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First Time Traveling to Memphis. 

Historic Beale Street

It was my first time in the city but it was not my first time thinking about the place. After earning my Master’s in 2017, I applied for public realm positions all over the world and Memphis was on the list of US communities that placemaking could really make a difference in. I wanted to add to the great work being done in Memphis already like that of the late Tommy Pacello and that of my colleagues like Daniel Ashworth (who now lives and works in Jax, we serve on the CNU Board together)!

To any dedicated public servant committed to helping people build, it becomes clear that in some parts of Memphis, there are communities in need of more love and more committed people. Simply being in Memphis for a day, hearing from locals, and learning about the history made it clear that we need more people investing in Memphians and empowering residents to lead.

Sun Studio is a recording studio opened by rock-and-roll pioneer Sam Phillips at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 3, 1950

You could still feel the impact of redlining from the 1930s when government agencies and lenders facilitated discriminatory housing policies that kept Black families and neighborhoods from thriving. The city where MLK, Jr. was assassinated during his “I am a man” sanitation strikes has a strong spirit about it.

I felt that spirit while in Tennessee for work. Bluff City, Grind City, Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock and Roll -- this sweet little city of about 650,000 sits right on the mighty Mississippi surrounded by a rich landscape of public space. Over the course of three days I saw the city as a lab to better understand urban planning, people planning, and community development.

A few iconic moments included: landing in the Arcade Diner where Elvis hung out with his entourage lovingly referred to as the Memphis Mafia and he ate the iconic peanut butter and banana sandwiches, fried.

The Lorraine Hotel

Another powerful moment was standing at The Lorraine Hotel on Mulberry Street staring at room 306 where the famous shot was fired. I took time to step outside the urban core and venture to the Railgarten to lay eyes on an exemplary shipping container space turned venue. Next up, to better understand vacant lot transformations and adaptive re-use sites. Stops included the Crossroads Concourse, an adaptive reuse of an old Sears warehouse turned “vertical village,” and teaching to a room full of passionate urbanists in the Beale Room were among other highlights of the trip. 

Joined by Laura Edgecomb, Jake Gordon, and Sondra Fetner

It is a true privilege to attend and teach an accredited American Institute of Certified Planners course for IDA’s Southeast Urban District Forum in the Beale Room. The forum is an incredible meet-up of place management professionals and leading voices from 25+ U.S. cities who convene to collaborate over three days of immersive, hands-on learning. I prayed that others arrived educated on the sacred ground they stood on. 

We studied the work of Carol Coletta, President and Chief Executive Officer, Memphis River Parks Partnership and TedX speaker Shamichael Hallman of 'Reimagining the Public Library to Reconnect the Community' with a stop at The Cossitt Library. 

Alongside my wonderful colleagues from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Laura Edgecombe and Sondra Fetner, we shared more than twenty years of combined expertise to share fundraising strategies and what happens when you work with both people and public space in unison. The trip included a walk over the Harahan pedestrian bridge next to the iconic Mud Park, putting us in Arkansas.

Tom Lee Park (Being Set up for River Beat Fest)

Tenessee was time to study parks; how they're funded, governed and programmed. Stops included: Mud Bank Park, Butler Park, Ashburn-Coppock Park, and Tom Lee Park which recently saw 61 million dollars of investment. Tom Lee Park was the crown jewel! The park is named after Tom Lee, a riverworker, who saved the lives of 32 passengers of a sinking steamboat in 1925. The park is part of the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force in partnership with Memphis River Parks Partnership, who worked with Studio Gang to create a master plan that reimagined six miles of the city’s Mississippi riverfront as a connected network of spaces and opportunities that benefits the entire community. It is a model for Jax to follow.

While in Tenessee, we also did an ethnographic study of vacant lot transformations, alleys and adaptive reuse projects to bring back to Jax as mentioned above. This included a stop to the historic Beale Street to take home a thing or two for Jax’s nightlife district on Bay Street. We also go to see some of the districts in Memphis including the Medical District, The Edge, Victorian Village, Pinch District, and Downtown proper. Just a few photos from the trip:

A Transformed Alley on Main Street in Downtown Memphis

An Alley - Beautified - in Downtown Memphis

A Transformed Space on Madison Ave in Memphis

Unique Transformation of An Old Rail Yard

Vacant Lot Transformation with Stage, Screen, Lighting & Seating

Linear Parks System Along the Memphis Riverwalk

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