As we look ahead to a new year, I have asked some Memphians who care deeply about their city’s future for their resolutions or reflections for 2024. I am deeply grateful for their thoughtful submissions.   

Today’s commentary is by Jen Andrews, CEO of Shelby Farms Park, and Ward Archer, founder of Protect Our Aquifer.  

Jen Andrews is charged with management of the popular and spectacular urban park of several thousand acres that features 40 miles of trails including 10.6 miles in the Shelby Farms Greenline connecting Cordova to the heart of Memphis, 20 bodies of water, an award-winning Playground and Sprayground, a herd of buffalo, and much more.  She has been CEO of the park for eight years and at the park for 18 years after graduating at Rhodes College. 

The nonprofit founded by Ward Archer works to protect the source of drinking water for Shelby County and much of the Mid-South.  It has inspired a diverse group of advocates who are supporting this important work.  He is president of Ptoect Our Aquifer and also is founder of Archer Recording Studio.

Jen Andrews, CEO of Shelby Farms Park:

Hopes for my City

I grew up in a tiny farm town about halfway between Memphis and Little Rock. There were very few local amenities, so if you were looking to shop or have fun that couldn’t be found in a field, you were headed to one of the big cities. Everyone had to pick a side. You were either Memphis people or Little Rock people. We were Memphis people.

So while I’m not from here, I do have some Memphis bona fides. I went ice skating at the Mall of Memphis. We nearly ran out of gas waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-40 to see the newly-opened Wolfchase Galleria.  I braved the log ride at Liberty Land. I perused the treasures at the fairgrounds flea market. I saw Jurassic Park at the drive-in on Summer. I witnessed both concerts and basketball games in the pre-bass era Pyramid.

When I moved here, I was surprised to find that while many Memphians expressed great pride and love for their city, there was also an undercurrent of low self-esteem in a community I had always viewed as alive with culture and potential.

I know it’s hard to imagine now but when we first started working on the project that led to the new vision for Shelby Farms Park and the development of the Greenline, I couldn’t believe how fast people lined up to tell us it wouldn’t work. We would never raise the money. We would never convince elected officials. Even if we somehow pulled it off, it would be a waste of money that would fall into disrepair. It sometimes felt as though people were so fearful of losing what they had that it was hard for them to see what more they deserved. And that we could do it!

Shelby Farms Park, the Shelby Farms Greenline, Tom Lee Park, Overton Park and the Wolf River Greenway are proof of what’s possible when we work together to create a bold vision and a deep, collective commitment to see it through. When combined with the important new investments being made in our City parks, the success of our signature and regional parks and trails reveals an emerging ecosystem of public space that looks very different than it did ten years ago. We still have a long way to go to achieve the truly great public space infrastructure in Memphis, but we can choose to see that through a lens of hope and potential.

I heard Mayor Young speak to a group of community leaders recently and he was very clear that the future our city depends on all of us getting into the arena to build the kind of community we want to have. Let’s meet him there.

Here are some of my 2024 (and beyond!) wishes for a city that believes in itself:

I hope we will celebrate our successes and tell positive stories about our city without falling into the kind of boosterism that denies people’s suffering and leads to cynicism.

I hope we will challenge the unkind thoughts we have about ourselves and our city and stop putting ourselves down while also being honest and clear-eyed about the problems we must confront.

I hope we will acknowledge and confront the injustices and inequities that impact people unevenly but hold our entire community back.

I hope we will focus on root causes of complex systemic issues, and that we’ll have the courage and resolve to remake our systems to become more just.

I hope we will hold our leaders accountable while also rooting for them to succeed. I hope they will lead with empathy and affirm the inherent value and humanity of every one of our community members.

I hope we will challenge our assumptions, think differently, and hear many voices.

I hope we will seek a compelling and optimistic vision for our future and that each of us finds a way to align ourselves to that work.

And on the horizon, I hope for an NBA championship. 


Ward Archer, founder of Protect Our Aquifer and civic leader:

A few small repairs for Memphis in 2024

Sometimes it’s the little things in the life of a city that help make big things happen.  In the spirit of that notion, I’ve made note of some small repairs that need to happen in 2024. 

Where’s my bus?

The MATA mobile phone app still can’t locate your bus in real time.  MATA says it can, but it can’t.  I tested it again myself and have an unused ticket to prove it.  If you depend on public transportation, what’s your number one concern?  Where’s my bus, right? A properly functioning app would save a lot of wasted time, increase productivity, and probably increase ridership.  Can we fix this in 2024…. make that early 2024.

 Turnaround rape kit turnaround time.

Waiting 4 ½ months for the results of a DNA rape kit is totally unacceptable.  It should be 48 hours or less.  Period.  Full stop.  A Tennessee bill aimed at reducing the rape kit backlog failed for a second time in 2023 after Governor Lee omitted it from his budget.  In fairness, a Sexual Assault Kit Tracking Information database has been created so a rape kit’s progress (if it’s making any) can now be tracked in Tennessee- if you have the rape kit number.

Police Chief C.J. Davis to the stage please.

About the only thing I know about our police chief is that she got her weapon stolen

from her car while having dinner at a restaurant.  Not a good look.  And now the DOJ is in the house.  It feels like we are all living in the video game “Grand Theft Auto”, except the bullets are real.  Chief needs to be out front on a regular basis putting the fear of God in these bad guys.  Let us hear from you please.

How popular is Poplar?

I was once told there are two kinds of drivers in Memphis.  Those who drive in the right lane on

Poplar Avenue and those who don’t.  I’m not a traffic engineer but I wonder- does Poplar Avenue really need to be six lanes wide?  In 2024 let’s experiment with a four lane Poplar Avenue and see what happens.  Maybe a Poplar Boulevard is in our future. 

Let’s meet for coffee in Overton Park

This is a small repair that takes advantage of the completed restoration of the very cool Abe Goodman Golf House in Overton Park. During the day, it’s empty with the front door locked.  The golfing concession is essentially run out of the back door entry way. The main room is vacant, and the catering kitchen sits idle.  How about a coffee bar? As it is, a unique opportunity for Overton Park visitors to enjoy community is lost.  And even though golfers are a challenged tribe, they drink coffee, too. 

Protect Our Aquifer (POA)

In 2023 new research from the U of M revealed that the Memphis Sand Aquifer is much more exposed to contamination than previously known.  Because we heavily pump our aquifer (200+ million gallons per day), scientist are finding the amount of modern water seeping down into our ancient pristine water is increasing.  This is not good.  We need to keep our drinking water pure and the less we pump the better.  In 2024 POA will begin advocacy for conservation.  One repair we’d like to see started is in the MLGW water distribution system.  It delivers the best water in the world to our homes but It’s leaking a million or more gallons of water every day. Not exactly a small repair but one we need to make.