Ladies' Choice 

Men have long tried to figure out what women want. Now, it's the city of Memphis that should be asking that age-old question. Within the next three years, women will comprise a majority of

the workforce. Currently, 58 percent of all college enrollees are female; by 2013, that figure will be at 60 percent.

And, according to Brad Segal, president of Denver's Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA), if Memphis wants a strong downtown in the new global economy, it better start flirting with — and courting — young women.

"There is a growing importance of well-educated young women," he told attendees of the Center City Commission's (CCC) annual luncheon last week.

I can't say I was unhappy to hear that. I am a little concerned about where all the men are going to be, but if the future is in the hands of women, I can't complain.

As the keynote speaker of the luncheon, Segal talked about global trends and their implications for downtown Memphis. Though originally developed for downtown Denver's 20-year plan, Segal's worldwide analysis has also been used in Seattle and Dallas.

"We were the economists on the [Denver] project. Usually economists look at past building activity and extrapolate out," he said. "We realized that wasn't going to work."

Recognizing how much of Denver's future was out of the city's control, PUMA looked at global trends in demographics, lifestyles, and competition to see how those changes could or would affect life downtown.

What they came up with could be described as "think globally, act locally."

"We were working under the idea that the city controls its destiny," Segal said. "It doesn't. It's part of the global economy."

For instance, it doesn't take a magic eight ball to see that China and India are having a huge impact on the world's economy. In 2005, China consumed 26 percent of all the steel produced worldwide and 47 percent of the concrete.

As these countries continue to grow in population and wealth, they're going to consume more resources. Which makes those resources more expensive in the United States.

"Our building costs are going to go up. World consumption patters are going to change," Segal said.

While that may be unfortunate for new suburbs or communities that don't have a variety of existing structures, downtowns generally have buildings that can be renovated and re-used.

"Adaptive re-use will become more attractive as less resources are available," Segal said. "I'm not talking just about historic buildings but those built in the '70s and '80s."

Segal identified several things downtown Memphis should do to be successful in the global economy: prepare for more international tourism with more easy-to-understand signage, do more small-business development, and focus on sustainability.

"One of Memphis' big issues is transit," Segal said after the luncheon. "It's a disadvantage to the city."

Many American cities have found they simply cannot keep up with road congestion through new construction. By the time a new six-lane highway is finished, an eight-lane highway is needed.

"Additional road capacity doesn't do anything to stem congestion," Segal said. "It simply invites more cars on the highway."

Memphians might argue that they don't spend that much time in traffic — certainly not in comparison to cities such as Atlanta or Dallas — but they do spend an average of 33 hours a year on the highway.

As we export the American automobile lifestyle, other countries will demand more gasoline. As gas prices rise — or the supply becomes scarce — Memphians will look for other strategies for getting to work, whether it's living closer, carpooling, or taking public transportation.

"This is where Memphis really hurts," Segal said. "Transit needs to remain competitive."

But in a nod to Richard Florida's work on the "creative class," Segal said Memphis' other issue is attracting and retaining younger workers, especially women.

Memphis currently loses more 24- to 35-year-olds each year than it gains. Segal suggested Memphis needs to be more welcoming to a younger, more multicultural crowd. Once it has lured those people here, it needs to keep that talent pool as they age by providing more amenities for families (active park space, another downtown school, etc.).

"The notion of really trying to get young leadership in all types of positions, that would be a real opportunity for this city. You need to embrace new leadership," Segal said.

As if to illustrate the point, the CCC gave out five awards after Segal's remarks. One was a lifetime achievement award to Rendezvous founder Charlie Vergos (and accepted by his son, former city councilman John Vergos). Other honorees were Orpheum CEO Pat Halloran, Morgan Keegan partner John Stokes, Streets Ministries, and the city's fire services department, led by Richard Arwood.

I'm sure all the honorees deserved their awards — especially those who founded popular barbecue restaurants — but watching five middle-aged, white men accept awards didn't say "young" or "multicultural."

Well, just wait until women are in charge. Ladies, after you.

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