August 03, 2015

Plans Nurture Habits of City Success

By Chris Peck
– Commercial Appeal –

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first publication of ”The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.”

After selling 15 million copies, author Stephen Covey’s seven principles for success now flow freely as cultural wisdom. Many of us, often without knowing the origins of the phrases, routinely recite versions of the seven habits as shorthand for what we need to do to succeed: Be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand/then to be understood; synergize, and sharpen the saw.

These phrases from the "7 Habits" books came to mind in another context last week: the future of Memphis. Some new conversations and refreshing ideas about where Memphis might be headed have recently filled the civic space. What a joy.

Too often any conversation about the future of Memphis bogs down into one more recitation about where the city has been. A place where, 145 years ago, the Civil War was fought. A place, 60 years ago, where political corruption and Boss Crump froze out truly representative local government. A place, 41 years ago, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. A place, 32 years ago, where Elvis died.

The touchstones to Memphis past sometimes make it seem as though dead men have a grip on this city. They are gathered at Solomon Alfred’s in the old Overton Square, toasting the days when Memphis State played in the Mid-South Coliseum, while listening to Booker T. & the MGs. Rather than being a chapter in "The 7 Seven Habits of Highly Successful Cities," the cover of a Memphis book might be titled "Memphis: How It’s Always Been.”

That’s why some of the plans now being sketched out as possible future paths for this city, and the region around it, seem so promising.

— Memphis as the hub of a Southern Waterways Ecosystem. The Mississippi is only the best-known river of the vast river system that encircles Memphis. In fact, the metro area is ringed by a series of rivers unlike any on Earth. The Coldwater in Mississippi; the Loosahatchie, the Wolf and the Hatchie rivers to the north in Tennessee create one of the most underutilized, still-intact natural ecosystems anywhere. Over the next few months, the Memphis-based chapter of the Urban Land Institute will bring together various outdoor groups, developers and landowners interested in these distinct waterways and discuss ways these rivers and wetlands might be viewed collectively as a bountiful, beautiful resource for all who live near Memphis.

The project isn’t just about preserving rivers. The Urban Land Institute believes a public discussion about the best ways to manage the regional waterways can help Greater Memphis develop tools and processes to think about a larger vision for land use and sustainable communities decades ahead.

”We want to start with the greenway project because it is perhaps the least controversial way to start a dialogue about a vision for the future, ” explained Rusty Bloodworth, the Boyle Investment Co. executive who has just assumed the role of chairman of the Memphis Urban Land Institute chapter.

If a viable example of creative public dialogue can, in fact, lead to both a vision and a plan for responsible greenway development, the Urban Land Institute team believes the effort could shift to such thorny issues as how to keep neighborhoods from deteriorating into slums, how to build retail and commercial spaces that stay viable longer, and how to have economic growth without just eating up more rural land.

These are exciting ideas. They are proactive. They begin with an end in mind.

Both the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute are nurturing habits that every highly successful city must develop.