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Bright Ideas: Memphis Currency, Homeless Meter

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For the Flyer's "Bright Ideas" issue, we asked nine Memphians this question: If you were given carte blanche to make whatever changes in Memphis you thought were needed, what would you do?

Up next is Divine Mafa, the owner of a clothing store in South Main, who has some unique ideas about Memphis printing its own currency and "homeless meters."

"I think the important thing is to retain young folks. They don't see Memphis as a place they can realize the American dream, so as soon as they graduate they are thinking about leaving the city to go to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, or Atlanta.

"We need a government that understands how to create good jobs by bringing in the right companies and rebranding the city not just as a distribution center. When you do that, you are telling folks that we are here to ship boxes. To advertise that as the fabric of our economy is a travesty.

"We could be known as the retail center of the Mid-South, where people from the whole Delta region come and do their shopping. That creates a lot of tax revenue. We're already known for distribution; we could capitalize on that aspect.

"Because the dollar is so low, I believe Memphis and Shelby County should establish its own currency to build its own micro economy and shield itself from a failing economy. Restaurants and retail businesses will accept this concept because it increases spending, pride, and awareness of the efforts of local businesses.

"Faces of local legends and natural wonders of the county can be on the local currency. Local artists and students could design the currency. This is also a great way of making our resources known to tourists.

"When investors come to Memphis — for whatever reason — they see dilapidated buildings. We don't have anything that attracts people to say, 'I want to invest in Memphis,' because all they see is blight.

"Any city that is successful has a nucleus. It has a downtown that is functional, and then its energy begins to radiate to the surrounding areas.

"We should have a homeless meter. People will always give to the panhandler, but the money goes to booze and drugs. The solution? Parking meters, in high-foot-traffic areas where panhandlers frequent. Educate Memphians and tourists to put loose change in the meter instead of handing it over to the panhandler. The money collected from the 'homeless meter' will then be distributed to charities and organizations that assist with homelessness and hunger prevention.

"And make sure that people who own vacant buildings have to do something to make them occupied. If you are keeping a building undeveloped in an area that's economically depressed, you need to be accountable to some extent.

"Memphians continue to be dependent on other people to come in and save them. We need to get up sometimes and do it ourselves. I've been in the medical field for the past 15 years. I said, I need to do something positive. I want that building. It's a corner space. I said, I'm going to turn it into a clothing store.

"Three months later, it was a clothing store. It was idea, talk, then action. Done. Now I see another vision: transforming the South Main district into a fashion district.

"It doesn't take long to transform a building. Three months from now, Memphis could be looking beautiful enough to attract investors if people are willing to do something about these ugly buildings that are sitting around here."

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