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VOL. 130 | NO. 121 | Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Greening the Region

Already an award winner, Greenprint plan seeks regional approval

By Madeline Faber

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A result of a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and two years of planning, the pre-implementation phase of the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan is gaining momentum.

John Zeanah, administrator with the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability, on the Shelby Farms Greenline. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Greenprint 2015/2040 plan lays out an intricate network of pedestrian paths, bike lanes and bus routes to be built over the next 25 years across four Mid-South counties.

Only two months after the plan was formally released in February, the Sustainable Communities Division of the American Planning Association honored the Greenprint team with an Excellence in Sustainability Award for a Plan.

“I was really surprised that we got the award, but certainly I think it’s a testament to the great work the region put in to doing this plan,” said John Zeanah, administrator with the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability.

“Having received the award, I believe that it’s validated the process, the effort, the outcome and the final product and certainly got us some congratulations from the different communities that we’ve gone in to seek adoption. Hopefully receiving that award has helped communities get behind it,” he added.

Eight jurisdictions have accepted the Greenprint’s adoption resolution. Although the resolution is non-binding, uniform approval from local governments will ease the process in obtaining grants and other funding.

Support for the plan now crosses three states with approval from Shelby County and the cities of Memphis, Millington, and Arlington; Crittenden County, Ark., and West Memphis; and DeSoto County, Miss.

“Ultimately we want everybody to feel that this is a goodwill regional effort.”

–John Zeanah
Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability

In the coming months, the Greenprint team will enter and continue talks with Shelby County cities of Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Lakeland; Desoto County cities of Hernando, Horn Lake, Olive Branch, Southaven and Walls; Crittenden County cities of Marion and Sunset; and Fayette County cities of Piperton, Gallaway and Braden.

Progress of the Greenprint’s subplanning projects has also worked to garner recommendations and approval from municipal leaders. Of the initial HUD grant budget, one third went toward Greenprint partners to implement 20 projects that further the goals of the regional plan. Some projects are further along, like the Hampline-Tillman Street Green Lane project which is expected to be complete sometime next year. Others are functional and finding their footing in the community, like the YMCA of the Memphis and the Mid-South’s Healthy Convenience Store Initiative Plan which opened for business two months ago in the Berclair neighborhood.

The Greenprint casts a wide net, so it’s crucial to get all 18 municipalities in agreement to put 500 miles of trail and 200 miles of bike paths on the ground. The need for uniformity is especially crucial because the Greenprint’s central agency will not have any sort of enforcement mechanism.

“Ultimately we want everybody to feel that this is a goodwill regional effort,” Zeanah said.

Crafting the Greenprint’s central agency is the task of John Michels, Greenprint coordinator with the Greater Memphis Chamber. Michels was brought on in April under a two-year grant from the Hyde Family Foundations, and his main responsibility will be setting up long-term administration and funding structures for the Greenprint effort.

Michels said that he’s still studying other similar initiatives, such as the Atlanta Beltline, and applying the strengths to the Mid-South region. What will likely emerge is a nonprofit corporation that has the ability to work regionally and retain some connection to government. Presently, leadership of the plan is housed in the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability and the Greater Memphis Chamber.

“As we transition from the plan into implementation, we’re doing so in a way that’s thinking very long-term,” Zeanah said. “How we can make sure that we implement the entire plan over the course of the 25 years rather than just getting a few wins in early and then petering out?”

Another challenge for the team is securing funding sources. The Greenprint plan predicts that each mile of greenway trail will cost roughly $777,000 and suggests that funds be raised through a combination of federal, state, local and private sources. Municipalities will need to raise funds on their own, but the Greenprint team believes that significant resources are already present.

“Another thing we’re trying to do is empower those groups that exist already,” Zeanah said. “So, in assisting organizations like Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, Overton Park Conservancy and Wolf River Conservancy, there are a handful of really effective implementers on the ground and they are in the midst of fundraising campaigns for big projects.

“We want to try to augment and accelerate those efforts as well. In addition to that, there are a lot of areas that don’t have effective implementers, so what we want to do is either develop that regional capacity or help serve as that capacity in the future.”

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