The state of the city is strong. That’s what Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Wednesday at the University Club during his second State of the City address.
As Memphis nears its 200-year anniversary, the mayor said the city administration will shift its focus toward building up the city’s core, reducing crime, and improving neighborhoods.
In the two years Strickland has been in office, he said his team “shut ups, rolls up its sleeves, and takes action.”
Some of the results of that, he said are police ranks and street pavings going up, while unemployment goes down.
By the end of this week, Strickland said the Memphis Police Department will see its first net annual gain of officers in seven years. This comes five months after the largest class of officers in recent history graduated in August.
Additionally, last year unemployment rates hit the lowest they’ve been in recorded history, 911 answer times are down and consistent with the national standard, and more than 260 miles of road were paved last year.
Investing in the City's Core
But, with the city’s bicentennial approaching, the administration will begin focusing on reinvesting in the city’s core.
“We will build up, not build out,” Strickland said. “After decades and decades of sprawl, our administration is taking Memphis in a different direction. The days of growth by annexation are over.”
Strickland’s administration is the first in Memphis to propose de-annexation and possibly the first in the country.
One way the administration will focus on the city’s core is by creating more multi-family housing units with tax incentives. The city is in the process of extending a tax-incentive zone from Downtown to Midtown, and into other parts of the city.
Investments will also be made to improve roads and infrastructure in the city.
“There is no more visible sign to citizens that the city cares about you and your street than a fresh coat of blacktop,” Strickland said. “Our long-neglected infrastructure is no longer an afterthought.”
City parks, “vital components of vibrant neighborhood life,” he continued, will be activated this summer with the launch of a new initiative offering free programming for youth. Park staff will lead games and sports, as well as lend equipment to community members, making parks “real destinations within our neighborhoods and assets for neighbors.”
Additionally, Strickland said his team is continuing to “get real about our fight against blight.”
Code enforcement’s response times to complaints have decreased, but the city is still working to “beef up” its efforts to reverse blighted commercial properties.
Reducing Crime Rates
The city is at a “ critical juncture,” Strickland said.
One of the key challenges the city is facing at this juncture, the mayor said, is the crime rate.
The city has a long-term crime reduction plan with five components. Those include, hiring more officers, working with state legislators to increase the penalty for violent crimes, creating more jobs in the city, giving young people something productive to do, and lastly, expunging more non-violent crimes.
Still, Strickland said the administration is not satisfied with the results, but he believes over time, the results will become more favorable.
“Our number one goal at city hall is reducing crime,” he said.
Because gang involvement contributes to high violent crime rates in the city, Strickland said this month the MPD gang unit will expand by eight officers. This will allow officers to intervene and interrupt gang activity before violence erupts.
“When it comes to Memphis, I believe nothing is impossible,” the mayor said. “We can accomplish the impossible. We’re Memphis.”