Cooper-Young resident Laura Gates feels safe biking, walking, and running in her neighborhood during daylight hours. But once the sun sets, she'd rather stay indoors.
"There was a string of armed robberies here before I moved back to Cooper-Young. Years later, I still don't feel comfortable working out after dark," Gates said.
Gates echoes the concerns of Memphians in neighborhoods across the city, which is why Mayor A C Wharton's administration has pledged more police patrols around 25 "safe zones" during peak workout hours. All the safe-zone boundaries are centered around city parks.
Memphis is one of 300 cities participating in the Let's Move campaign, which was initiated by first lady Michelle Obama to combat childhood obesity. The low-cost program was launched in Memphis last week at the Hickory Hill Community Center. The area around that complex is one of the first zones to receive a beefed-up police presence.
Other areas include Frayser Park, Alcy Samuels Park in the airport area, Southside Park in South Memphis, and several parks in Whitehaven. Unfortunately for Gates, no parks in Cooper-Young have been chosen for the campaign's roll-out, but city bicycle and pedestrian coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz said other neighborhoods would be added later.
"We're using existing police patrols, but they'll be targeting these areas during peak workout hours, like in the morning before work and in the afternoon after work," Wagenschutz said. "Those are the times people are most prone to get outside."
Memphis police spokesperson Karen Rudolph said officers would focus on safe-zone areas between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.
Last fall, Wagenschutz gathered opinions from 1,600 Memphians in a bike and pedestrian survey, and he said the number-one excuse people gave for not walking outside more often was weather. Feeling unsafe came in a close second.
"There's not much we can do about the weather, but we can do something about safety," Wagenschutz said. "The safe zones are a direct response."
Since the city is using existing police patrols, the only costs associated with the project are "safe zone" signs around designated areas.
"We chose parks as safe zones because parks already have great amenities in them. We're using the assets we have and making them visible," Wagenschutz said.
The city has 160 parks totaling more than 3,000 acres of land. Although not all will be included in the initial safe-zone campaign, city parks director Cindy Buchanan touted all the city's parks during the Let's Move launch.
"There's a park within a mile of every neighborhood," Buchanan said. "Many have walking trails, and the easiest thing you can do is walk." Speaking of walking, Buchanan had another suggestion for people looking for easy workout ideas.
"We have more sidewalks than any other city," Buchanan said. "If you want to go for a walk, you can start right in front of your house."