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For Thought



I've recently started working on my five-year plan. I think it's all the business and planning forums I attend. I'm always hearing "if you don't know where you want to go, how can you ever get there?" (I also hear a lot about "low-hanging fruit" and benchmarks, but I digress.)

My five-year plan covers everything: housing, transportation, spawn, salary, lifestyle. And in many ways, it has to. If you have children, that affects what kind of transportation you use. And where and how you live certainly depends on how much money you make.

I mention this because in the last week or so, it just seems that the more things change in the city, the more they stay the same.

The city administration formally presented the results of a $700,000 efficiency study to the City Council last week, but even though it found $19 million in potential savings, Mayor Willie Herenton didn't seem interested in implementing them. About 80 percent of the savings came from the fire department.

"We have known for some time that there are opportunities to reduce costs, but that wasn't what we wanted to do," said Herenton. "The consultants can come in and study, but we're the ones who have to run this."

Outdoor retailer Bass Pro initially said it was interested in the Pyramid late December 2005, but it still hasn't made a commitment. An article in last week's Commercial Appeal quoted city CFO Robert Lipscomb saying people needed to have patience. Maybe this is what we get for dealing with a retailer that caters to fishermen, a group of people known for both their patience and their tall tales.

Also this week, Save Libertyland announced that they had been given the Zippin Pippin. The activist group is interested in donating the roller coaster back to the city, if the city will preserve it and keep it on the Fairgrounds property. If the city agrees, the only difference from a few years ago would be the Mid-South Fair made $2,500 off of it and now the ride doesn't have any cars.

Is this progress?

What if I told you that in five years from now, the Fords will still have a family member on a majority of the local legislative bodies? Or that Herenton was still mayor? Or that the Pyramid was still sitting vacant?

Would that be acceptable?

In Curitiba, Brazil, now a world-renowned city for its solutions to sprawl, poverty, limited public funding, and other urban problems, planners started working on the city 40 years ago. Now it's been a "showpiece of urban planning," — more than 40 other cities have developed transportation systems based upon Curitiba's rapid bus system and leaders from all over the world have visited the city to learn how it transformed itself.

But the smallest step was perhaps the most important: Planners met weekly, even daily, not to work on the plan but to remind and refresh themselves of the goals they were working toward.

I'm not sure how proactively the Memphis region is thinking about the future. There are areas of foresight, of course. The chamber is looking at Brooks Road and the concept of the aerotropolis. Germantown has a plan for itself called Germantown 2020. Within the entire county, the office of planning and development has a comprehensive planning section that is charged with providing direction for future growth by developing policies and strategies.

In the long-term, the most critical factor for the community's future is perhaps transportation. The decisions that are made about roads and highways eventually affect where housing and retail are located and at what densities. And those decisions are made very far in advance.

The Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is currently working on Destination 2030, a plan for the Memphis area's transportation needs for the next 25 years. But if the MPO is talking about what Memphis will need for the next quarter-century, the rest of the region needs to be thinking about that, too.

Look at the future Highway 385 — it's going to extend Memphis' reach past the Shelby County line and into Fayette County. Pretty soon, citizens might start debating the merits of the Shelby County school system versus the Fayette County school system.

But in the short-term, I think the most critical factor is what the public wants. Maybe it's more trashcans on downtown streets. I'd like to see that, as well as eye-catching recycling bins set up in government buildings, public schools, and the airport. Maybe it's The Pyramid torn down.

The bottom line is this: Either we think about what we want for our city or we're just along for the ride.

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