On Monday, our post was about Archer>Malmo CEO Russ Williams’ idea to create a dense district of creative millennials in the downtown core.  That post led to an interesting conversation that we are posting here today:

Jada says:

For what it’s worth, I’m a millennial trying to make it in Memphis for 3 years. Like 90% of my friends, we all plan to exit this city just as fast as possible. There is just not enough vibrancy and satisfying work to keep us here. Memphis is old school and backwards and that’s really embarrassing. People my age want to be part of something really dynamic and thriving. Sorry Memphis but you just don’t cut it as a place where we can thrive.

Aaron says:

I understand your frustration Jada. If you’ve grown up here probably the best thing is to go move somewhere else to expand your worldview and enjoy living in a new place. Or stay if there’s a problem you see in our community that you are passionate about providing a solution for.

Memphis does move quite slowly on projects but in the 10 years that our family has been here since relocating from California, progress has happened. And it appears that the rate of progress is also increasing.

Currently millennials can find other cities besides Memphis where change can happen at much faster rate and they have little patience for cities like Memphis where you feel like you must “wait your turn” and accrue so much credibility to be taken seriously. But our city is changing thanks to efforts like Start Co (founded by Eric Mathews) where you can walk in the door as an entrepreneur and be taken seriously regardless of your pedigree.

Anonymous 1:

Thank you for the post SCM. As Aaron noted above, change is occurring and the rate of said change seems to be gathering speed. The rate of change may not be fast enough to retain Jada as many are not in search of necessarily participating in a process, but prefer to skip straight to the results/benefits. The good news is that every single year a new set of young professionals enters the national economy. Demographic research is showing that as one trends younger, the desire to invest in cities such as Memphis increases noticeably which is a positive indicator for the city and region. While losing individuals such as Jada to the national economy is not optimal, those who attribute adjectives such as embarrassing (a personal pronoun) to a place or make blanket statements are not those who are most likely create sustainable change in any community. As the process continues in Memphis, it will be able to retain and attract a larger percentage of this coveted demographic as long as individuals like Mr. Williams continue to push the needle.

FrankL says:

This is so encouraging. Finally, a CEO fighting for the future. I’m signing on.

PT says:

The number one advantage Memphis has in attracting creative millennials is that virtually every other major city has become too expensive for young people. But this is tied to the economy remaining so strong elsewhere that young people will be forced to move to affordable mid-sized cities. But we are in effect playing the low cost card that Memphis has resorted to so often. If Memphis is unwilling to adopt a progressive culture that prizes art and artists, LGBT rights and social justice then our run at becoming a creative center will be very limited.

I do also see the place where millennials will congregate won’t actually be downtown. Midtown is about to become “the place” for young creative people because that is what Midtown has always represented to our city. I guarantee to SCM that we will be discussing Midtown gentrification, evictions, and how Midtown is changing too quickly. It’s going to be an interesting next three years.

Gwyn says:

PT’s reply about Memphis not being progressive about LGBT issues is absolutrly correct. This city is very behind other cities and not at all a welcoming place for gays. It may be the African American bias against gays, but in this day, no city anywhere is going to progress with such prejudices. As for midtown, it’s always been the only part of Memphis where I would live, but it’s also very hit or miss, and not the open, progressive utopia many see it as being. I don’t see it changing too much. Wish I were more positive, but overall Memphis is not the place for young creative types to thrive in.

Anonymous 2 says:

Sorry Gwyn, but my experiences here in Memphis, specifically Midtown, over the last year says you are dead wrong. I think your blanket statements are pretty dated.

…oh, I moved here after living another of Tennessee’s major cities and having worked throughout the southeast, and I can testify that while Memphis may lag other cities nationally regarding civil rights, it is light years ahead of what you find in most other southern cities.

PT says:

Memphis will never reach it’s full potential as a place where creatives gather without becoming a more welcoming place for LGBT people. This is not new news. Richard Florida’s Memphis Manifesto made clear that cities that are welcoming of LGBT people will attract the young creatives we so desire. City leaders ignored the warning.

The fact remains Memphis is a dreadful place to be LGBT. All of our city peers have actual anti-discrimination laws on the books that were lobbied for by Mayors and the largest private employers in their respective cities. Just look to public policy in Nashville, St. Louis, Houston, Dallas, Orlando, ect ect ect to see how far behind we remain.

FedEx, Auto Zone , International Paper and their leaders have been known to support anti-gay policy. There is no major local power advocating for LGBT people, until that changes Memphis will not become a place that attracts creative young people.

KR says:

For what it is worth. I’m 31 and gay. I can honestly vouch that Memphis is terrible for LGBT people. I live in the midtown area which is not always gay friendly. Other cities are way ahead of us. Nashville’s new mayor married same sex couples on the day the Supreme Court ruling was announced. That sort of thing would NEVER take place in Memphis. LGBT people almost universally seek to leave Memphis. This drain of creative youth does nothing but hurt the future.

Anonymous says:

Some of the voices here in no way reflect my experience in Midtown and in Memphis which has been nothing but positive. I would say that the lgbt community will continually be welcomed to ever greater degrees now and in the future. I’m excited about how far we’ve come, the barriers that have been broken down and the friends I’ve made along the way. Saying the lgbt community “almost universally seeks to leave Memphis” means that either this person is not being honest or does not spend much time in the community. Using some of the blanket comments under different names makes me wonder about whether they are who they say they are. Certainly makes for a good laugh! None of my friends are saying that and most are in 25-35 range. From where I sit, the big issues are coming out of Nashville as every time Memphis has tried to pass legislation cal equality measures it has been threatened by the state gov’t. All that says to me is I wouldn’t want to risk living anywhere in a state like this. Come to think about it, it sounds like the same person posting negative stuff about the local scene under different names, which from what I’ve read, happens a lot on this blog.

Urbanut says:

Mr. William’s words are hopefully being taken to heart and his very practical and realistic ideas and action points offer a clear path to focus the city’s efforts. There are a few positive points to note here: The first being that despite 2 decades of neglect, the population of this key demographic in Memphis has in fact continued to grow. Second, census data reflects that this group is already coalescing around the city’s most urban neighborhoods and addresses in absence of direction from civic officials, government plans or grand economic development strategies. Of course, this only further emphasis the known fact that this demographic overwhelmingly prefers more urban locations. We see the evidence of this reflected in real estate development. The approved and/or on-going construction of urban, mixed-use buildings be they Sears Crosstown, McLean & Union, the rumblings from the Edge district, South Main, Overton Square, Broad Ave, Highland, etc… is all in response to these growing numbers and their increasingly concentrated population density. It is even easy to see where some friction is beginning to occur- anxiety from local residents over Highland Row and the ongoing debate over Overton Park being prime examples. It might be hard to recognize these flashpoints as being “good” if passionate about their outcomes, but they are evidence that the market is evolving to meet the desire of those who prefer a more urban lifestyle.

As Mr. Williams noted, one very real physical investment the city should make to encourage this transformation and thus increase its appeal to millennials would be to invest in the cities infrastructure, namely transit and streetscapes. Once again, the timing could be seen as a positive variable as the lifespan of many of the streets and sidewalks has expired and thus reinvestment is in order as opposed to a condition where the city could be replacing streetscapes that are only 20 years old. Rebuilding right of ways in these areas to not just accommodate pedestrians and biking alongside vehicles but encourage these mixed modes of travel would go a great distance to support continued private investment in the types of neighborhoods that are being sought by this coveted demographic. We already have a development code (should the city choose to actually implement it) that shows preference to a more urban development pattern where buildings address the street and sidewalk and parking is shuffled to the side and rear. We also have arrived at a point where new leadership has been installed at MATA, one that recognizes that a change in their modus operandi is past due in order to provide the quality and level of service required to compete in the 21st century.

PT says:

With Carol back in town, perhaps now is a good time for Memphis Manifesto 2.0

Urbanut says:

PT- I think that is a great idea.