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VOL. 129 | NO. 168 | Thursday, August 28, 2014

Greenprint Advocates Tout Range of Benefits

By Amos Maki

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After being lampooned for years as one of the worst metro areas in the country for bicyclists and pedestrians, the Memphis region is poised to make a huge leap forward in developing a regional greenway and trail system.

The Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan recommends around 500 miles of greenways, trails and bike lanes that connect to neighborhoods, parks and employment centers in four counties in the region. Advocates say the system would also promote economic development.

(Brian Johnson)

Called the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan, advocates say the effort, which leverages the area’s natural resources and growing network of trails, would not only provide more recreational opportunities but boost the regional transportation system and promote economic development.

“Today, we live in a time where capital is footloose and people and companies can be anywhere and locate their business wherever they want, so you’ve got to focus on asset-based economic development, which focuses on what you already have and not what you don’t to create a place where people want to be,” said Ed McMahon, holder of the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. “Economic development today, in addition to creating a skilled workforce, is about creating places where people want to be, so this is about creating a kind of community that people and businesses want to live in and work in.”

McMahon and a variety of national experts convened in Memphis this week for the Mid-South Greenways Conservation Workshop, which was designed to offer insight on how to implement the greenprint plan, including legal tools and incentives to aid conservation and techniques for advocating for greenway funding.

The Mid-South Greenways Steering Committee – an ad hoc alliance of green infrastructure stakeholders, including ULI Memphis, which works to enhance regional collaboration and connectivity – hosted the workshop.

The greenprint maps around 500 miles of greenways, trails and bike lanes that connect to neighborhoods, parks and employment centers in four counties in the region: Shelby and Tipton counties in Tennessee, Crittenden County, Ark., and DeSoto County, Miss.

It includes projects that are already underway, such as Shelby Farms Park, Overton Park, the Shelby Farms Greenline, Wolf River Greenway and the Main Street to Main Street Multimodal Connector Project, as well as new opportunities.

“This is a first-rate plan, but like any plan it’s only as effective as its implementation,” McMahon said. “It’s good you’re thinking about this now, because we’re at a turning point in the development of cities.”

The greenprint allows the Memphis area to be on the leading edge of changes in the nation’s cities, which are working hard to keep existing residents and attract new ones.

“There’s really only two kinds of change in the world we live in today, planned change and unplanned change,” McMahon said. “Communities that get ahead of those trends can shape and direct change in the way that they like.”

McMahon said the Memphis area can use the plan to attract new college graduates and young professionals who are increasingly choosing where they want to live first before picking a career.

“Young people, they pick a city they want to live in and then they look for a job,” McMahon said. “If Memphis becomes a city attracting young people rather than losing young people, then you’re ahead of the curve.”

The greenprint could help boost investment in the core city while providing enhanced access to transportation for existing residents.

For instance, the Atlanta Beltline is a 22-mile loop around the Georgia city that is being transformed into a transit greenway where streetcars, bike paths and pedestrian trails will connect dozens of diverse neighborhoods, schools, historic sites and gathering spots. Since 2005, more than $1 billion in private development has sprung up along the corridor.

“I think there’s tremendous potential for growth,” said John Zeanah, program manager at the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability. “We’re opening up new connections and bringing people with dollars into these areas, and across the country communities have seen the value of building these systems, or just building a single link through a critical area and what that can mean in terms of investment and development potential.”

One key to the success of efforts like the greenprint plan is public and private sector support, something that has been building in Memphis and Shelby County. The Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle has formed a committee to advance the development of the region’s green spaces, including greenways and trails, and city and county governments have increasingly focused their attention and resources on increasing green- and trail-based offerings.

“Virtually all successful projects today are public-private partnerships,” McMahon said. “It’s all-hands-on-deck.”

In addition to leading to increased investment, amenities like greenlines and trails can produce less-concrete benefits, such as reinventing communities around people, personal connections and exploration, said Frank Ricks, principal with LRK Inc.

“It makes us think differently about our neighborhoods,” Ricks said. “You don’t experience your neighborhood from the car in the same way you do when you’re walking. What happens when you walk and bike is you end up exploring … and it builds community in a big way.”

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