The Flyer offices are on the river bluff in downtown Memphis. Some days, when the weather is nice, I get to work early, wander over to the Bluff Walk, and watch the sunlight hit the bridges and the river and Arkansas beyond. I contemplate the joggers and cyclists in shady Tom Lee Park below, the low mist on the water, the cars and trucks on the bridges, the clean, white FedEx planes splitting the blue, making the turn over downtown on their way to the airport. It clears my head. It makes me feel good about my city.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a column enumerating a few changes I would make if I were king of Memphis. These included: Quit pursuing suburbanites who want no part of the city; start focusing on what we have and what we can do to make the city better; quit obsessing on race; and ignore the Memphis-haters. I name-checked a number of the city's assets — obvious ones — cultural amenities, FedEx, sports teams, downtown, the river, etc. I even said I thought Memphis had a bright future. Heresy, right?
Maybe not. The response to that column has been gratifying, to say the least. I've gotten many emails thanking me for saying what, apparently, a lot of people in Memphis are thinking. And lots of these folks brought up more reasons for hope — a declining crime rate, a mayor who seems to care about doing the right thing, farmer's markets, the greenline, bike lanes, the revitalization of Overton Park, the embracing of Peabody Elementary School by residents — and parents — in Cooper-Young. And many more, too numerous to cite here. Most, if not all, involved engaged citizens working to improve their neighborhoods.
On the Flyer website, the response was a little more mixed, with a few commenters saying I was a Pollyanna and Memphians should abandon all hope and get out while the getting was good. But cities don't just wither and die, not even Detroit and Pittsburgh, both of which went through much harder economic times than Memphis has ever experienced.
Maybe we need our own Clint Eastwood, someone to say what needs to be said: "It's halftime in Memphis. This city can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again, and when we do, the world's going to hear the roar of our engines." That would work.
Or you could just try walking the river bluff at sunrise one morning. That works, too.