When the Coalition for Livable Communities (CLC) recently made a color-coded map of the city's capital expenditures for the next five years, it looked a little bit like, well, a donut.
The areas outside the I-240 loop -- downtown, North Memphis, near Shelby Farms, along
Winchester -- were darker, meaning they were getting more money for items such as new government buildings, street paving and maintenance, or improvements to community centers, while the inner circle -- Midtown, the U of M area -- was decidedly lighter.
"It just shows you what the community's priorities are right now," says Emily Trenholm, executive director of the Community Development Corporation, the organization spearheading the CLC. "We're not saying you have to spend $700 for every person. It's just a way to show that more affluent and newer parts of the community are getting a disproportionate share."
For instance, each person living in the downtown and Medical Center district will get about $10,500 in capital expenditures over the next five years. In North Memphis, that number is $3,500. In the area around the U of M, it's $31.
The CLC, a group that includes area community-development corporations, the Sierra Club, and the University of Memphis, among others, hopes to increase public awareness about the impact of sprawl.
"The root was that the people most affected by sprawl negatively live in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods," says Trenholm. They can't always pick up and move, she says, and they don't always want to, especially if they've lived in the neighborhood for a long time.
While individual neighborhood associations take care of "their" community, advocate for the neighborhood, and, at times, give out "Yard of the Month" honors, the CLC is trying to take a more macro view.
"People are focused on small problems that are threatening their neighborhoods. If you live next to a boarded-up house that has rats because no one is mowing the lawn, [you focus on that] ... and rightfully so," says Trenholm. "They're working to protect their own neighborhoods."
What happens in one community or part of the city naturally has an effect on the surrounding area, and that area affects its surrounding areas.
"We're looking at the city and the county as a whole unit," says Beanie Self at the Southeast Memphis CDC, one of the CLC's members, "because we're all governed by the decisions made at the city and county level. How can we all be cohesive? We're looking at the bigger picture of what we're trying to do as a community."
For instance, the group mapped data on city road expenditures for the next five years, showing an extremely high amount of spending near Shelby Drive and Germantown Parkway. Which means that if you want to get out of town, the road will be made smooth for you.
In some ways, it's like the chicken and the egg: Are we building roads to Mississippi because that's where people want to go? Or do people want to go to Mississippi because we're building roads to get them there?
"Our mantra and goal is 'Let's look at growth and do it smarter,'" says Self.
According to the CLC's research, a downtown resident will get over $10,000 in per capita expenditures in the next five years while a resident of Midtown will get $405. Even if you argue that more people live in Midtown -- it has a population of 45,000 while downtown has a population of 20,000 -- it still seems uneven.
The CLC broke the funds down by percentage of the total capital improvement budget. Downtown will get $207 million or 22 percent of the total budget. The Shelby Farms area is getting 25 percent of the budget, and Midtown is getting 2 percent of the budget.
Midtowners, U of M-ers, and many others could whine that it's not fair, that they're not getting their share of services, but it's more than that.
It takes money to make money -- and that explains why some of the money is going where it is. And certainly Midtown has gotten capital money in the past. But expenditures need to be balanced with an eye to the future. If you rob Peter to pay Paul today, what are you going to do about Peter tomorrow?
"We need to be investing in what we already have," says Trenholm. "One of the barriers to revitalizing communities is a lack of investment in a lot of center-city neighborhoods."
We're all in this together, so I'm glad someone is connecting the dots as well as the neighborhoods. Looking at the numbers is one thing, but looking at the big picture is quite another ... especially when it looks like a pastry.
"We need pictures and graphs." says Self. "That makes better sense than someone yapping on and on about it."