Last Sunday, a friend and I were driving through Frayser and North Memphis, on our way back to Midtown. We'd paddled around a lake in Shelby Forest and caught a few fish, but mostly the day was about getting out and enjoying the first sunshine in two weeks.
On North Watkins, we began noticing trash along the roadside. It was everywhere — cans, bottles, Styrofoam cups, plastic bags, you name it. My friend speculated that the trash had been deposited by the Wolf River during the recent high water. A good theory, I agreed, but somebody had to toss all this crap out at some point. The river and its adjacent lakes were just hiding it from view.
So here's an idea for the new mayor: Put a bounty on trash. Yes, I know a "bottle bill" is bouncing around the legislature, and if it passes it should help get recyclables off the street. But why not take the next step and allow civic groups, schools, churches, etc. the option of raising money by cleaning up Memphis? Call it the "Buck a Bag" program. Heck, a local school could make a thousand bucks in an afternoon by picking up the junk piled along Watkins. Each kid and teacher would only have to pick up a few bags. Separating recyclables would bring in even more money.
The largest determinant of whether or not a person will commit a criminal act is poverty. That is, statistically, the poorer someone is, the more likely they are to commit a criminal act. This city's biggest problem is poverty, which leads to crime — which most people think is the city's biggest problem. But it's all intertwined, a vicious cycle of poverty, poor education, drugs and alcohol, and crime. We either drastically reduce the number of people caught in that cycle, or we become the Detroit of the South.
For years, we've granted businesses tax relief, given developers sweetheart deals, and tossed millions at downtown development. Let's take some of that jack and inject it into the bottom of the economic food chain instead of throwing it at the top and hoping it trickles down.
We can't eliminate poverty overnight. But maybe a "trash into cash" plan might help. Maybe those of us who live here can create the real Best of Memphis. Honestly, I'm not sure of anything, except that there are probably lots of other ideas out there. If you've got one, e-mail me.
Let's turn this ship.