B.E.G.-2015 is a not-so tongue-in-cheek plan to:

a)      Spend $5 million to attract smart people or BRAINS to Memphis.  The M-Prize for Brains was discussed in the last post.

b)      Inspire commitment or ENERGY from existing Memphians to finish something big.

c)       Exploit profit motivations or GREED to keep the process rolling along.

Leland Speed (Chairman of Parkway Properties, proud community leader and thoughtful mentor) has told me many times he’d trade a room full of ivy leaguers telling him how to do something for one energetic go-getter that will head out and work to close the deal.  He may have been saying this primarily because he was talking to me and praising my smarts would be fruitless.  However, the point is well taken and applicable to our city building efforts.

Only 22% of Memphis’s current adult population has a bachelor’s degree or above.  The MSA only fairs slightly better at 24%.  We may not be the sharpest tacks in the box.  But this does not mean we have to give up.  Our public schools are working to advance more students and dozens of community groups are doing their parts to prepare students outside of school.  But this does not mean we have to wait.

We can all get to work now on building the city we want.  We all have the energy just idling until directed toward something… but what?

Stop planning

Perhaps one of our biggest problems is that we keep moving on to the next plan.  Smart City estimates we have over 165 plans that have been produced for our city over the last seven years.  I may have had a hand in producing a few, some going back farther than that.

Today we are debating the future of the Fairgrounds, a specific area plan.  We are hearing more and more about Aerotropolis, a regional plan.  We have University District plans, Medical District plans, Collierville Small Area plans, Greenway plans and Germantown Smart Growth plans.  I remember Main Street plans… South Main plans, Core Demonstration Project plans, Pinch District plans.  Some of these are in various stages of completion but few if any are approaching finality.

Why?  It is cheap and easy to plan.  It costs a lot of money to do things.  It takes energy to do things.  Some people get left out and other people benefit.  Hard decisions have to be made.  Elected officials do not like to say no, so they fund a plan.  But without the commitment to implement, with all of our heart and enthusiasm, all we are left with is a coffee table book and a lot of angry constituents.

Finish what we started

Before we jump into the next big thing, can we please work on the last big thing?  We need energy.  We need commitment.  We need to understand what is important, what is not and the priorities in between.  We need to commit to alignment of resources.  We have the data.  We have the strategies.  We just don’t have the commitment or the energy to take on the battle.

In education circles where planning can crush the life out of districts, a wave of success is being brought about just by saying once and for all, “start working on the work!”

Actions are more important than plans.

Actions we need

1)      Pick something to work on.  Take the 165 plans, cull them to the most important and shelve the rest.

2)      Commitment by everyone to do their part and commitment by everyone to do it even if no one else shows up.

3)      Resources to finish the job.

The Power of 10

The Project For Public Spaces uses The Power of 10 when designing great places.  The theory is that a park, museum, city or any other interesting place needs ten focal points.  And, there should be ten things to do at each of those focal points.  This concept makes sense for multiple reasons.  The biggest reason may be that it engages people and captures their attention enough to keep them motivated.

According to PPS President, Fred Kent, “This gives people something tangible to strive for… it helps them visualize what it takes to make their town or city great.”

B.E.G.-2015 Energy Strategy

  • Let’s pick 10 projects, plans or neighborhoods from the big stack.
  • Identify 10 leaders to actually work on each.
  • Target 10 existing focal points in each of these areas.
  • Create 10 mechanisms to promote each existing focal point.
  • Animate or program each focal point 10 different ways.
  • Identify 10 parcels or projects to be improved around each focal point.
  • Repeat.

What if we used this thinking around the trolley line?  We put it in and then moved on to the next thing without demanding zoning changes or development incentives or any other mechanism to make it successful.  We have over $100 million invested in trolley track that links billions of dollars in other sunk costs like office buildings, sewer lines and cultural institutions.  What if there were ten high-density, mixed-use neighborhoods linked along this defined, immobile route of existing infrastructure?  Each with ten focal points that are animated in ten unique ways?  A series of interesting and important neighborhoods linked together with transit could foster a new identity for Memphis… if we committed the enthusiasm for finishing what we started.

To become enthusiastic, people need tasks and direction, they need a voice in the beginning and a sense of accomplishment in the end, and they need the ability to articulate their mission and freedom to cultivate new partners.  All of this can start with 100 people working on 10 small but identifiable projects.  Or, 10 people working on just one big one.

In the next post, we’ll discuss the true difference-maker… Greed.