. It would have a retraining center and a farm. It would have the required wind and solar generators. Rehabilitatable inmates would be required to take a retraining course, learn to farm, and take on multiple projects that would require an ability to succeed in life in a legal way. They would be assessed to determine if there was an educational deficit that could be addressed also and that would be made available after retraining. Blue Crush would stay in operation and we would hire the appropriate amount of officers for our city. No more making an economy out of doing nothing about crime.

JUVENILE OFFENDERS: Any juvenile offender and their parent would have to attend retraining classes and complete them and a community project successfully in the neighborhood the offense took place to be released.
Inmates would be responsible for making wind generators and farming during their retraining course. Oversight: There would be mandatory oversight for all departments of MPD to ensure they are doing the job in an unbiased way and that the job is getting done.

Pretending not to have seen a crime being committed and refusal to testify gets you one year and suspension of your voting privileges in addition to any contempt of court jailtime, not reporting a crime when you were definitely a witness gets 1 year and suspension of voting privileges.

Reinstate the loitering law.
Electronic police reports on every call. Helps pinpoint statistical based deployment of resources including cameras.

Copies of police reports should be free to the victims of crime.

1. A law that states that if 3 to 5 unrelated neighbors complain that a
tenant, or, a landlord in the case of multiple tenants in multiple
dwellings, or, pernicious thugs at the same rental address under any
landlord’s administration including community associations and Memphis
Housing Authority, the tenant will be ejected immediately demanded to
vacate the premises and neighborhood by at least 4 miles within 24 hours
of notice to vacate and if the landlord puts another thug in that
address his property will be seized, emptied, and sold to (neighborhood
block club has right of first refusal) a screened buyer or torn down or
rehabbed for non rental occupation.

A law that states that anyone caught using minors, children to mule
drugs around a neighborhood to hide it from police gets a mandatory 5
year sentence with no parole for first offense and add 1 year per year
the minors are under the age of 18.

A law that states that you can not put a building with rents below
market value enough to promote undesirable tenants, destroying the
neighborhood and harming the established rental market pricing for that
area. One problem is that some landlords are asking $300-$400 below the
average rental price.

A law that states that if you are a convicted felon you can not hold
any public office in Tennessee and if you are under indictment or
investigation or pending any trial, you can not vote on any issue and
must take a leave from any public service position.

A law that states that if you are a gang member you can not hold ANY
public service job including and especially POLICE OFFICER.

A law that states that if you threaten a person with death and a
racial or religious epithet is uttered in the threat you will be
prosecuted and do jail time of at least 2 years no parole.

DHS: Background checks and disqualifications from housing applicants for criminal records indicating drugs, rape, child molestation or endangerment, domestic violence or assault, aggravated assault, stalking, DUI, open warrants, prostitution, any recalcitrant criminal behavior, or any type of felony.

201 POPLAR: Make all defendants wait in a waiting room nowhere near plaintiffs or state’s witnesses or victims.

ELECTIONS: I would fire the current election commission and hire a group of people who can get a handle on election fraud to take over, higher requirements for poll workers, i.e. no criminal records. Anyone found tampering with or benefiting tampering with an election is disqualified and barred from voting forever. Death and incarceration records must be immediately electronically reported and linked with election records, no more long “fudge period”.

THE MED: Once it is fitted for required city generators, it would probably become viable and be able to expand its capabilities. I would also demand that stats be kept accurately so that ineffective staff gets retrained or let go.

TRANSPORTATION: I would have a light-rail line that used the freeway system and branched into neighborhoods shadowed by electric city buses that would all meet at designated pool parking lots with bike racks recharging stations for electric vehicles.

ENTERTAINMENT: The current policy of booking one venue only downtown would be abolished. The Pyramid would become a booked venue or be sold. The road structure would be changed downtown to facilitate the timely entry and exit to multiple working entertainment venues downtown to the freeway system without clogging downtown streets.

FILM AND MUSIC INDUSTRY: I would abolish the Music Commission since it has destroyed many opportunities rather than enhance them and merge it with the Film Commission. Tax incentives and other such incentives would have a regular role in enticing moviemakers to film in Memphis and recording artists to record here. I would also stop them from providing free services in a free market and destroying people’s livelihood with “bad ideas” akin to communism.

One of the biggest things it all filters through is, “If Memphis is so right about all the things it does the way it does it, why are we in last place trying to convince ourselves we aren’t?”
We need to think of solutions not based on anything currently happening as a solution in Memphis right now. We also need to address the core issues of our disfunction as a city down to the personal level. There was once a “human potential exploration” movement and it looks like it passed Memphis by a long time ago without setting foot here.
We should put that in too.