Thumbnail: This blog observes its 15th anniversary and Smart City Memphis has been refreshed and revamped for the occasion.
Fifteen years ago last Monday, the Smart City Memphis blog posted its first commentary. To celebrate this milestone, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the blog’s look has been refreshed and its performance has been improved. I hope you like it.
It was June 1, 2005, and the birth of the blog came from one of those quick decisions that ends up having a lasting effect, at least for me.
Back then, I was working in space shared with me by Carol Coletta and her staff. The day regularly began with a discussion of the news of the day, pressing issues, and our opinions about them.
And thus, from that modest beginning, Smart City Memphis began, 3,900 blog posts and 12,000 comments ago.
Policies, Not People
So, for good or ill, since that first year, I have written blog, with help from an occasional guest blogger. I am especially grateful to award-winning cartoonist Bill Day for allowing his cartoons to be posted here and to an unerring writer like Jimmie Covington for his submissions on population trends and education funding, University of Memphis economist emeritus David Ciscel for his always valuable insights, and others.
From the beginning, I made the decision that the blog would concentrate on policies, not people, in hopes that the posts could lead to discussions driven by the facts rather than on who people liked and who they didn’t. It’s been a rare post that has not lived up to that founding principle.
I knew that the blog could focus on bomb throwing and attract a lot of readers or we could focus on facts, positions, and explanations that would attract readers interested in a serious conversation about our community’s future. I chose the latter.
I have been grateful for the kind words that have been written about this blog over the years, including The Commercial Appeal, The Memphis Flyer, Memphis magazine, and the Pew Partnership for Civic Change. Posts have attracted the attention of local and national media as well.
While this blog began as a company one, it is now a personal one. Over the decade and a half, I have written on all kinds of topics, hoping that because they interest me, they will interest you.
Much To Write About
From that first month, I have spotlighted the amount of revenues being drained from city and county budgets for excessive tax incentives for companies and real estate developers. I pointed out the negative impacts that I-269 would have on Memphis and how it plowed ahead despite city and county mayors’ opposition. I advocated for a skate park on Mud Island, criminal justice reform, a comprehensive plan for Memphis, the removal of Confederate statues in city parks, the development of a park honoring courageous African American journalist Ida B. Wells, the transition from an economy built on low-wage jobs to one that makes our community more competitive, city budgeting that corrected the imbalance that puts disproportionate funding into law enforcement rather than interventions and prevention, and so much more.
For 10 years, I have blogged about the importance of turning Tom Lee Park and the Memphis riverfront into a place known for its vibrancy, versatility, and common ground for every person in the city. And as an outgrowth of some blog posts, Susan Adler Thorp and I started the Facebook group, “Delta Does Memphis,” (another of those spontaneous decisions that grew to 6,000 members and produced active, passionate discussions) which contributed to the new leadership at Memphis International Airport in a post-Delta Air Lines era that would trust us with the truth and lead the airport into a different future.
I have had my share of wins and our share of losses.
I was told that the data and arguments about the unfairness of Memphians paying twice for services had an impact on City Council rationalizing the tax burden of city taxpayers. While city-county departments sounded like “consolidation light,” it meant that city taxpayers paid 100% of the city portion and 70% of the county portion. In other words, Memphians were paying 85% of the overall costs when they only represented 65% of the county population.
I sounded the alarm early on about the damage that sprawl would eventually do on Memphis and how real estate development in the suburbs was not economic development although it was often posing as such. I was told that these posts influenced the early sensitivity by City Council on the impact of not treating annexation as a choice between spending on the fringe that could otherwise be spent on core neighborhoods. I called out the Luttrell Administration and the Tennessee Legislature for changing the rules on annexation and the extraterritorial authority that Memphis had on development within five miles of its borders. Changing the rules in the middle of the game and injecting its long arm into our community’s business is a theme in a number of blog posts about one of the country’s worst legislatures.
I too have written many, many times about poverty, income inequality, and the lack of opportunity that is built into our economy: “every system is perfectly built to deliver the results it produces.” It is not about inevitability and forces beyond our control. It happens because of choices we have made.
For Wendi Thomas’ MLK50, I wrote “The injustice of a Memphis economy built on low-wage jobs” and “Confederates’ Lost Cause still cripples the South’s economy.” In addition, I was asked by former Memphis magazine publisher Ken Neill to write a monthly column mirroring the blog called “City Journal” and I now write a column, “Smart Business,” for its sister publication, Inside Memphis Business, edited by the incomparable Jon Sparks. Blog posts are often published in Mark Fleischer’s generous civic gesture, Storyboard Memphis.
I filled in one day for the vacationing 9:01 columnist at The Commercial Appeal and I have written special columns at the newspaper’s request for its Viewpoint section, one about young leaders, one about transitioning away from our overreliance on tax giveaways to attract and keep companies, and one about Memphis’ moment of truth about minority business. As part of Marc Perrusquia’s monumental 6-day series, “Our Financial Mess,” which explored Memphis’ fiscal condition with provocative research and writing, I contributed an article: “Too few people on too much land.”
I say all this to make this point: there have been almost 4,000 posts here, and at its best, I intended for the blog to open up new avenues to raise issues, ask questions, and offer data that suggest priorities and solutions.
I suspect I likely wear out some readers with my devotion to data, but as someone wise once said to me: People remember stories, not data, but you need the data to tell the stories.
As I enter into a new era for Smart City Memphis, I thank all of you who have read these posts and for sending in your suggestions and opinions. My best days are when I don’t think I’m talking to myself, and those are when I hear from you.