Editor's note: On Monday, the Shelby County Commission took the momentous step of voting unanimously to allocate some $575,000 from its Capital Improvement Program contingency fund toward the transformation of a seven-mile section of the old CSX rail line, now unused, into an urban greenway to be called the Greenline.
The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy has provided $4.77 million in grant funds for the purchase of the property, which runs from east of Midtown to Shelby Farms, and the commission's contribution is the required local match for a federal surface transportation grant of some $1.5 million, which will go toward the actual construction of the new greenway.
The conversion of the old CSX line into a greenway is a coup for Memphis for myriad reasons. We're securing a green asset, and while that's always beneficial, in an economic slowdown it may yield dividends.
Green assets are talent magnets. Often selecting their ideal city before seeking a job there, talented people relocate based on the availability of amenities like parks and trails. As Richard Florida put it in Cities and the Creative Class, "Talented individuals are attracted to places with high levels of outdoor recreation."
The Greater Memphis Greenline, as it will be called, is exciting because it will bring the community together for recreation, be it walking, jogging, running, or cycling. Additionally, because of its length and location, the Greenline will connect people all across town with Shelby Farms, with the Wolf River Greenway, and with other green spaces. Clearly, such an asset is an attractive boost to the Bluff City's overall quality of life. Not only will the Greenline reroute talent to Memphis, it will lock down the talent that's already here.
As 21st-century cities fight to lure the creative class and the educated workforce fundamental to urban prosperity, leveraging our green assets optimizes our city's ability to win talent and stay competitive.
The Greenline will provide Memphians with an easily accessible, eco-friendly way to exercise and stay happy and healthy. That's good news for the families and individuals that make up our diverse community. Good health in our city is also good news for our economy, because healthy workers are more productive workers. By contributing more at the office, healthier workers end up boosting the local economy. And on the flip side, because a population that stays fit is less prone to illness, the burden on local hospitals is lightened when people maintain their health by exercising on a trail.
A few have raised concern about the safety of the future Greenline, and a few of the residents living alongside it have griped that their property values might be in jeopardy. However, studies fail to corroborate the notion that trails are unsafe or devaluating.
On the contrary, according to a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy report on 372 trails or greenlines across the country, the national urban assault rate of trail users was 0.58 per 100,000. Compare that to 531 assaults per 100,000 in non-trail areas (i.e., everywhere else).
In light of this data, trails would seem to be safer than the communities they pass through. Again, they attract talent, not crime. And they promote safe neighborhoods. As for home values, according to a National Association of Homebuilders study cited in The New York Times, trails are the top amenity sought by homeowners looking to move into a new community.
Not surprisingly, a study by the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment found that the amenity value of trails was associated with more than $140 million in increased property values along one such trail in Indianapolis.
So trails are good news for the housing market and the new, green economy.
The conversion from rail to trail of the CSX line is a great step in moving Memphis forward. As we become greener, smarter, and safer, our city cultivates a talent engine that makes us thrive.
Kevin Adams is CEO of CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate firm, and a graduate of the Leadership Academy's Master Program.