The following was a guest post on the blog of the Mid-South Regional Greenprinting plan:

There are few things in American life that we can approach with a “build it and they will come” attitude.

Greenlines and bike lanes are two exceptions.

That was a message delivered by city planner and architectural designer Jeff Speck in a Memphis presentation a couple of weeks ago about how to make the riverfront more vibrant.  “There is a revolution under way and we’re seeing that ‘if you build it, they will in fact come,’” he said, referring to investments being made across the U.S. in bike trails and greenlines.

It’s a theme he emphasizes in his highly regarded new book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time.  As former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts and town planner for Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (of New Urbanism fame), he has seen the latest magic answers for urban revival come and go.  As a result, he is cautious when it comes to heralding anything that could only be another flash in the pan.

But that’s not how he sees bike and pedestrian trails and greenlines.

Then again, we can see it for ourselves.  Almost 2,000 bikes are attached to the front of MATA buses every month as people look for more sustainable options for their personal lives.  There is the emerging bike culture stimulated by a growing number of bike lanes. Then there are the tens of thousands of people who use the greenline.

All of these were previously unseen, and certainly untapped, users of these green assets, but they only hint at what is coming as sustainability becomes more and more a part of our daily lives.

We have talked a lot in recent years about the need to develop, retain, and attract talented workers who have choices to live and work anywhere.  Bike lanes and green lines are important, and all cities are creating them because they are just the “markers” that 25-34 year-old college-educated workers are looking for.

Markers keep us in the game as these talented workers are deciding where to live, but to seal the deal, when we talk about being a “green city,” we have to do more than talk about amenities. Rather, it’s about a state of mind, an attitude, a lens through which we consider investments. It’s about a green ethos.  It’s about new walking/biking trails, but it’s also about a developed Shelby Farms Park, a better riverfront, and an improved Overton Park, but it also means green policies, sustainable practices, less sprawl, better transit, revitalized neighborhoods, and better transportation policies.

And, as we suggested in our July 2005 post about the need for a Memphis greenprint, it’s also about making a statement about our future.   In 2012, stakeholders and communities from throughout the tri-state Memphis region began participating in the Mid-South Greenprint & Sustainability Plan: Connecting Communities for Our Future effort. The Mid-South Regional Greenprint is so crucial to our future.

This process sends an unmistakable message that no community is more serious about sustainability, about green assets, and about reimagining our region’s future as a result.   Best of all, the greenprinting project never loses contact with what has to be a driving concern for this region: social equity.

It’s important that we make the most of this historic opportunity to develop a distinctive regional approach to sustainability, because it gives us the opportunity to transform our national brand from a region with heavy dependency on fossil fuels to a region determined to be a national leader in innovative ways to leverage sustainability and greenprinting into better lives for our residents, a stronger economy for our workers, and enhanced neighborhoods and cities.

Best of all, in a region where we often think there is more to separate us than to unite us, this greenprinting project delivers the most important message of all: we’re all in this together.

Tom Jones leads Smart City Consulting.  He writes a column for Memphis: The City Magazine and maintains his civic-minded blog called Smart City Memphis.