The honeymoon phase is over, and it's time for Memphians to consider their long-term relationships with the Bluff City.
That was the basis for "Let's Stay Together, Memphis: Relationship Therapy for the City and its Citizens," a recently released study by the University of Memphis Design Collaborative (UMDC) that asked Memphians to consider ways to improve their long-term relationship with the city.
The UMDC hosted an event in March, where the group's members asked Memphians to write a "tough love letter" to the city. There were 140 people at the event, and an additional 52 people filled out letters online.
The UMDC then compiled and analyzed the responses, which they divided into three categories: things people love about Memphis, things that need to change in Memphis, and where Memphians see their relationship with the city going.
On the top of the love list was the city's authenticity and character. Several respondents described this as the city's "grit and grind," the phrase coined about the Memphis Grizzlies.
Study respondents expressed the most frustration over civic governance. Some said the city's bureaucracy limits the amount of influence the average person has.
Memphians seem to have a love-hate relationship with the local transportation system. Transportation was number three on the list of most frustrating things, due to the lack of investment in public transportation and the quality of sidewalks. However, people still found things they liked about the transit system, such as its influence on lowering automobile congestion and recent bicycle transit improvements.
The study was the first project for the recently launched UMDC, a collaboration between the University of Memphis Division of City and Regional Planning and the Department of Architecture.
"[The UMDC] is going to focus on community challenges and urban design and community development," said Charlie Santo, associate professor of the Department of City and Regional Planning. "We really want to bring the idea of comprehensive planning back to Memphis. As a city we tend to take on projects one at a time in this piecemeal fashion, so we want to promote a comprehensive planning approach. But we know that's not a language that people necessarily relate to. The idea of relationship therapy was a way for us to make it more accessible to a wider audience."
While the turnout to the March event provided the UMDC with a lot of information, they were disappointed in the lack of neighborhood diversity represented since most respondents lived in Midtown or downtown. To get a wider range of input from people across all neighborhoods, the UMDC will be bringing the project to the streets — literally. In the coming months, UMDC members will be on-site at events in areas not yet represented in their study.
The UMDC will use all of its combined research for this project to set the agenda for graduate city planning courses in the fall.
"I think we probably will start by trying to tackle this transportation issue, having a conversation about that," Santo said. "[The commission] is going to evolve and unfold over time, but I'm glad that we have the opportunity to tackle this, to set this."