This is roughly my 300th In the Bluff column. It's also my last.
Later on this month, I'll be leaving the Flyer to take a position with the city as its brand management and civic engagement specialist.
One of Memphis' most pressing challenges in terms of taxes and the economy is its brain drain. But more recently, the city seems to be experiencing an amazing transformation.
Crime is down 27 percent in the last four years.
With the Shelby Farms Greenline opening in October and the Wolf River Greenway opening December 1st, residents are exercising together in droves (creating both stronger community bonds and muscles).
And those aren't exceptions. The mayor has pledged his support for 55 miles of bike lanes in the next two years, and the Greater Memphis Greenline is working on opening a pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi River. The city's first dog park opened last June, and the city's first skatepark is slated to open in Tobey Park by next September.
MATA has hired a consultant to look at rerouting the bus system, and board president Fred Johnson says their focus is on two things: "providing better, more efficient service and increasing ridership."
Things are changing in Memphis. The perception of the city needs to change to reflect the new reality. Hopefully, that will help grow the population.
And while I'm excited about the work I'm going to be doing with the city. I'm also going to miss the Flyer. I've been here a decade, pretty much ever since I came to work as an intern. I was in college near Chicago, and, as part of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, each student is sent on a quarter-long internship. To keep it as real-life as possible, students apply and interview for openings, and two weeks before they're expected to start work, they learn where they'll be going.
In Chicago, I liked the weekly Chicago Reader and Newcity. Seeing a newsweekly — the Memphis Flyer — among my choices, I decided to rank it first and ended up coming to Memphis.
I didn't know much about the city at the time, apart from Graceland and grittiness. I didn't know anyone in Tennessee, much less in Memphis. But the city sounded cool and interesting, and I have to say it's never disappointed on either of those fronts.
My first story in the Flyer was about Joe's Wine and Liquor renovating the Sputnik star. My last, other than this column, was about the renaissance on Broad Avenue.
In between, I've written about the Memphis City Schools system hiring art teachers for each of its elementary schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates money and the initiatives it's being used to fund, and the blight in Memphis and what local residents and officials are doing to combat it. I've written about changes to Memphis' demographics, changes at The Commercial Appeal, and changes in Uptown. I've covered controversies over the Memphis Zoo and Overton Park, the leadership at the public library, Libertyland, and what used to be called the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center. I've written about annexation and consolidation.
Along the way, I've been fortunate enough to meet some really incredible people, those who embody every bit of Memphis' entrepreneurial, unique, creative, fun, and just plain DIY spirit.
But some of my favorite people have been the ones I've seen every week for the last 10 years at Contemporary Media, the parent company of the Flyer. And, if y'all will indulge me, I'd like to thank some of them:
• Copy editors Pam Denney and Leonard Gill for catching most, if not all, of my typographical errors. I always count on Pam to tell us when we've crossed the line and Leonard to be a down-to-earth, calming presence (even when they are spilling red ink all over the place);
• Senior editors Jackson Baker and John Branston for setting an example of what it means to be both a reporter and a columnist. The JBs, as we call them around here, are dedicated, talented journalists, and I've learned a lot from both of them;
• Senior editor Michael Finger for his ability to make me laugh — out loud — at any given moment;
• Managing editor Susan Ellis for her fabulously dry wit and quiet determination. She makes putting out quality work week after week seem effortless;
• Events editor and staff writer Bianca Phillips for reminding me to turn my calendar over at the beginning of each month, for listening to my various ramblings over the cubicle wall, and for always bringing yummy vegan treats to the office;
• Staff writer Chris Davis for telling — and acting out — the absolute best stories in the world;
• Music and film editor Chris Herrington for teaching me about music and basketball (I don't think he realizes just how much I learned from eavesdropping on the conversations and interviews going on in the next cubicle);
• Food writer Hannah Sayle for actually wanting to listen to my advice;
• A bevy of interns for being energetic and eager: Shea O'Rourke, Zac Hill, crazy Ben Popper, crazy Michael Flanagan, and our latest: style and savings guru Halley Johnson;
• And Bruce VanWyngarden for being an amazingly cool boss. (I'd think that even if he didn't have a rock star for a son.) He's always encouraged me to pursue whatever wild idea I had that day and given me the freedom to write whatever I wanted.
Actually, everyone here is like family. I love you guys.