To paraphrase a downtown leader, do you know of a “real” city whose Main Street looks like ours?

Do you know of a “real” city that leaves plywood patches to Main Street for more than a decade to the point that the wood repairs start decaying?

Do you know of a “real” city that would simply be content to allow Main Street to be a constant reminder of our own lack of self-worth?

Do you know of a “real” city that would allow its Main Street to tell every visitor that we just don’t “get” it?

How can we talk about being more than third-rate convention city when we send the message that the public sector is perfectly happy with a third-rate Main Street and a third-rate experience for tourists?  How can we even talk about a new convention center when we can’t even get the basics right?

We know that some of you may think we’re verging on obsession when it comes to the deplorable condition of Main Street, but when you take an out-of-town visitor to lunch and you have to walk a block or two, you see our city through someone else’s eyes.   We are in a word, embarrassed.

As you walk past repairs that would be rejected by a high school shop class, it is impossible to avoid multiple plywood repairs, broken drainage grates, and shattered tile dividers.  From Poplar to Peabody Place, there are 59 plywood patches passing as repairs to broken grates on Main Street, and some of the plywood patches are eight feet long.

We’ve written before about the impact of the “intuitive city,” the city that registers on us subliminally before we’ve even consciously begun to for opinions about a city.  The intuitive city responds to public art, public realm, and urban design.  We can remember having positive feelings about Austin and we hadn’t even gotten out of the airport yet, because of the Austin-centric elements and designs.  We remember the same feeling in Portland, Oregon, because of manhole covers that were designed by artists.

So, what is the intuitive city that we’re presenting to our visitors – and to our own residents – on Main Street?

To quote Malcolm X, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.  If we won’t stand for a Main Street that represents the best that Memphis has to offer, maybe it’s why we have a history of falling for so many magic answers to our problems.


There’s a lot of long overdue, much-needed discussion these days about bringing more rationality to gun laws, but we were shocked the other day by a display of serious-looking knives being sold at Exxon’s Tiger Mart in downtown Memphis.