Our May 27 blog post, Memphis: All Things Are Possible was the most read post in the 10-year history of Smart City Memphis.
It began this way:
For about 15 years, Memphis forgot who it was.
As a result, as the 20th century ended and as the first 10 years of the the 21st century began, it wandered without direction as tens of thousands of jobs vanished, tens of thousands of people moved away, and tens of thousands of people sank into poverty.
It lost the sense of what made it different and what made it special. It tapped into a pessimism that revealed itself most often in a game of the Dozens in which two people worked to outdo each other in their insults about their own hometown.
It lost the music that flows through its culture. It talked about its rich music heritage but it wasn’t feeling the rhythm any more. It lost the sense that it was its very real diversity and the outsider culture it created that were at the heart of its distinctive character. Instead, it turned its back on its own authenticity and regularly chased magic answers from other cities.
It forgot that Memphis had been tested before…many times…and it not only survived, it thrived, transcending each challenge to become stronger and tougher. It fixated on Nashville like it had once fixated on Atlanta, but forgot that it had the power to define its own unique future, one that didn’t have to look like either of those cities.
To read more, click here.
As usual, our readers had interesting comments to make and we’re posting some of them here:
Susan Wise says:
I didn’t move from Memphis because of the jobs or any of that; I moved to Az to retire and get away from humid weather it was killing me; I left my children and grand children but had to move; I come back to visit every year and make it in time for Memphis in May and the great Bar B Q; didn’t make it this year but always enjoy Memphis when I do visit;
Great article, and so very true! I’m a born and raised Memphian who left the city for school and adventures in 1990. My husband and I were so impressed by the new can-do Memphis when we visited in 2014 that we pulled up stakes from our home of 16 years in Atlanta to move back.
I’m so glad we did. We love our home in Midtown and we want to do our part to keep building on this momentum here. Memphis has been beat down too long. Time to rise up!
Memphis seems to be on the verge of re-asserting itself as a world-class tourist destination. The riverfront (BSL, One Beale, the Harahan Bridge, the Pyramid, perhaps something new at Mud Island, etc.), new hotel projects, Graceland improvements, Overton Square, a burgeoning cultural resurgence, etc., seem to be converging at once. No doubt there are still challenges–the Fairgrounds, the airport reductions, management of Beale Street, and so on–but the successes are starting to outnumber the challenges in a big way.
Though it has been anything but easy to get where we are, the easiest part is making Memphis more appealing to the affluent…be they residents, tourists, or companies. The hard part is leveraging these successes to address the chronic and systemic poverty in our community. Tourism and development certainly bring some jobs along with them, and cultural enhancements do enrich education, but making a deeper impact into the lives of those at the highest risk of an impoverished life will ultimately tell the tale of our collective success or failure.
Reasons for optimism abound, as there is little that cannot be accomplished when leaders from all sectors are willing to answer to bell to meet the toughest challenges.
To your list of notable announcements within a one-week period, I would add the announcement of Charles McVean’s Memphis Model. This initiative has many if not all of the hallmarks of the initiatives discussed in this article.
John Carroll says:
Love this article. The optimism right now is growing greatly in the Bluff City.
If our mantra of “Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.” If I had a blog post today…this would be it.
These comments are great. Most of y’all are missing the theme of the article and proving it’s point at the same time. As a young Memphian who chose to stay after coming home after feeling what was happening here, I encourage you to re-read parts like this
“They show little patience for those who want to rehash the past, to list grievances and problems, or undermine progress with a negative attitude about their hometown”
C Ryan says:
I moved here from Boston in 2002. It was culture shock, for sure, and many times I wondered how on earth I would ever call Memphis home. The changes that have taken place have given me great hope. The work of Memphis Heritage to save our buildings, the revival of Overton Square, the connecting of O. Square and Cooper Young, the Green LIne, the new features at Shelby Farms, the Grizzlies…don’t forget the Grizzlies, STAX, and the renovation of the National Civil Rights Museum have made such a difference. I agree-our public education is a train wreck, and SOMETHING must be done or our children will not be able to compete. But there is so much good. I’m happy to be here.
Great article. I agree with it 100%. Memphis is like a person with multiple personallities. Midtown and downtown are “hip” and young and experiencing a spurt of growth that we have not seen in quite a while. East Memphis is feeling the “youth drain” and seems more middle aged or older now. North and South Memphis have their challenges, to say the least.
The reality is that Memphis’s ability to continue moving forward will have to be accompanied by dealing with the financial issues that face the city and country. Much of the positive efforts mentioned in this article were assisted by tax abatements and other government support, etc.. This cannot continue as the city has a debt load that continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
I only wish that our leadership had the political will to deal with the financial issue, but apparently they don’t – and the population that pays property taxes will continue to shrink either with their feet or through attrition.
I like to see articles like this, because being totally negative is a downer.
James, from Australia says:
My wife and I, with our young daughters, visited your city in September 2013. We had a great time and loved Memphis very much.
Great food, great music culture, easy to get around (opposite side of the road as well), saw Lisa Marie Presley at the Levitt Shell (great night),downtown is a great mix of old and new, trams that originally came from my home town(Melbourne),Sun Studios, Stax, Beale St,Graceland, Rock and Soul museum,The missisippee , civil rights museum and again, the great food!
We will be back one day.
The negatives: (no offence intended here)
The poverty, and the constant reminder, visually and personally from people in the street. Sorry that there has to be a negative, but you need to fix this mess, it’s quite confronting when you have young children with you) I read about a lot of crime in Memphis also, although we did not experience this. Overall, a great place to visit and stay, from a foreigners point of view(for what it’s worth). Fix some of the not so good stuff and I think tourism will double, cheers from Australia
This is indeed a positive and hopeful article – and Memphis needs more positivity in our media. I have to say, however, a year and a half ago, I moved back to Memphis (my hometown) after 8 years in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex and several years of relocating to similar-sized cities. I was burned out on hour+ long commutes, insanely crowded and bustling restaurants and shopping centers, and the lack of “community”, but job opportunity (and security) was always a major component.
As a young adult, I moved to Memphis in early 90s and lived there for nearly 20 years. I loved the music, culture and history of the city, I was a proud mid-towner (later downtowner) and actively involved in the community. I had a wonderful circle of friends – artists, musicians, writers – a tribe of punks and hippies I truly loved. I eked out a living for many years working in restaurants and freelancing until finally landing my dream job.
Then WHAM-O…after the financial crisis, my company closed and there were NO jobs and no support for creative professionals. Zero. Zilch. It killed me to leave – I felt like a traitor – but, I had to in order to continue my career. I’ve often thought about moving back – and it’s tempting when reading articles like this – but, I can’t risk my future on a city so conflicted with its own ability to succeed. Creative professionals just aren’t nurtured or respected in Memphis. And there is no industry to support them. It’s unbelievably ironic.
I’m happy to see this upswing, but it took too damn long. And it will be another 5 years before it impact is felt. Good for the next generation of kids coming up, but it sucks for the ones who were pushed out the door.
Much like my first love, I wish you well and hope you find happiness. But, we’re never getting back together. You burned me too bad.
Natalie Parker-Lawrence says:
This was excellent. Keep on reminding the people who have always been here what a hidden jewel Memphis is. You are not alone in your views, but it takes an enthusiastic village to honor and celebrate what is going on.
I want to buy smartmemphis. Beer
The energy and optimism in Memphis are now palpable. Every time I go out, there is something new to celebrate, a new building, a new announcement, a huge diverse crowd of people celebrating an event. Crime is down. Over the last 18 months, the renewal in this city in all things has accelerated exponentially. It is incredibly mindboggling and invigorating at the same time. This is all happening NOW. Hundreds of young professionals and retirees are choosing Memphis over other great cities, like Seattle and Atlanta. And they are pouring into the city, in Downtown and Midtown NOW. The houses in my neighborhood just outside of Midtown are selling like hotcakes at the highest prices in a decade. Those who doubt what is happening do not get out at all, and those who are leaving are Miserables who are choosing to not participate in this great Memphis renaissance. They are the losers. Memphis is winning, Memphis is home, and I hope to live many more years to fully partake of everything this great American city is building. I LOVE MEMPHIS!
David Jennings says:
Beautifully written! I’m so excited for Memphis!
TJ Beazley says:
So glad our son recently introduced me to your blog. He & his wife were transferred from west Texas (both born & raised) to Memphis 8 years ago via his FedEx job. Our initial reaction was very skeptical due to the distance we’d have to travel to see them, but mainly what we’d heard about the high crime rate, prompting us to gift them 2 handguns, allowing us to feel like they’d be more secure/protected from this assumed “evil city”. In this 8 year period, they’ve conceived our 2 grandsons, which means we visit Memphis every 2-3 months if at all possible. Contrary to our fearful assumption, I’m relieved to report they’ve never had need for any gun usage at all. Our observation is that our kids (mid 30′s), although “transplanted” Memphians, are definitely among the above mentioned “they have unleashed new optimism, whose strength comes from the fact that it is largely bottom-up” etc… Every time we are there, we are so inspired by their harmonious spirit for Memphis & all that they participate in, such as many church affiliated programs, running event fundraisers & Junior League endeavors to attempt improvement in the many “problem areas” Memphis (ANY city) has & will always have to contend with in one way or another. The pride they exhibit has in turn, provided us much contentment with their move, even to the point of thinking “hmmmmmm, wonder if WE could move there & adapt from rural west Texas to this exciting place they now call home”…
TJ: Thanks for the comments. Come on up and join us. We’d love to have you.