Friday, March 20, 2009

Making it Less Miserable

For me, yesterday's theme was "Making Memphis a Better Place to Live."

After giving a speech at the Naval Base on the environment for Women's History Month with the Wolf River Conservancy's education director Cathy Justis, I went to Second Presbyterian for the Leadership Academy's Memphis 101 session.

County mayor A C Wharton said one of the area's main challenges was we have "too much government for too few people," a reference to our dual-headed system.

Wharton said he had recently met with a minister in Singapore and asked if the country didn't want an office in the middle of the United States to go with their current offices on either coast. The minister was interested and wanted to know how to make it happen. Wharton said he could sign immediately, but they'd have to also get the city on board.

"His attitude was, 'I'm busy.' Why can't we just take care of it now?" said Wharton. "If we could get rid of that, we could do business ... Our government is, as I see it, the ice on the wings of our plane to success."

Wharton also said he felt the county should be responsible for both funding the schools (as two separate systems) and the health department, budget items that the two governments have been squabbling over recently, among others.

"We've brought in experts to see how much our share of the Pyramid is worth, so we can see how much money to take out of our left pocket and put in our right pocket, so we make sure we don't cheat ourselves," Wharton said.

Also, I found this interesting: former chamber pres told the group that Norfolk Southern is apparently double-tracking (so they can have trains traveling in both directions) from here to Dallas. Just a little logistics/transportation info for you.

After Memphis 101, I hit up the Next American City URBANEXUS event at the Stax Museum. Panelists John Weeden of UrbanArt, New Path's Cardell Orrin, LaunchMemphis' Eric Mathews and Stax's Tim Sampson, among others, each gave a four-minute presentation about their organizations and civic engagement.

Before the standing room only crowd, many of whom were fairly young, the panelists told what they were doing — painting murals, helping entrepreuners, envigorating the political process — to make Memphis a better place to live.

I think it's interesting that so many people are invested in making Memphis better. We obviously acknowledge that we have deficiencies (no thanks to all the lists) but instead of leaving, there are so many people who want to stay and fight. (Fight might not be the right word, but you know what I mean.)

And I think if we could figure out what makes them want to stay and fight, then I think THAT — whatever it is — is what we should build a brand around.

Because, really, if people are interested in staying, despite the problems with crime and eduation, there is obviously a very powerful lure here. But what is it?


Aaron said...

I would review the Smart City post.

I would say a strong community is right up there on the list. It's a lot of fun banning together for the common good of your city. That activity in and of itself is a great way to retain people as long as their efforts are affirmed and ACTED upon by civic leaders. Therein lies the "clusterpuck"

Wharton hit it on the head. We somehow need a mediator (organization or Mayor) to help our government figure out how to energize and facilitate the efforts of all these organizations rather then extinguish them with endless "planning." Wharton is putting us on a better path for certain.


Mel Spillman artwork said...

Great post Mary, and your article "The Art of Teaching" in last week's Memphis Flyer was awesome.

The lure of Memphis for me is the fact that I am a lifelong Memphian. My husband is a lifelong Memphian too, as well as most of my closest friends. We have all done so much work to enhance our city over the years, working as teachers and artists. The people of Memphis are what keeps me here and keeps me focused on my goal to improve our city.

marycash said...

Thanks, Mel! I really appreciate you and Bobby talking to me for it!