by Mary Cashiola
At a Leadership Memphis breakfast last week, Charles Landry asked if the city had a color strategy.
Perhaps it was an idle question. Or perhaps it was an attempt to get Memphians thinking creatively from a man for whom creativity is a way of life.
Landry is the author of The Creative City and the exuberant force behind a philosophy that says modern cities need to be creative to survive.
"Doing things the same way doesn't work anymore," Landry said. To solve their problems, cities need to create an environment of creativity where the yellow belly of fear doesn't dominate decisions.
Don't believe him? Many of Memphis' brightest attractions -- the South Main Arts District, Harbor Town, AutoZone Park -- could be characterized as creative and as risks. And while it can take a little green, it can also make it. I mean, ingenuity could be worth its weight in gold where The Pyramid's future is concerned.
So, is Memphis a creative city? Traditionally we have been (our music industry) and there's evidence we still are (our nascent film industry). But in 2002, when Richard Florida ranked the creative economy of 49 U.S. cities in The Rise of the Creative Class, Memphis was dead last. Since then, efforts have been made to create the city as a "talent magnet" but without community-wide creativity, we're dead on arrival.
Asked about Memphis, Landry said it had potential. "I'm aware of a lot going on here," he said. "The question is whether or not it can be harnessed."
In his book, Landry writes that "cities with single, homogenous populations often find it more difficult to be widely creative." Going strictly by the numbers, Memphis should have it made. But the reality is that our racial polarization is killing us.
The day before his talk at Leadership Memphis, Landry took in South Main, Harbor Town, the Bluff Walk, and the National Civil Rights Museum.
"Externally, Memphis seems so rich and deep, but when you come here you're reminded of reality very quickly. There seems to be some unresolved history," he said. "Can you find a symbolic event that says we're here now rather than there? It's not denying history, but acknowledging history and looking forward. ... We've talked about multiculturalism. Now we need to talk about interculturalism."
Multiculturalism celebrates our differences; interculturalism asks what we have in common. The two are shades of each other but worlds apart.
I'm not sure if we've asked ourselves enough questions. Has Memphis had a symbolic event that says we've moved on? Did it happen when the National Civil Rights Museum expanded or when A C Wharton was elected the first African-American mayor of Shelby County? Are we still waiting? And does it even matter, if we can't see our similarities?
I don't know the answers. But to be innovative, we'll have to overcome our divisions.
"The creativity of others is often an effective way of sparking creativity in oneself, especially in shared experiences," Landry writes. "Bringing together disparate disciplines or people can widen horizons and generate new forms of creativity."
And maybe that's why we need a city color scheme to draw us together. Someone at the breakfast suggested blue, in honor of Elvis' famous suede shoes. That's not a bad choice. The Grizzles wear it. So do the Tigers. And we're the home of the blues.
If only we could get away from black and white.