How Memphis Should Play the Rankings Game

Posted by John Branston on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 1:24 PM

As even their creators and honorees will admit, most of the lists that purport to rank cities are horse crap. But once in a while, one of them comes along that, like a seven-car crash, demands your attention.

Case in point: Outside magazine has named Chattanooga "the best Outside town in America" and one of the "Best Towns Ever." Chattanooga! The decaying railroad town in the shadow of Lookout Mountain and Rock City. I have been there dozens of times over more than 50 years and was moved to congratulate Candace Davis of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Thank you John," she replied in an email. "I typically don’t send out mag ranks either, but we do have a list of them compiled. With this being such a great publication with national and international recognition, we thought it was definitely appropriate. I mean how often do you get to be the Best EVER??"

If you are not familiar with it, Outside features extreme sports and doesn't give a damn about football, baseball, or golf. I like to look at the nice pictures and read the articles which remind me of so many things I either cannot or would not do, like rock climbing, hang gliding, or paddling a surfboard from a standing position like I saw people doing this year in Florida and California and Shelby Farms.

The press release says "Outside scoured the nation to find dream cities that offered a balance of great culture, perfect scenery, stress-free and reasonable cost of living, and, of course, easy access to the outdoors." Finalists included Charleston, SC; Madison, WI; Portland, OR; Portland, ME; Santa Fe, NM; Ashland, OR; Boulder, CO; Burlington, VT; Tucson, AZ. A Facebook poll put our Tennessee neighbor over the top.

While I'm sure researchers put in long hours weighing "stress-free and reasonable cost of living" factors, the emphasis was on the visuals, just as Miss Universe must have, oh, never mind. Chattanooga, if you expand its radius 75 miles, has the goods from whitewater to mountain bluffs to the downtown river walk.

Memphis can play this game. Many of us have seen the warts in Chattanooga and the other finalists, and they are glossed over in such contests. If Shelby Farms, the riverfront, the Harahan Project, the Kroc Center, and Bass Pro work out as hoped, Memphis could and should be on someone's list of best outdoor places.

As I wrote in this blog last week, I would pair that brag with a not-too-subtle reminder that Memphis is pretty much disaster free at a time when the rest of the country is reeling from floods, droughts, hurricanes, blizzards, forest fires, and monumental traffic jams. In today's Wall Street Journal there is a story about a bridge closing on Interstate 64 in Louisville (one of our peer cities) that has "doubled commuting times for thousands" and backed up traffic for six miles in Indiana. UPS, Humana, and the University of Louisville are in scramble mode. Sorry, guys, FedEx is running like clockwork.

In the same newspaper, I read that Texas set a record as the temperature hit 100 degrees for the 70th day this year. The state is parched. Tennessee, and Memphis, are mostly green, and we are the Saudi princes of water.

If I were selling Memphis I would point that out. If it's good enough for FedEx, maybe it's good enough for you, etc. etc. If you like to bike, skate, run, fish, or paddle, come check us out.

Nobody said contests were fair and balanced.

Comments (11)

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You should add the Madison Ave bike lanes to that list (even if you wouldn't use them).

Posted by Levee Road on 09/14/2011 at 4:32 PM

Memphis a best outdoor place, if things only work out? I don't think so. The Mississippi River is an unusable muddy sewer. Where are your mountains? I lived there 21 years and felt like I was getting released from prison when I moved to ... Chattanooga.

Posted by East_Tennessee_Spy_In_Memphis on 09/15/2011 at 10:02 AM

Memphis cannot compete with Chattanooga's natural assets. Bike lanes, greenlines, etc. are fine but, in my opinon, not worth doing. Memphis is not an oudoors city by any reasonable measure. I guess you have to make do with what you have, but it's almost laughable to suggest Memphis as an outdoor city. Having been to Chattanooga several times in recent years for fun (as well as thirty years ago when it wasn't very appealing), I can tell you Chattanooga today has a cleaner, livelier, younger downtown than Memphis, mountains that bring in rock climbers from around the nation, and plenty of water you can actually use. The Missisippi River is a recreationally-useless muddy cauldron for most people unwilling to take the kind of risk required to use it. Just come to the river and watch it "roll"? No, thanks.

Sorry, Memphis cannot play this game and shouldn't try. Stick to great BBQ, some good restaurants generally, a dead Elvis and Beale Street, a monument to a genre of music with no future.

Posted by Niles4334 on 09/15/2011 at 10:12 AM

I'm with Niles. Let's give up.

Posted by Eeyore on 09/15/2011 at 10:21 AM

I lived in Chattanooga for two years, it sucked. If you weren't Thurston Howell III's son and lived in Riverview or Lookout Mtn, you weren't shit. If you didn't go to McCallie/Baylor/GPS you weren't shit. Old people everywhere, no decent restaurants, whitebread bible thumpers everywhere. No music scene AT ALL. All the young people from there who weren't going to work for Daddy bailed to Atlanta. Couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Posted by Packrat on 09/15/2011 at 10:59 AM

I must admit, Chattanooga is much more fun to say that Memphis.

IN Memphis' favor, we do have Mr. Moriah, which offers fabulous skiing three days per decade. And who needs mountains when we have so many excellent climbing opportunities in our abandoned downtown buildings, including one that is more mountain-shaped than any so-called mountain in east Tennessee? Who will be the first to dare it sheer glass slopes, ascend to its dizzy heights, claim the crystal skull hidden at its summit, and win the prize of fifty-thousand kronkites?

Posted by Jeff on 09/15/2011 at 1:03 PM

Memphis is the best "city on the Mississippi River in the state of Tennessee"

Posted by mch on 09/15/2011 at 2:32 PM

I hate to break this to you, John, but the Kroc Center and Bass Pro are both located indoors.

Posted by fancycwabs on 09/15/2011 at 2:53 PM

Boy, do the folks afflicted with Memphis Negativity Syndrome need to get a life (especially you, Niles, for saying "it's almost laughable to suggest Memphis as an outdoor city").

Memphis is a FABULOUS outdoor city, with an abundance of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Just ask the folks with the Bluff City Canoe Club (or Joe Royer at Outdoors) about the many opportunities to paddle on our waterways (we even have a sailing club), or ask the folks with the Memphis Hightailers Bicycle club about the many opportunities to take scenic rides in and around our 'burg (including the now-famous Greenline, several mountain biking trails and an active BMX culture), or ask the Memphis Runners Track Club about the many opportunities to run/race in our area (the Hash House Harriers and the Salty Dogs being two of the most fun).

Ask the Memphis Blues Rugby Club about outdoor contact sports, or check out Shelby Farms Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country (eat your heart out, Chattanooga) for biking, running, sailing, horseback riding, disc golfing or even bird watching, or Meeman Shelby Forest Park, for miles of biking and hiking trails, not to mention boating, fishing, swimming, horseback riding and camping, several soccer clubs for all ages and skill levels (including a world class outdoor soccer facility---Mike Rose), second-to-none skate and dog parks, a city park (Overton) with one of the largest urban old growth forests in the country and a world class outdoor performance venue, and last, but not least, close to a hundred golf courses, public, private and semi-private, for duffers of all skill levels.

I'll match Memphis against Chattanooga, or many other cities, for the availability of outdoor activities any day of the week, and win, hands down. Now, STFU, Niles.

Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 09/15/2011 at 3:47 PM

fancyswabs: actually, you're wrong. from the kroc website:
the Kroc Center is offering a comprehensive range of continuing education, visual and performing arts, health and wellness programs, family services and indoor/outdoor recreation for youth, adults, families and senior citizens.
and bass pro will test tracker boats in harbor and possibly have other outdoor activities and the whole point of the store, last time I checked, has something to do with the great outdoors.

Posted by John Branston on 09/15/2011 at 7:10 PM

That's like saying Wal-Mart is outdoors because it has a garden center.

Posted by fancycwabs on 09/17/2011 at 5:53 PM
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