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Another "Bright Idea" for Memphis: "Stop Building Crap"

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In last week's cover story, "Bright Ideas," associate editor Mary Cashiola asked nine Memphians how they would improve the city. Here are some ideas from Andrew Couch:

When I think about Memphis, I think of a city that is okay. If you leave education, leadership, and crime out of the discussion, we've got a mostly all right place to live.

Our air quality isn't perfect, but it isn't that bad. Our water is clean(ish) when compared to other cities. Our commute times are not that bad. We've got loads of open space nearby, loads of parks, a giant river, easy access to great food and live music, and we're not very far from larger cities like Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans. So what needs to change?

If I could change anything about Memphis, it would be this: I would ever so politely ask the majority of my co-inhabitants here to take another look. There is a problem with our way of life, and it has nothing to do with global warming, hippies, environmentalists, terrorists, or the president.

This city is becoming a dirty, sprawling, and increasingly homogenized Anytown, USA. Why do we need so many Walgreens, so many lousy identical strip malls, and so many poorly and inefficiently built homes so far out into what were once perfectly pleasant woodlands?

Why do we need these giant vehicles to lug our overweight and malnourished bodies all over the once-beautiful town that we are ruining with such lousy and culturally neutral garbage? Why is there so much litter on our streets? To quote my favorite writer, J.P. Donleavy, we're "teaching the landscape an ugly lesson it will never forget."

Here are a few extraordinarily simple ideas that I would like to share:

1) Stop building crap. By crap, I mean cheap, ugly, inefficient buildings that age poorly and look worse than the building you tore down.

2) Stop tearing down old buildings to build crap. See above.

3) Stop building so many parking lots. If you have to build a parking lot, put it behind the building.

Once the building is required to bear its regrettable face to the street without a parking lot to bear the brunt of the offense, you may just decide that your building looks like crap and subsequently redesign.

4) Get out of your car every once in a while. Take a bus, ride your bike, or ride in someone else's car for a change. The Health Department has a wonderful ride-share program that works great.

5) Stop throwing trash on the ground.

My wish and vision for Memphis is one that is simple and attainable in the near-term: a town that has preserved its identity, stopped being so wasteful, and cleaned up its mess.

-- Andrew Couch, Executive director, West Tennessee Clean Cities Coalition

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