Smart Cities Need to Learn About Urban Planning and Community Involvement from Memphis

In Memphis sprawl started in early 1950, when the first shopping centers was built in the suburbs eastern limit. Since then the expansion continued spreading across the surrounding county. With tenacity of Mississippi River, the developers gulped more and more land towards the east. Soon, three interstate loops got built around this city enclosing malls, homes, multiplexes, car sale lots, soccer fields, and more.

Rigidity is connected with planning that hinders progress but the local government in Memphis learnt –

  • To be flexible
  • To be nimble
  • Respond quickly to community driven efforts

Smart cities need to learn about urban planning, community involvement and bootstrapping power from Memphis recent success in combatting urban sprawl. You can read more here.

Urban Planning – Listen to the city needs

Broad Avenue was a forgotten street in Binghamton [Memphis neighbor], which got revitalized by the community’s few main players. Various efforts were made to revitalize this street. A vibrant art district was established from 2007 – 2012 as local businesses started to dwell in the storefronts including art galleries, boutique shops, creative studios, coffee shops, fine dining restaurants, and more. A small railroad neighborhood town got transformed into vibrant art district within ten years. Investors thus proved that city could be transformed as they desired in their neighborhood.

In 2010, a Unified Development Code was adapted. The codified process allows neighborhood associations to be invited sooner, so as to make project designing easy. For example, you don’t need to buy an expensive tool but rent it first to get the feel of it and practice to be responsible. The moment you feel confident then more permanent solution can be considered.

Similarly, the start in the interested neighborhood area needs to be manageable with temporary green spaces, pop-up shops, and street festivals. This coagulates the trust in this neighborhood area and now a permanent solution can be considered but in a responsible way.

It can include reworking the sewer system, connecting neighborhood through pedestrian or bike-friendly routes, adding or removing street lights, etc. thus the city gets linked together through patchwork and network of roadways, streets, green spaces, and pathways.

Community Involvement – Big impact with small investment

Memphis routes were not for bikers in 2010 but in a couple of years the city has fifty miles of committed biking lanes connecting revitalized areas like Broad Avenue, Downtown, Overton Square and Cooper Young via crosswalks and white lines.

Government also showed dedication to revitalize the abandoned region in Overton Square. $12 million was invested in constructing a huge 451-space parking garage. To reduce possible flooding from close by Lick Creek the parking space was designed with underground water retention feature. After the garage got built, the local developers, entrepreneurs and live theaters started to sprawl into the area.

Bootstrapping power

Smart city needs to play with its strength and leverage available assets for its future success. In Broad Avenue, the mid-century buildings were manageable size without any chances to redevelop. It was totally bootstrapped but micro-investors made development possible by opening new businesses and even art centers in the area. On the other hand, Sears Crosstown was spacious. Rather than depending on small business owners, developer called Healthcare & educational resources.

Even if there are less resources, it is pure WILL POWER that makes progress happen!