Since our previous two issues featured cover stories on "eyesore" buildings and crack houses, a couple of people asked me if the Flyer was trying to depress its readers. (I was also asked if maybe I needed to take a vacation, but that's another story.)
We're not trying to depress anybody, but Memphis has literally thousands of vacant lots, abandoned houses, decrepit buildings, and derelict malls. And in recent years, urban sprawl has carried the blight to our suburbs, as strip malls and subdivisions are left to decay in the wake of the great exodus to the outer reaches of Shelby County. Dealing with this problem — the spaces left behind — will be on the public agenda for the next decade or so, at least.
Recently, I drove a backroad from the Wolfchase area in Bartlett to Highway 51, south of Millington. The contrasts were instructive. You'd wind around a curve and see a horse farm with rolling fields and dense patches of forest. A half-mile later, you'd see the stone and brick entrance to Sylvan Woods Laurel Trace (or some such), a development of 40 brick McMansions. Then you'd pass an apple orchard and a fruit stand, followed by a trailer park. I kept wondering how it's possible for the city or county to provide adequate fire and police protection to these people — and at what cost. We are, quite literally, spreading ourselves — and resources — thin. Something's got to give.
Most of us are beginning to recognize the intrinsic value of public green spaces: The new greenline, the revinvention of Shelby Farms, and the Overton Park greensward are examples. This week's cover story illustrates the renewed fervor for gardening in public spaces, for reconnecting to the parts of our land that haven't been covered in asphalt and concrete.
It's the buildings left behind — and the spaces between — that are the problem, but maybe there's an opportunity here. Instead of building more public housing, maybe we should be decentralizing poverty by renovating the abandoned houses that are already in our midst. The cost can't be much more than erecting massive public housing projects year after year.
Or, here's an idea: Let's tear all the old crap down and start planting fruit trees and gardens. See ya, Sterick Building. Hello, downtown orchard. So long, Sears Crosstown. Hello, Midtown Mega-garden. Memphis: City of Good Produce — how does that sound?