For as long as most Memphians can remember, we’ve been a city of plans and studies. We seemingly can’t resist artists’ renderings, and particularly the ones depicting a skyline-altering structure by the Mississippi River – a river invariably drawn with blue water instead of the less attractive brown.
Meanwhile, reality has made the decisions we should have made while admiring what never came to pass.
However, not too far from the real river a real transformation is under way that thousands of us drive through each day.
What is happening on Poplar Avenue between Danny Thomas Boulevard and Decatur Street is the result of several largely uncoordinated plans. But taken together, they affirm a humble yet durable heritage of caring.
The 12-story tower that will be the new Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital dominates the horizon. But the ideas that will transform this stretch of what many of us know as the city’s Skid Row are closer to the ground.
A block or two to the north, Memphians live in burned-out apartment units when no one is looking or bothers to look.
Changing this kind of blight instead of simply tearing it down and scattering it inhabitants to the winds will be the test of what is happening along Poplar. It will also test our ability to change where we choose to live in Memphis without abandoning our heritage of helping others when all appears lost.
Memphis loses when we lose our civic will to struggle for what we want. Or we fail to realize that on most important issues we all want the same thing, even if we have different ways of getting there.
New buildings can’t take care of that for us or let us off the hook. It is what we do in those buildings, in our homes and in our sanctuaries, which determines the value of our real estate. And the quality of our lives. All our lives.