The next time you're driving around Memphis, pay attention to how many empty buildings you pass. They are everywhere, in all sizes and shapes — huge ones, funky little storefronts, old factories, abandoned strip malls, vacant bungalows and ranch houses. They are in almost every neighborhood, testaments to expired dreams of business success or home ownership. Most of them are decrepit, waiting like old shelter dogs for rescue — or destruction.
The latest addition to the dance is the building on our cover. The Horizon is a twofer, a testament to failed dreams of business success and home ownership, but it's not old; it's brand-new, not even finished. Whether it's a case of a developer overreaching or bad economic timing or both depends on who you talk to. In his story (page 18), John Branston gets a number of perspectives. You can draw your own conclusion. But whatever its final fate may be, the Horizon will dominate Memphis' south skyline for years to come.
Failure, like a brick tossed into a pond, causes ripples. In the immediate aftermath of a failed venture like the Horizon, there are contractors who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in some cases, even went bankrupt. There are prospective tenants whose deposit payments are in jeopardy. There are legal proceedings and lawsuits stretching ahead for months.
The ripples from old failures are less obvious but no less damaging. Empty buildings, like mold spots on bread, can lead to a slow decay of streets and neighborhoods. That decay chases people out — to sprawling suburbs, to other counties — leaving fallow spaces behind. We are spread too thin for our population. We have too much land that brings us nothing — no employment, residency, or tax revenue.
In Detroit, a city in much worse shape than Memphis, there is a movement to return empty urban landscapes to their natural state by razing the empty buildings and scraping away the concrete and asphalt. I am reminded of the old Talking Heads song, "(Nothing But) Flowers":
I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
You got it, you got it ...
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention ...