Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Let's be strategic on our riverfront

An open letter to Mayor Wharton and members of the Memphis City Council:

Mayor Wharton’s transition report recently concluded that "the City of Memphis has long suffered from not having an overarching sense of strategy in its planning and goal-setting."

That is perfectly evident on our riverfront, where the strategy now seems to be: "Keep on keepin' on."

And, "We have to use that 'free' Federal dollar, even if it costs us another $3.68 -- to build a boat dock to nowhere."

Good urban planning is usually represented by a strategic master plan, coupled with an ongoing process for adapting to changing realities.

It's time to be honest with ourselves: We don't have a master plan for the riverfront.

The $270 million, 2002 Riverfront Master Plan was gutted over four years ago, by removing 60% of it (the unworkable land bridge and lake). Without the guts, the rest made little sense. It was never redrawn. And the only project to come out of that plan? Beale Street Landing doesn't follow the plan at all. It merely keeps the name and location.

But that's also the good news: Other cities that started grand waterfront projects now have mountains of debt, and are struggling to figure out how to finish their projects. We spared ourselves from having to learn the hard way.

Let's take advantage of our good fortune. Let's learn some lessons from our experience. Let's be strategic again.

But before we can do so, we have to stop digging ourselves deeper into the hole at the bottom of Beale Street.

I ask that you freeze this project and gather the information necessary to make a long-term decision about its funding, maintenance, operation, and cost-effectiveness.

Further reading

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