Learn the strategies for a rising city: Memphis Boot Camp

High Ground News

April 23, 2014

Sprawl, burdensome regulations, rising property taxes, and decreasing levels of municipal services – these challenges are the focus of the inaugural Strong Towns Boot Camp happening in Memphis this week. At these events our local leaders are being immersed in out-of-the-box civic planning that can save a fragile city with shrinking resources and growing demands – and you can learn along with them.

On Tuesday, the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team and its partners gathered together some of Memphis’s biggest developers, business and civic leaders, philanthropy groups and investors to suggest they do one thing: think small.

The mantra is “tactical urbanism,” and it’s a focus of the three-day workshop Boot Camp Memphis, led by the Minnesota-based nonprofit Strong Towns. In town to speak to a nearly full auditorium at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation were Chuck Marohn, President of Strong Towns, and Mike Lydon, Principal of the Brooklyn-based The Street Plans Collaborative.

Participating partners include the Urban Land Institute, the Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Community LIFT, Livable Memphis, theCommunity Foundation of Greater Memphis and the Hyde Family Foundations.

After remarks by Mayor A C Wharton, Marohn opened the executive session by asking the audience whether or not government should try to make a profit and likened a city’s investment versus return exchange to that of any business. He walked through the first life cycles of post-World War II growth and the development of sprawl that began in many cities as developers moved further and further out. Such growth created an “illusion of wealth” yet left cities destitute during the second life cycle, when the infrastructure built to facilitate such growth came due for maintenance.

“We’ve been doing everything right, we’ve been doing everything by the book, we’ve been doing everything that the experts told us to do and we’ve been creating growth,” Marohn said. “The problem is it’s not long-term–it’s an illusion, and that’s what we’re struggling with today. This is what governments around the country are struggling with today.”

The idea of Boot Camp Memphis is to find answers to the problem of sprawl and solve how to create opportunity in neighborhoods to facilitate action that might lead to improved communities.

According to Lydon, the process is three-fold: Build. Measure. Learn.

It’s this method that has worked for Binghampton and the Broad Avenue Arts District, a model now studied nationally: Think small and invest minimal capital in an idea, see whether or not that idea works and why and then implement it on a larger scale . . . (read more)