The HBO show Leftovers explores the aftermath of a supernatural event where 2% of the world’s population inexplicably vanishes, and the people left behind struggle to make sense of their lives. As a Memphian, sometimes I feel like a character on the show, wondering where all my friends have gone.
Population trends in Memphis mirror Leftovers, only we know who the vanished are and where they are going. They are the college-educated mobile middle class, the would-be future of our city. Some of our lost resettle in Desoto, Fayette and Tipton counties. Others move to Nashville, Atlanta and Texas. Meanwhile the population left behind grows increasingly poor.
At some point we’ll reach a tipping point. Local taxes will continue to rise, as we struggle to care for a vast city infrastructure, provide security and educate a growing impoverished population. This will quicken the pace of evacuating residents and companies. Eventually even the diehards like FedEx will look elsewhere.
I would argue this doomsday scenario is not unlikely, and is probably not far off if current trends continue. It’s going to take a massive amount of will to turn this ship around. The past five years have been good, there’s no doubt — the Green Print, BioWorks and development of core urban assets like South Main, Overton Square and Crosstown are examples. But we’re trying to correct two decades of stagnation under Herenton. This was a time other cities had business leaders in office who prepared their cities and populations to take advantage of the new, mobile economy. It’s time to play catch-up.
My suggestions to avoid the anomic fate of the Leftovers in Memphis:
Stop electing crazy people.
Invest in neighborhoods, such as through a reinvigorated TIF program (Knoxville has done wonders using this development tool).
- Stop complaining about stupid stuff online and get outside, build things, meet new people and spend money.