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VOL. 130 | NO. 225 | Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Greenprint Summit Shows Region’s Possibilities

By LANCE WIEDOWER

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Trails and bike lanes aren’t the only path to regional success, but they’re playing a growing role in partnerships among communities that sometimes find themselves competing for jobs.

To date, 19 of those communities have adopted a 25-year, green-centric plan that was introduced earlier this year and has been endorsed by more than 50 organizations.

The Mid-South Regional Greenprint contains recommendations for local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens to improve the quality of life in the Mid-South. The plan identifies more than 150 actions, including 500 miles of greenway trails and 200 miles of bike paths by the year 2040.

But for any of that to occur, collaboration is at the heart of the matter. The first of what is set to become a biannual Greenprint Summit took place Monday, Nov. 16, at the Germantown Great Hall. It featured a gathering of about 30 organizations that have a vested interest, including the Greater Memphis Greenline, GrowMemphis, Livable Memphis, Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization, Shelby Farms Park Conservancy and the Wolf River Conservancy.

Greenprint coordinator John Michels discussed national models that will be used as examples in Memphis. One panel discussion featured the region’s greenways organizations; another included mayors of communities that have adopted the plan.

JOHN MICHELS

The theme of the day was collaboration among all government entities, leaders and community organizations for the greater good of the region.

“What I like about this plan is it lets all of us work together and plan in advance to do things for our citizens to promote healthy lifestyles,” said Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman, who participated on the mayors’ panel with Shelby County’s Mark Luttrell, Memphis’ A C Wharton, Germantown’s Mike Palazzolo and Piperton’s Henry Coats.

Palazzolo told the story of how the Greenprint could’ve helped Germantown and the city of Memphis work together in a planned way. In 2012 Memphis completed the Wolf River Greenway. The Germantown Greenway had been complete since the 1990s, but had a 300-foot gap between it and the completed Memphis path.

“It wasn’t like the railroad and we didn’t drive the golden rail, but we connected to Memphis and that gave us another eight to 10 miles,” Palazzolo said. “If we had this Greenprint, we would have been talking about this three years ago instead of stumbling on it.”

The Greenprint had its start in November 2011, when Shelby County government was awarded a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant for $2.6 million to develop the plan.

The Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability managed the three-year planning process. The Mid-South Regional Greenprint Consortium – which includes more than 300 individuals representing more than 80 organizations, agencies and community groups – guided the process.

The plan won an international award this year from the American Planning Association’s Sustainable Communities Division for Excellence in Sustainability Planning after its distribution.

More than 4,000 residents from Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee contributed opinions that helped shape the plan. The implementation strategy includes regional government entities adopting it, broad support by community partners and the eventual creation of a central organization that will coordinate all activities over the 25-year period.

Luttrell said the idea of connecting the community’s varied greenspaces came about because the community demanded it.

“Our public demands there be some part of our environment dedicated to healthy living and exercise,” he said. “It’s more than just greenspace. What we’re attempting to do is coordinate our greenspace and how can we come up with a plan that utilizes our talent and resources.”

Luttrell said the idea to focus on sustainability and greenspaces in part was because it has become a low-hanging fruit with so much activity in the realm occurring in the region.

Wharton said the focus is a continuation of working to improve the quality of life for all residents of the greater Memphis region.

“So much of it has to do with a feeling of choice: ‘Do I have to get in a car, do I have to buy a car?’” he said. “It’s not a dictate that each citizen has to ride a bike 20 miles a month. It’s the freedom to have a choice of how do we get about in the community. If you wish to run, fine, you have a safe place to do that. The choice means a lot to the folks we’re trying to recruit to our cities and our region, and the folks we’re trying to hold onto here.”

As he prepares to leave office at the end of the year, Wharton looked back on how things have changed in the community since he took office as Shelby County mayor in 2002. And he said he believes the Greenprint will help the region continue to advance.

“Arguments were along racial lines, rich/poor, why should Memphis take part in anything like (Shelby Farms) because you won’t see black people out there running and riding bikes,” he said. “I refuse to accept that, and it’s so heartening to be able to get out on the (Shelby Farms) Greenline and it’s simply not the case of being all white and all rich.

“This is not a pipe dream. This is what’s happening in Memphis.”

Next steps include getting the remaining government entities to adopt the plan. And a tentative plan calls for another summit in May.

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