This is not a puff piece. Deep down I believe Memphis is on the verge of returning to prominence as a great American city. We are a city of innovation. We started the supermarket, drive-in restaurant, overnight shipping and oh yeah, rock, blues and soul music. Then something happened. Maybe it was King’s assassination on our Main Street. Maybe it was our politicians. Things slowed down here, and only now have they begun to return to the fervor of our past.
In this new era of a highly mobile workforce, we are creating a place that lures and retains the best talent. We are using our assets differently now. We are learning that in this global economy we rise or fall together. As the mayor of Oklahoma City recently noted in his visit to Memphis, jobs come to where quality of life exists, not the other way around.
Sports unites us all. It feels great to win, and horrible to lose. Either way it’s good to be part of a national conversation. With the Grizzlies, Tigers, Redbirds and world-class facilities, sports are changing the way we think of ourselves as a city. With Geoff Calkins writing and the radio full of personalities, Memphis is the kind of place where’s it’s exciting to live.
The music is back in our streets. The free concert series at the Shell draws spillover crowds to a grassy natural amphitheater every spring and fall. Our opera surges, reaching young and old and everyone in between. Memphis musicians are finding their way on the global stage, and are proud to claim their civic heritage. Soulsville and the Stax Academy complete the connection between our children and our past. New sounds seep nightly from the Hi Tone and Buccaneer.
Theater brings people together and urges connections across lines. This summer we’ll have a world-class black repertory theater in the heart of the city’s thriving theater arts district. Community and open air stages everywhere from the resurgent Broad Avenue to Beale Street are filling with talent. A film scene emerges with no help except for the grit and authenticity of our streets.
Our gardens, parks, museums and galleries are coming alive. No longer relics, these places have become vibrant meeting hubs, musical venues and intimations of our future. Consider Dixon’s Food Truck Fridays; Botanic Gardens breakfast club, beer garden and concert series; Brooks’ exhibits and events; Crosstown Arts development. A new visual arts studio or gallery seems to open weekly along Cooper or Cleveland. Bike lanes will soon connect the Mississippi to the Wolf and Overton and Shelby Farms Parks.
We give back. With time and money, the people who live here get involved in making things better for everyone. Hyde Family, Pyramid Peak, Poplar, Community and Plough are a few of the big foundations investing back into the city. They help fund the countless smaller nonprofits making differences in poverty, education, green space, elder care and dozens of other initiatives. These groups are working towards effective solutions for problems, not just sticking on band-aids.
The Chamber is coming into its own. Now substantially funded by local companies rather than government, the Chamber is free to pursue economic development in the most effective manner. The Chairman’s Circle and its Moon Missions should fundamentally change Memphis for the better if it lives up to its call, which based on the leadership, I think it will. If the Chamber becomes the net tying everything together, including government, business and nonprofits, we will win as a city.
Politics is improving. If the good things happening in Memphis are going to achieve sustained momentum we have to elect strong public servants. We have to care and become involved. We have to vote. Nonpartisan groups like Coalition for a Better Memphis are working to make it easier for us to evaluate candidates based on character and leadership capacity. It’s time to get over poisonous partisan finger-pointing and recognize that local politics is about building a great city, not egos.
What we do with all these assets will determine our fate as a city. I think it boils down to whether each of us is willing to stop complaining or waiting for somebody else to come along and fix everything. It means voting, volunteering or just getting out into the community with open eyes and hearts. We can solve the challenges we face in education, safety, equality and health. We are off to a really good start.