Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns was in Memphis recently to share his passion about America’s places and what can be done to build a town or neighborhood the right obtaining the highest return on infrastructure investments.

During his visit, he gave special emphasis to the Elvis Presley Boulevard improvements that we wrote about earlier this week.  As we wrote, we are concerned about the highway’s expensive improvements simply being more of the same – aimed at shaving a few seconds off automobile travel while doing nothing to create a positive sense of place.

In response to our Tuesday post, Mr. Marohn commented and then posted some observations on his own blog.

First his comment:  “This is such an important project.  I really hope you can get it right.  Thanks for this article.  I posted some follow up thoughts just now on my website to get you an alternative to consider.”

Click here to read “Memphis Diversion.

Mr. Marohn calls Elvis Presley Boulevard a STROAD (street/road hybrid) and suggests the challenge is “to transform this STROAD from a corridor solely purposed for moving cars to a place that creates value for the community.”  He writes that it is likely to cost less than what is being considered ($47 million) and generate a much higher rate of return.  He also points out that “with a little love” for the design in front of Graceland, “this place will pop.”

In his visit to Memphis, sponsored by Urban Land Institute and the Mayor’s Innovation Team, Mr. Marohn gave one of his “curbside chats” that have attracted so much attention from people who care about design, vibrancy, affordable transportation, public realm, and reducing the costs associated with land use, transportation, and development.  If you didn’t get to hear his presentation,  his “Curbside Chat Companion Booklet” is available here.

Because it’s always instructive to see yourself as others see you, you should read Mr. Marohn’s post from April 25 while he was in Memphis.   Here’s how it starts:

“Today is my last day here in Memphis, a city I am finding more endearing by the hour. As an outsider, I have a license to be both optimistic and critical. There are reasons for both, although I have found more justification for optimism here than many of the other places I have visited recently in this country. This city has a strong core, great bones, a rich history and — to a person that I have met — a tremendous inner spirit.

“While the problems are deep, serious and systematic, I would bet on the resilience of Memphis more than the flashier cities I recently visited in California or the more affluent cities in Florida and Texas where we did Curbside Chats this spring.  Part of that is a product of the fact that things have been tough here — the crazy growth seen in California, Florida and Texas has largely passed this place by — and so they don’t suffer from the growth hangover (and huge overhang of obligations) that others face. They’ve actually had to start getting real already, something many other cities are still struggling to figure out. When I share the details of the growth Ponzi scheme, I find they already implicitly understand it. That’s huge.”

To read the rest of Guerilla Painting, click here.

Here’s a taste of Mr. Marohn’s provocative and timely presentation:

The following is a more thorough presentation of Mr. Marhohn’s “Curbside Chat,” and it’s a great investment of 15 minutes.