What are some of the things you like about your neighborhood? Your house? Your street? The people next door? The restaurant down the street? The neighborhood market? The schools? The gate that keeps strangers out? Your short commute? The nearby cultural amenities?
All of these factors come into play when we choose a place to live. Much depends upon the stage of life we're in — whether we have children at home, if we're single and nightlife-oriented, or if we're retired. The search for a place to live that suits us has driven Shelby Countians far and wide. We are spread all over, from downtown Memphis to the far reaches of Arlington, Millington, and Collierville.
Downtown, Midtown, East Memphis, Whitehaven, and many other neighborhoods inside the 1-240 loop have stabilized and are thriving. In the county's outskirts, Collierville, Bartlett, and Germantown are cities unto themselves, prosperous and self-contained. It's in between — the old suburban ring — where the future is less certain. Foreclosed homes are everywhere. Empty strip malls and vast abandoned retail parking lots remain as artifacts of sprawl, of the temporal nature of our sense of place.
Areas that were once considered far suburbia — Frayser, Hickory Hill, and Raleigh, to name three — have been leap-frogged and are struggling to reinvent themselves. There is plenty of good housing stock at bargain prices. Each community has lovely tree-lined streets, lakes, parks, local businesses, and longtime residents who care about the place where they live. But the ravages of continued urban flight have left them reeling, looking for ways to recover, to fill the empty spaces.
As reported in this week's cover story, you can buy a nice house in Frayser for pennies on the dollar. But as the adage goes, it takes more than a house to make a home. Home is a place where your kid can walk to school, where the guy at the corner market knows the brand of beer you like, where the local park is safe to jog in, where your neighbor picks up your paper and keeps an eye on your house when you're gone.
There are no shortcuts for Raleigh and other neighborhoods working to recover. City government's resources are spread thin and can only go so far. The real struggle will fall to those who choose to stand and fight. And all of us should be pulling for them to succeed. We're in this together, no matter where we live.
Which leads me to put on my Dr. Phil face and say what has to be said: It's time for Memphis and Shelby County to start seeing other people. We've tried for years to patch things up, to come to some sort of mutual understanding, but we need to admit that we have irreconcilable differences. We don't even know each other any more ...