July 12, 2016

Greenprint Helps Sustainability Take Root

Greenprint Helps Sustainability Take Root
Guest Column by:  Russell Bloodworth
The Commercial Appeal

By now, we know that the economic benefits of green spaces and amenities are clear. Parks, trails, bike lanes, recycling programs and adequate public transit are no longer merely niceties — for many citizens, they are requirements. When talented workers are deliberating whether to make Memphis their home, these are the quality-of-life amenities they are looking for.

Similarly, property values near parks and trails generally increase. When green spaces are preserved, extended and connected, neighborhoods throughout Memphis will prosper. The additional pedestrian and bicycle traffic that these amenities help generate is a boon to small businesses.

Over the past several years, the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability has been working with hundreds of individuals in more than 80 organizations across a three-state region to establish a unified green space network in the Greater Memphis area that will eventually exceed 400 miles of interconnected greenways and trails.

Known formally as the “Mid-South Regional Greenprint & Sustainability Plan” or “Greenprint,” this vision addresses critical issues that include housing, land use, resource conservation, environmental protection, community health, public transportation and economic development. 

The scope of this plan is truly regional, encompassing the entire Memphis metropolitan area, including parts of Mississippi and Arkansas. It involves a series of targeted planning efforts related to issues of transportation, fair housing and equity, and public health, as well as a series of “sub-grantee” efforts that have helped organizations like Wolf River Conservancy, Grow Memphis, Crosstown Arts, DeSoto County Greenways and many others expand their capacity for planning and demonstrate how a regional sustainability plan yields local value.

This work is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

As such, the plan has been developed in alignment with HUD’s six livability principles, such as giving people more transit choices and greater connectivity to their jobs, schools and recreation; promoting affordable housing by making urban neighborhoods greener and connecting them to open spaces; and enhancing our region’s economic competitiveness by improving the quality of life.                               The development of the Greenprint has been managed by the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability, which was formed in 2011 following the conclusion of our community’s landmark “Sustainable Shelby” effort in 2008. 

Sustainable Shelby, which included 130 people meeting in seven committees over several months, was a true turning point for our community. For the first time, people of all backgrounds, neighborhoods, ages and professions began to recognize our community’s natural amenities and green assets for what they are — powerful cultural and economic drivers. 

Six years later, our community has changed in tremendous ways, and more than ever, we need to continue making thoughtful plans and investments in our future. To that end, the final Greenprint plan will contain specific implementation strategies focused on these economic and cultural outcomes.  

 As the Greenprint’s planning phase concludes, the real work for our community is just beginning. Our public and private sectors must continue to rally around this work and see that its recommendations are thoughtfully and strategically implemented. That is why I am proud to join with my peers throughout the business community — in the Urban Land Institute-Memphis, the Greater Memphis Chamber and others — to lend my assistance. 

Memphis’ green economy and culture of sustainability have taken root and grown in spectacular ways. As the Greenprint plan moves into its next exciting phase, everyone in our city — from nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups to businesses and corporate citizens, to government officials and political leaders — has more reasons than ever to be excited about this work, as well as real responsibility to ensure that it is properly implemented.