If you don’t read the comments from readers to our blog posts, you might just be missing the best part.  The following are some recent comments that seemed worthy of being posted here:

Deciding What Memphis Should Be in Its Third Century:

David Ciscel wrote:
I have always liked this quote from Julia Vitullo-Martin’s book, Breaking Away, The Future of Cities:  “Cities work, but not in the understandable, systematic way that social scientists prefer. They work on their own terms–in unpredictable, erratic, and energetic ways. One simply has to face the truth up front: cities are wild, dirty, noisy, dangerous, often ugly places. At their best, cities are exciting, fabulous, compelling, hip agglomerations of people. They are channels of upward mobility, the incubators of new business, and the cultivators of the arts. They triumph over the drive for orderliness.”

Peter Taylor wrote:
We must develop a class of black entrepreneurs and business leaders. Yes, we will have pockets of urban vibrancy in Midtown and Downtown driven by white millennials flooding into the urban core. But without a black middle class a black majority city will never succeed.

Many of the new white young entrepreneurs are being financed by white executives at major Memphis corporations. Which is great, I love investments in our urban core.   But…in a black majority city – Where are the black senior executives at our local corporations? A casual look at the roster of Auto Zone, FedEx, IP, First Horizon list very, very few black senior executives. However, there are many talented black executives in the global marketplace.

I would ask the Chamber to develop a strategy to diversify the top leadership positions at major Memphis based corporations.  Concerned locals should publish a % basis of black leadership at our major corporations. I looked casually at local SENIOR corporate leadership and without exception every company list a large number of white men and one or at most two white women.   If we want to change Memphis for the better, diversify the power structure. And let’s be honest, real power lies in the boardroom, not City Hall.

Baltimore’s Lessons for Memphis:

WCN wrote:
There are some steps the city of Memphis can take to address poverty.
1 – Establish tasks where only qualified and certified small businesses may bid compete. This program could be very similar to the Federal gov’t’s 8(a) program or “Total Small Business” solicitations.
2 – Put more teeth in the minority business goals for city contracts. Instead of a goal, make it an ironclad requirement. If the city of Memphis is going to spend money, then the people of the city should benefit from it.
3 – Stop approving more new housing developments

Being Our Own Best Ambassadors to Nashville:

Scott Banbury wrote:
He could have said that if our community is cut off the state, Tennessee would no longer claim the city with the 6th largest African-American majority.

Anonymous wrote:
I know it will never happen but it would great if Shelby were “cut off” and presumably made a territory. We are treated like a colony and forced to live under rules that are imposed by the rural and suburban legislators. From my experience, even Nashville Democrats treat us with an air of condescension.

Without TN telling us how a city should be run, we could create a tax system and incentives to attract business versus having to work through a patchwork of PILOTS and a few other creative incentives that often still lose out to MS and other places.  We could attract better resources to attack the ever-present problems of poverty and education. It wouldn’t be perfect but TN holds us back more than helps us.

In the meantime, I agree that we do need to think regionally and supportive of the Memphis Metro area as a whole.

David Ciscel wrote:
I really enjoy Memphis, so I am also always baffled by the hostility that I often hear from people. In addition to an economy that supports all of west Tennessee, Memphis is just simply a good place to live. I am a huge fan of Memphis restaurants — and I live in Cooper Young so many great restaurants are a short walk away. And I feel safe most of the time — crime is not a daily issue if you live in the city. We have our problems but they are not dramatically worse than most big cities. I am guessing that the two big issues are: (1) race and (2) political liberalism. Many people just cannot cope with a majority black political and cultural environment. And, culturally, city people realize that rugged individualism is less important than the collective supply of water and good sewers.

Anonymous wrote:
I might quibble a bit with the assertion that there hasn’t been a Governor from Memphis in 51 years. Don Sundquist was technically “from” Shelby County but his tenure was hardly transformational for the region and he probably aligned more with the reactionary suburbanites.

No doubt the legislature deserves a fair share of blame, but so do past legislatures. Memphis had as many or more problems than it does today back when the Democrats controlled the TN legislature with big majorities. Our local governments, business community, and ENTIRE legislative delegations (spanning urban/suburban, racial, and partisan lines) need to work harder, dig deeper, and come up with a far-reaching consensus regional agenda that can be achieved.

Allow Memphis to have a proactive agenda rather than merely a reactive agenda of band-aid incentive workarounds, urban-suburban fights, superceding local control, etc. There is a vital place for Memphis voices when it comes to Medicaid expansion, curbing gun violence, and so forth, but those issues are decided on stark ideological grounds rather than a pro- or anti-Memphis basis.

We have smart, thoughtful leaders in all corners of the spectrum. We also have our share of duds…but so does everywhere else. Memphis gets very little out of state government because it doesn’t ask for truly ambitious or creative things and our leaders are not rallied to any common causes.

News Media’s Best and Worst: City Finances and Teens:

Peter Taylor wrote:
The CA this week proved that local daily reporting can be dramatic and enlightening. Most importantly the series was unafraid to tell truths. In a city where everybody knows each other the CA proved that it’s job as a daily paper superseded the usual southern manners reporting style we so often see in Memphis. The bar has been raised for other print outlets.  Local TV reporting, however, has devolved into the same noxious group think that once permeated the CA comments sections. And by doing so they cause great harm to our city, our property values and our sense of decency.

Phyllis Betts wrote:
One of the best commentaries on Memphis (and the media) I have read in recent years! As was the CA series, which did an amazing job illuminating the historical roots of contemporary issues. You are right–so much of the offered perceptions on Memphis lack perspective. Thanks for extending the needed comparisons with other cities; I will add that a recent Governing magazine analysis places Memphis in the top 25% of cities for how far the consumer dollar stretches. And while Memphis does have a crime problem, that too demands perspective.
As 25 year residents, my husband and I loved Memphis. We returned to North Carolina last year to be in the mountains and close to the coast. Having lived here in the 1980′s, we have roots here. But we retain roots in Memphis. Our library is “the Memphis Room,” with vintage and contemporary photographs and artwork presented with pride. Memphians have much to be proud of. Problems are NOT intractable.

JCov40 wrote:
Editors of The Commercial Appeal decided 20 or more years ago that the newspaper should not be covering city government financial issues such as pension decisions, bond debt and some other issues. In the words of at least some lower level editors that was “:grungy governmental news” and the newspaper didn’t want to cover that. Decisions to expand pension benefits and a failure to put the recommended amount of money into the pension fund received little if any attention as well as the governmental accounting change that would have a major impact on governmental finances. There was no encouragement for reporters to keep up with financial matters in the government other than reporting basic budget figures. In its recent series, the newspaper went back and looked at a number of those issues and decisions but it seems to me it should have accepted some responsibility for its failure to provide coverage through the years of the financial issues and decisions that led to the city’s current budget problems.

Modern Memphis Economic Development: Place, Opportunity, Talent:

Peter Taylor wrote:
Thank you SCM for speaking out about urban design but is anyone listening?  Who spoke out against the hideous LaQuinta Inn design? We absolutely have a “we don’t deserve good design” philosophy in Memphis. It is based on the principle that all economic activity is good – even if we have to sell our soul in the process. That’s the mindset that gave us the CVS drug store at Union and Cooper. Gotta save those minimum wage jobs!

The Downtown Commission is allowing anything to be built downtown – much of the housing stock is suburban single family homes and I am sorry but looking the the excellent design that Mr Turley brought to other downtown projects South Junction is very suburban looking. But again there is no there there. We can talk about the need for good design all we want but the powers that be don’t care.

Chatul wrote:
Re Peter Taylor: I completely agree on doubling-down and insisting on good urban design for the sake of place making. The approval of LaQuinta’s design was unfortunate. Equally unfortunate was the approval of the new credit union (near Lebonheur) with front surface parking, when nearby street parking and rear parking would have been sufficient. South Junction does have a bit of a suburban feel, but they brought it to the street, so I can’t complain about that project. I believe that in Memphis, because we often denigrate ourselves as a people, we have difficulty accepting that we are worthy of high-quality, forward-thinking design.

Finding Memphis and Shelby County’s Competitive Edge:

Louise Mercuro wrote:
Having a key role in organizing the CRA I can unequivocally say that the first and most important step in designating an area for CRA redevelopment is a solid comprehensive plan for the area. There are somewhere around 20 locations that are eligible for CRA incentives and only one area is outside the City og Memphis and that is in Millington.

Since there is no comprehensive planning function supported by the Division of Planning and Development, designation of areas does not move quickly. It can be done by one planner if she has the support she needs from the administrations and legislative bodies. Unfortunately, OPD has almost become just a zoning and subdivision agency without a comprehensive plan with which to base land use decisions. To rely on a plan that was approved in 1980 is criminal.

EDGE could support the financial and economic aspects of the CRA, but they do not have the capability to do either small area or comprehensive planning. In an ideal Memphis (i.e. a normal major city) we would have a long term strategic/comprehensive plan including all the essential elements – land use, transportation, economic development, community development, environment, etc. But, as we have for 80 years, we are only guided by the regional transportation plan and Federal grants for housing and community development.

The CRA is an important and powerful tool. Too bad we threw it out of the toolbox along with any semblance of a city planning agency.

Finding a Public Profit from Nonprofits:

Louise Mercuro wrote:
I have always believed that the “using” non-profits churches, hospitals & care facilities, cultural entities not associated with government, private schools/colleges/universities and the like should be paying a PILOT which parallels their use of public services. Those that generate traffic, consistently use fire and police, tear up roads, and the like should pay their fair share. Organizations like CDCs, MIFA, United Way, Boy and Girl Scouts are a dibble in the barrel and should be given different consideration.

Nancy McGee wrote:
It is disingenuous for elected officials – once they discover they have a budget shortfall – to turn to nonprofits as a new source of money. Nonprofits earn their tax-exempt status every day by living up to their community responsibility. They do so by reducing the burdens on governments and lowering costs that taxpayers must bear. They address the needs in the community and improve local economies by training future workers, cleaning up neighborhoods, and providing safe places for homeless people to sleep. When elected officials do what they should be doing already – reaching out to nonprofits to help solve problems in the community – they should not be surprised to learn
o that solutions are already in place that can be expanded to achieve further savings;
o that any revenue problem they are facing is already smaller due to this work of nonprofits; and
o that diverting resources away from nonprofit missions will almost certainly increase municipal costs and force tax increases.

Also, recent research from the Urban Institute in Washington DC found that governments in Tennessee are not the best business partners with nonprofits. Two out of five (42 percent) of Tennessee nonprofits with government grants and contracts reported that governments impose arbitrary caps on administrative or overhead costs. Of those, seven out of eight (85 percent) report reimbursement for these necessary indirect costs at no more than 10 percent. More than a third (37 percent) reported being paid zero for costs that must be expended in order to operate as a nonprofit contractor. This matters because nonprofits must raise funds to subsidize governments in Tennessee.

Peter Taylor wrote:
Here’s an idea if your “non-profit” CEO makes six figures maybe its time to pay your fair share of property taxes.

Our Competitive Advantage Lies With African-American Talent:

Tosha Downey wrote:
This article is quite timely. Thank you! I am returning to Memphis after staying away for almost twenty years due to the dearth of opportunities that awaited me after I’d gotten my stack of degrees two decades ago. Racial polarization had this city in a death grip then, so I took my talent to the Windy City and blazed a few trails there.

However, a new day seems to be dawning. Each time I mention my upcoming relocation, someone tells me of another talented African-American heading to the Bluff City. I’ve also chatted with my classmates who are simply waiting for the right set of circumstances to return. It’s truly inspiring. We don’t need to be Atlanta, Austin, Raleigh, Charlotte, or Nashville. We must fashion our own community of ex-pats, prodigals, transplants, and native sons & daughters to flood this city with innovation, creativity, vision, and leadership like none we’ve seen before.

So many Memphians have harnessed their tremendous talents in the biggest and baddest of arenas: D.C., Chicago, Detroit, & New York. We can make it happen in Memphis. This is my life’s work coming full circle it seems. Let’s keep pushing others to come home!