Planners Plan to Have a Plan: Memphis 3.0 Will Map City's Future



We don’t have a plan.

We have some general ideas. But no plan. That is, we don’t have a comprehensive plan for the next kind of city Memphians want Memphis to be.

Our last plan was made in 1981 and ran out in 2000. It worked, according to a city official, but it left us with a sprawling urban footprint, bigger than Chicago and New York City.

So, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s office is making a new plan. And, because the city will enter its third century  in 2019, the plan is called Memphis 3.0.

Planners and researchers have been out in the field since November, talking to community members about what they want to see in Memphis in the coming years — transportation, economic development, city systems, land use, and more.

They’ve collected that information and have now begun to collect as much data about Memphis as possible. Soon, they’ll crunch all that data together to begin matching up desires with realities. They’ll then prioritize those desires, develop the final plan, and, by January 2019, begin to implement that plan.

Ashley Cash is the administrator of the Memphis 3.0 planning process. John Zeanah, is, by now, a planning veteran. He’s the program manager for the massive Mid-South Regional Greenprint & Sustainability Plan and is working on the Memphis 3.0 plan. — Toby Sells

Memphis Flyer: What are you trying to accomplish with Memphis 3.0?

John Zeanah:
 Memphis hasn’t had a comprehensive plan since 1981. We’re taking a long-range look at how we plan for land use, transportation, city systems, and how it all interacts with the natural environment.
Generally, as we grow in the future, we need to look at where we want that growth to be and how we want it to look.

Since 1981, our growth has been outward. Our growth has been really to move beyond the city’s borders and annex it in. We want to think about a future pattern of growth that supports a more sustainable, livable, connected, and opportunity-rich city.

MF: All of that is to make Memphis a better place to live, right?

Ashley Cash:
People who live in Memphis want a decent quality of life. They want a decent place to live within their means. They want their neighborhood amenities nearby.

They may not think of those as it relates to planning. They just think of them as the basic, fundamental ideals about living in the city of Memphis.

We want to take those things and identify those assets we can build off of that are really working. But, also, what are some of those gaps and bring in a little bit of innovation around increasing or improving people’s quality of life, improving their connection with their jobs, and the schools they go to, and their neighbors.

MF: How have we been doing some of this planning work recently?

The 1981 plan was called “Memphis 2000.” It had a 20-year time horizon from 1981 to 2000. It was, in a sense, a comprehensive plan for that 20-year period.
  • City of Memphis

One of the big things that came out of that plan was that the city thought about its future in terms of growing outward, expanding urban levels of service outward and beyond what were the boundaries at that time.

So, for 20 years that sort of set the tone for what followed, which was thinking about the growth of the city as being an outward movement rather than an upward movement. Of course, what we all know now, looking in hindsight, is that strategy left a lot of communities disinvested, particularly in the older parts of the city.

MF: If outward growth was the strategy of that 1981 plan, it worked, right? And that shows that plans like these can work.

A new plan with these strategies can work, but it has to be honored and implemented over time. In my opinion, the most important way to do that is to involve as many Memphians as possible in the development of this plan, and talking through shared priorities, developing those, talking through implementation steps, and developing those.

Then, we need to talk through the policies or investments [we need to implement] to see the type of change in our city that we want to see.

MF: What did you find out in your discussions with the community?

AC: Memphis has some great assets to build off of. We’ve got a lot of those tourist icons that you think of. St. Jude [Children’s Research Hospital] is here. We’ve got a great parks system…urban parks, and neighborhood parks, and the Greenline.

So we’ve got a lot of good stuff here to work with and to build off of. So, it was exciting that people recognized the value of what our city already has.

Some of those things coming out in the session [that we need to work on], is the appearance and cleanliness of our neighborhoods. The desire to reduce blight in our neighborhoods, and to start thinking about strategies to decrease that.

Lots of people discussed our transit system and how there’s a bit of lack of connection between where the people are and where they need to go. We’re just starting to think through how we can flesh out that issue with this plan.

Another thing that came up a lot was neighborhood-level economic development. We got into the diversity of businesses in different areas. They may have a lot of one thing in one area but not necessarily what they need. That also comes from businesses moving out of the neighborhood over time.

MF: Is there anything about the process now that we’ve haven’t covered?

The public can expect to see our planners out in the city over the next couple of months. They may not expect to see somebody out in public working on a city plan.

One of our planners built a podium for us and carved out the 3.0 logo [into it]. We’re going to get that painted up and we’re going to use that podium as sort of a calling card as we’re out in the community.

Maybe we’re out in the community at a grocery store, or a transit stop, or something like that. If you’re just walking along and you see a podium in a place you’re not expecting one, it might trigger you to think “What is this?” or “What’s going on?”

We want to do some things like that and think about how we can spark interactions over the next few months as we’re building awareness of the plan and as we have conversations with people about what (the plan) is.


Find out more about the plan at

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