February 03, 2017

Editorial: As a City with a Plan, Memphis Will Compete

Memphis Business Journal, February 3, 2017

“This is our shot.” So said local CRE titan Rusty Bloodworth at the start of a Feb. 1 event, “Why comprehensive planning is good for business,” presented by ULI Memphis and MBJBloodworth moderated a program that brought in several luminaries in the world of comprehensive planning, and the “this” Bloodworth referred to is Memphis’ recent efforts to create a comprehensive plan for the city. Mayor Jim Strickland launched Memphis 3.0 to give the city a map for the future — the last such document dates back to 1981.

Each speaker recounted a different set of adventures from their time leading a comprehensive plan in their cities. Frequently, challenges they encountered and the battles they fought were reminiscent of Memphis’ own problems or, ostensibly, hurdles it may face.

The value of the word “our” is subtle, but it’s important. Master plans aren’t about what’s next, but who’s next, generationally speaking: The future city should address their needs, not only the ones of the current generation. And, success will be measured by increased access to every neighborhood, not just by burnishing already successful parts of town. Alternatively, zones such as Downtown have a higher ROI than suburban ones, so it can be more cost-effective to maximize an established city center. The “shot” Memphis is taking may have sounded nebulous when 3.0 was announced — and the efficacy of the process may only be known in retrospect — but, after hearing master plan veterans share their experiences, there is no longer any doubt this is a shot Memphis needs to take.

Having a comprehensive plan will be beneficial in efforts to attract, recruit and retain private sector employers and people who can choose where they live. Rather than reacting to the market whims of site selectors and the demands of companies, a city with a plan can show decision-makers the logical course it charted to sustainably grow its existing identity.

A city with a plan knows the future it wants and how it intends to get there — a confidence and predictability that is attractive to companies making a complex call on where to invest their resources. A city with a plan is competitive. Let’s hope Memphis’ own decision-makers were listening.