City Confidence



It was storytime at the Center City Commission's annual luncheon, today at the Peabody Hotel.

Former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin told attendees about "The Little Engine That Could," relating it to how "small and insignificant" Atlanta started.

Shirley Franklin
  • Shirley Franklin
"Memphis and Atlanta can because they think they can," she said. "We just have to believe in ourselves."

Franklin said the first step was knowing who you are as a city, knowing your history, and knowing what works for you and what doesn't.

"In order to be successful, you have to brand yourself. You have to decide who you want to be," she said.

She also urged city leaders to think in the long-term, because the successes of today are built on the decisions made several generations ago.

"How will cities be successful, not in the next two or three years, but the next 50 or 100 years?"

For me, the lesson that Memphis can learn from Atlanta is about self-confidence, maybe even about moxie, chutzpah, cojones.

I mean, they won the 1996 Olympics — the ones that Athens really wanted because it was the modern games' 100th anniversary — at a time when they were considered a long-shot. But they tried for it anyway.

Take Franklin herself. Before she became mayor, Franklin had been Atlanta's CAO and City Manager, but she had never run for office. She was also a woman — and no woman had ever been mayor of Atlanta before. She was the first black woman to become mayor of a major Southern city.

It's hard to say "have confidence" to a city that doesn't. And as someone in the media, I'm often accused of hurting Memphis' self-image.

But I've seen some things recently that suggest the city is slowly moving in the right direction. Maybe we just have to remember to think we can.


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