A DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, WALKED
DOUG CARPENTER | THE DAILY MEMPHIAN
As developments across the Downtown Memphis landscape compound, desire for consumption by and connectivity between people is a universal sentiment. Our investors, architects and developers, funders and supporters believe that attracting people is the greatest indicator of a vibrant center city.
We discuss infrastructure, sidewalks, bike lanes, RiverLine, trails, and the greater grid of Downtown as a geography that should be walkable in order to be viable. “Walkable,” in its most appropriate sense, is about pedestrian activity, whether walking, jogging, or biking.
Yet I argue that it’s not merely our infrastructure that’s needed. We need to take it a step further.
Instead of simply “walkable,” the goal should be that our downtown that is “walked.”
The difference is subtle, but it’s transformational.
We cannot invest in bike lanes if they do not authentically connect assets that people want to interact with. We cannot expect to maintain trails if they are not traversed. We cannot place benches on corners and rely on our citizens to simply discover them. We must invite them to the assets and remind them - our residents and visitors - of their added value.
I’ve learned this firsthand from Big River Crossing. The engineering feat to build a boardwalk above and across the Mighty Mississippi was an unmatched undertaking and a profound addition to our Downtown two years ago this October.
But 400,000 bikers and pedestrians (and counting) did not cross Big River Crossing because they happened upon the trailhead at a somewhat-hidden Channel 3 Drive. They crossed because they were invited with powerful and persistent communications across social media and national media outlets, authentic invitations by our convention and visitors’ organization Memphis Tourism to visitors worldwide, and a sense of ownership by Memphians of all neighborhoods.
The experience of a walk across Big River Crossing is memorable not simply because of the view, but more so because of a shared experience of the view with others you pass and meet.
Memphis Greenspace has also instituted a monumental shift in its infrastructure by removing Confederate statues.
Removing a barrier to entry is one thing, yet the Downtown Memphis Commission’s commitment to activation grants and programs have turned a public park into an active park.
Whether a one-time significant event such as the 1,000-person Dîner en Blanc or weekly sunset yoga, Memphis Park is not just an asset where people gather by accident - it’s an invitation extended by multiple parties to walk to a space that is kinetic, populated and embraced.
Our invitation to pedestrians must be to go beyond infrastructure and proactively, intentionally create reasons to bring people, partners, and communities together every single day.
Thanks to developers, riverfront visionaries, restaurateurs and retailers, I believe we are experiencing a “walked” Downtown.
Progress relies on all of us - so get outside and take a walk. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.