Behind the Headlines – November 18, 2016

Behind the Headlines – November 18, 2016


(female announcer)
Production funding
for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by.. – Planning for a new vision
for Memphis tonight on Behind the Headlines. [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined
tonight by Frank Ricks, architect urban
planner with LRK. Thanks for being here. – Sure. (Eric)
Ashley Cash is with
the Office of Comprehensive Planning, the newly
appointed administrator. Thank you for being here. – Thank you for having me. (Eric)
John Zeanah is with
the Division of Planning and Development. Thank you for being here
for the city and the county. – Thank you, Eric. (Eric)
And Bill Dries
is senior reporter with The Memphis Daily News. So, we’re here
talking about Memphis 3.0. People maybe have read about it. We’ve written about it. Other papers have
written about it. I’m going to
start with you, John, because I’ve talked to
you a little bit more. And we’ll get Ashley, who is
the administrator over this. But what is Memphis 3.0? – Memphis 3.0 is the new
comprehensive planning effort for the city of Memphis. The city’s last comprehensive
plan that was developed and adopted was in 1981. So, we’ve gone nearly 40 years
without having a general plan that guides the way
that the city is growing, the way that the
city is investing, and communities
investing in infrastructure, thinking about how the city
seeks to balance things like the built environment with
the natural environment. So, Memphis 3.0 is that
opportunity as we turn the page into Memphis’ third century. We’ll celebrate the
bicentennial in 2019. Memphis 3.0 provides a vision
for how we walk into that new century with sort of a clear
vision for what the city can be. – Ashely, you, again,
three weeks or so ago. But you were prior to this,
doing what before you joined the city? – Before this, I had my hands in
community development over the last few years. I’ve worked on a lot of
neighborhood level plans, a couple of project-based plans. And then most recently, I was
at Habitat for Humanity managing their real estate, managing
their community outreach and development efforts. And then also, managing
their senior housing program and another repair
program in the city. – And for you in your
words, Memphis 3.0, this plan is what? – This plan just from my
perspective ad my excitement about the city of Memphis,
it’s an opportunity for sort of integration between the
city and its priorities and the citizens of Memphis. So, as John said before, really
looking to set the foundation for the third century but not
doing that from the top level or top-down approach. Doing that with people, focusing
on interactions with people and hearing what residents across
the entire city think we need to sort of focus on,
work on, and improve, and what’s great that
we can build off of for the next century. – We’ll talk about a
whole series of meetings that are coming up. But I want to get Frank. Frank, you’ve worked, done all
kinds of projects in Memphis. You were on the show, I think,
when we were talking about Crosstown when that was
first coming together. You’ve done some of the
work down at Harbor Town, I believe, right? This new urbanist
movement and so on. What from you and the
private sector point of view, the guy who’s got
to design, build. You work in Memphis. You work all over the country. What does a plan like this mean
and how does it change how you do work and get
projects done in the city? – I think when cities have a
clear vision about what they’re trying to achieve and then the
citizens understand that and citizens can range from
developers who build a lot of things in cities to, you know,
just average Joe and Jane that might not be
related to development. But you can feel
that and sense it. And it gives a sort of
guiding star to everyone that is involved in that about which
direction you’re pushing and what you’re trying
to do for the city. So, it’s pretty obvious when
a city has a high level of planning and sort of
planning intelligence, if you will, about what
they’re trying to achieve for their city. It really helps. – And from a pure
economic point of view, is it cities that you work
with have had these sort of comprehensive plans? Is it easier to get work
done and get things built? – Ideally, it becomes
easier to do the right thing the right way. – And the right thing the
right way might be what? – To achieve the goals that
are identified in the plan. So, every city may
have different goals, you know, and objectives on
what they’re trying to do. But I think that the plan and
the policies that follow the plan, which is really critical. You can have a plan but if the
policies aren’t there to back it up, you won’t achieve it. So, it adds some clarity
about where the easy path is to do the right thing. – And so, I mean, in
really laymen’s terms, I mean, real basics, this is as
much and as simple as don’t put an office building in the middle
of a residential neighborhood, right? I mean, there’s a plan. That’s zoning in part. But what type of office
buildings people make, what types of residential
developments are done. Is that correct? I mean, in terms of to give
people real — the nuts and bolts of this, of what this
means in terms of a plan and how it impacts their neighborhood
and the streets they drive down. – Right. One of the ways
that we’re, I think, thinking about future land use
and the connectivity of land use to transportation is in
terms of community character. So, I think as a profession,
planning has moved away from thinking in sort of
discreet chunks of, you know,
residential here, office here, industrial here,
commercial here. And so much of the way that
we think about cities now, you know, is about how we can
have a vibrant mix of uses that creates a more sort
of livable quality of life and character
within communities. So, we may not necessarily be
talking about let’s separate that office building from
outside of this particular residential area. But how are we
designing the communities, how are we designing for how we
envision our city growing based on what’s forecasted,
based on, you know, sort of market intelligence that
we’re seeing in such a way that we can create that vibrancy
in all communities but that’s unique to the character of the
communities that we do have. You know, obviously
places like, you know, Whitehaven are very much
different than places like Downtown in terms of their
character of that mix of uses. And so, that’s something we have
to honor but also think about, you know, the sort of that each
community has their own path of getting to an improved state. – Bill? – For so many years when you
talked about development of areas, it was like the word
Downtown was automatically in front of it. It seems as if in the last two
or three years with a lot of hard advanced work before
it that we’ve kind of broken out of that. You mentioned Whitehaven. There are plans there now. There’s a new 450
resort hotel there now. So, how much momentum does
being able to break out, so to speak, outside of Downtown
give to this planning effort and people seeing the
possibilities for this? – I think.. – Oh sure, great question. So, we are conscious to
that, that maybe people, or maybe there is a perception,
or maybe it’s a little bit grounded in some reality. But people seem to view a lot of
the planning efforts in certain areas that are
maybe more popular. And so, to sort of negate that,
we’ve got a staff of planners, five planners on
staff currently, that are going to be working in
different areas in the city to ensure that we get the voice
of people across the city in different areas. But also, like John was
mentioning earlier with community character, making
sure that we’re not trying to duplicate something
Downtown out in East Memphis or out in Southaven. Each community or
each neighborhood has its own differences. And so, we’re very
sensitive to that. And John, what did you..? – Yeah, I would
just add to that, that I think it is important
that we’re able to leverage so much of the momentum that
we’re seeing right now. I mean, obviously coming
out of the recession and, you know, a part of that sort
of new investment in real estate and development has been a
focus on cities and bringing development back in cities,
and seeing projects that aren’t necessarily Downtown
like the Crosstown project, or developments, you know,
perhaps in East Memphis. You know, I think seeing that
sort of renewal of interest in developing in the city
is really encouraging. But, you know, at this point, at
least the project like the one at Graceland, a little bit
of an exception in that, you know, so much of the
development that we’re seeing is really kind of
centered around, you know, the Poplar corridor right now. What we want to be able to do
in this planning process is leverage the fact that we have
new investment dollars coming into the city and think
about how those dollars and new dollars can get spread around
to other areas of the city that, you know, may not see
the scale of investment, like you know bringing Crosstown
Concourse back to life. But think about, you know,
what’s the appropriate scale of development to get, you know, a
corridor like McLemore Avenue to see new activity
build on, you know, the anchor of Stax there. Or, you know, Elvis Presley
Boulevard to build on the investment of the
Guesthouse there. You know, how new business
development sort of ripples from that to, again, sort of
bring new life to areas, you know, outside of kind of
that central corridor of Poplar where we’ve seen a lot so far. – Frank, can you talk some
about the question of scale? Because that’s usually where you
might see the controversy arise. This is too big for
our neighborhood. This is not big enough
for our neighborhood. I mean, every area
has its own scale. – Sure. And scale is important for.. Well, there are two
aspects of scale. One is for some developers,
for some building types, scale is an issue. If you can’t do enough of it, it
might not make economic sense. Right? So, you’re looking
for the development. And cities are
predominately built by private sector developers. So, they’ve got financial models
they’re trying to look at. So, there’s a scale of the
project itself that each developer has an opinion about. But then there’s the scale of
the neighborhood itself and what makes sense, and are you
trying to maintain that scale. Or you could have a scale
of a neighborhood that is predominately, let’s say a
quarter of big box retail. Neighborhoods are behind that. You got two different scales
right up next to each other. So, you can begin to
transition between large scale, small scale by inserting some
new development that transitions and builds a more complete
neighborhood in terms of uses, which then makes it more
walkable in terms of you don’t have to get in your car
and drive three miles. So, these issues of scale,
they’re real and they’re real to the people that live there if
they think something’s being imposed on them immediately
that’s going to disrupt the scale of their neighborhood
without understanding is there a benefit to it. That’s where you get
a lot of backlash. What I’m hopeful of and we’ve
seen in other cities is when this plan the team will embark
on will address those seams between different scales
where you start to blend them. And sometimes that’s
really where the magic happens. Crosstown is a good
example of huge buildings. One large building in the
city sits predominately in a residential surrounded
by mostly residential and small scale commercial. You’d say hypothetically
someone might say, well, that’s out of scale. Well, it is if you
just measure scale. But if you measure the uses
and how it blends and how it connects, that takes planning. Then you can transform this
issue of scale as a bad thing or density as a bad thing to it’s
actually a good thing if you understand its intentional
by how its put together. So, it’s.. – Ashley, to get
those, you know, what neighbors want and
what they want to see, and some of the things that
seem right to neighbors and, you know, things that don’t,
that don’t have the right scale for instance. These community
meetings that are coming up, can you talk about those? – Sure. So, we are.. We’ve got initially 14
rallies across the city, in different areas of the city,
and that’s where people will be able to tell us what
they think is good, what’s working, how their
community sort of connects to the city or where are
some areas for improvements. I want to talk about some
challenges and then I also get a chance to talk
about some solutions. And that’s sort of the first
step of real engagement or true engagement on the
part of this process. Going forward, we’ll be
engaging the community just in different segments. Maybe not as
neighborhood based initially, but just engaging the community
around different topical issues, like transportation,like
sustainability, connectivity. And then, we’ll follow that
back up with some more intense district planning where
we can really develop out those character plans. So, we initially talk
with the community and see, you know, get a really.. Dip our toe in and see
sort of what’s working, what’s not working, look at some
larger visioning for the city and then come back
down to the community. – Maybe I’ll turn to you. How do you? So, there’s a planning process. It’s a multi-year process. Things happen. Nothing happens
until the plan is done. But the plan is
officially rolled out. The goal is, what? 2019. Do I have that right? And how though at the end of
all this do you have a plan that doesn’t just sit on a shelf? You know, I think you
referenced that earlier. Maybe it was an article I read
that the last comprehensive plan was done in the ’80s. It was called Memphis 2000. And it kind of just
sat on the shelf. How do you make it a document
that actually has the impact that all these
community people will ask for, that people like Frank want in
terms of guide to where they’re going to develop
and not develop? How do you make it an
impactful document? – Well, there’s
several different ways. I will, you know,
correct one thing. I do think that ’81 plan did do
more than just sit on a shelf. – It must have been
somebody else that I read. – There was a lot in that
plan that didn’t get done. That’s true. But there were some
pretty big recommendations, particularly the expansion
of the size of the city geographically. That did get done. And, you know, where
we said we would grow, we did. So, and I’d say, you know, one
of the most important things, of course, is having the
plan adopted at the end of the process. That was done
with the 1981 plan. And so, that sort
of act of adoption, you know, makes that plan sort
of the guiding document that’s followed, you know,
within the halls of city hall. But that’s just, you know,
how city government works to implement it. You know, I think
it’s also, you know, how you make sure that the plan
gets implemented is not only through that adoption and
the policies that follow, as Frank
mentioned, but, you know, having that robust community
engagement process that we are embarking on and
involving, you know, so many individuals from
the community and ultimately achieving buy-in from so many
individuals of the community, I think that’s essential as well
to seeing adoption — excuse me, seeing implementation. – To that, I’ll
interrupt you for just a second, Shea Flynn, who,
former city council, now with the Chamber and so on,
has talked about when Nashville went through its
planning process. And they finished sometime in
the last year or something. Many of those people
that Ashley talked about, that you’re all talking
about in terms of the community, the districts, the
community engagement, many of those people ultimately
got involved in politics. They ultimately joined the
city council or metro council, whatever it’s
called up there, right? I mean, so that buy-in does
start sort of organically and people see it as access to, hey,
I want to make sure this thing gets implemented. I’m going to run for office. – And we met with individuals
personally who are on the metro council in Nashville who had not
been involved in politics but, you know, led a community
coalition as part of their comprehensive plan
and decided, you know, that they wanted to get more
involved in the process and ran for metro council. – Frank, you were
going to add something. – The key is a
planning culture, not a plan. A plan, which we did
back then, that was it. We didn’t nurture that
appropriately nor did we update it. So, like Nashville’s just
completed their update to their plan. I’ve heard a number of city
planners say every six to eight years you have to go through an
update process to keep it valid. And you learn from those
six years worth of work and you update it. And I think that’s.. I think we’ve suffered
from a lack of updating. – Bill? – Economically, we’re
really good right now. Maybe not ideal but certainly
the economic conditions for this kind of development are better
than they were even two or three years ago. The money started to flow again. What happens if we hit a bump
in the road with the national economy to all of this? – I still think that the purpose
for which we’re pursuing the plan is still 100% valid. We’re looking to create the
vision of the city in years to come and we are looking to
engage the community around that vision, the five, ten,
twenty-year vision of the city in the future. We’re looking to establish
that planning culture that Frank talked about that has,
you know, has sort of been a missing piece for us. You know, those are
things that are valid whether, you know, the economy is
cool or whether it’s hot. So, I think that, you know,
the purpose is still there. In fact, there’s some people who
might argue that it’s probably easier to do a comprehensive
plan in a chilled economy. But, you know, I think no
matter what sort of the national economy does, you know, it’s
important to set that vision. But it’s also important to
continue to update the plan so that as things do sort of
unexpectedly change in a way that might disrupt some of
our ability to implement, our ability to achieve certain
goals and certain time frames, you know, that’s
also why you update. And so, there are
external forces like that. There’s external forces
like new technologies. You know, those are
reasons why you also update. – And Frank, the Chairman’s
Circle at the Greater Memphis Chamber had been talking
about this as well when times were not so good. – And I think that
prompted them to, you know, ask the question what
are we trying to — where are we going. What are we trying to do
when things aren’t so good? And the good thing about that is
both good things and bad things that might be
happening, kind of chills. It gives you a moment,
which is what happened. And I think we’ve
started asking questions. And that’s why they’ve
approached me as just saying what we don’t have
the guiding star. We don’t have the
vision and plan that.. A lot of private sector folks
say what are we doing and where are we going. And so, that led to this
planning initiative out of the Chamber, which was happened
to align with the stars with, you know, leadership changes
and things that I think put us in a good spot. And when the economy does slow,
that’s when you take a breath and you look at
what was working, what’s not working, what’s
changing in the marketplace that might not be here yet. You know, you’re
looking at other cities. What are the trends? What are things going? And you start to
make adjustments. Again, the planning
culture, you’re always shifting. It’s not like you establish
one vision and that’s it. And that’s all that matters. We’ll have to adapt to both
local feedback as well as external feedback. – And Ashley, you talked about
this in the briefing we had earlier because the
question came up, well, what about projects
that are in the pipeline? What if there’s a private
project that arrives on the horizon? This is permeable, I guess. The borders of this are it
can take all of those things into account. – Right. Our goal is A — not to slow
down any work that’s happening or any projects that are
happening but really look at a line in effort and
figuring out, you know, what are we moving
towards as a city. What is our optimal
growth strategy for our city? And so, once you
have those things, you can sort of align
that with what’s current, what products are
in the pipeline, you know, should there
be a couple of tweaks. And then where we’re going and
what existing plans are sort of aligning with that, as well. But you have to have that
foundation first before you can say, well, we need to
change these couple of things. You don’t know until
you know essentially. And so, that’s what Memphis
3.0 is trying to get us at. – Let’s talk a little bit. We have four minutes left here. Greenprint. Last time you were
on the show, John, you were on. I think you had
just gotten involved. I can’t quite
remember because I’m old. But talk about what Greenprint
is for people who maybe have lost track of it and how
that plays into this and also, the HUD grant that came
as a part of Greenprint. – Okay. Yeah, the Mid-South Regional
Greenprint was a plan that was done a couple of years
ago at the regional scale. It connects a network of
greenways and trails across four counties and three states. It was really, I think, our
region’s first attempt at sort of banding together across what
was 18 cities and four counties to come up with a common vision
for connectivity long term. So, we focused a lot on green
space but also on sort of the effects of green space and
investing in green space, which, you know, I think so many
people can attest to today with so much success that
we’ve had with green spaces. It is truly transformational
for the community and for the region. – And so much of that stuff
was happening organically. I mean, there was a Greenline. And then there was the
Vollintine-Evergreen Greenline. And then the Wolf River
Conservancy starts talking about doing what it’s doing. And you all tried to bring a
holistic vision in the same way that there are these great
things happening in Binghampton and Broad Avenue and Whitehaven. But there’s not
that holistic vision, right? Is that a fair analogy? – Absolutely. So, I think in terms of
how the Greenprint plays in, you know, in one sense, it
provides a model for us in figuring out, you know, what’s
the best way to kind of pull all of this alignment together and
make sure that we’re honoring those sort of projects and
plans that are in place. But it also provides, I
think, a good foundation for us. We just went through a
pretty robust planning process across the region. We talked about, you
know, specifically how, you know, communities connect to
that network and in this case, how the city of Memphis sort
of anchors into that network. And so, we’ve got a lot of
opportunity to learn from the recommendations that we
got from the community, from the stakeholders to apply
to those sort of issue areas that we know we’ll
address in Memphis 3.0. – We just have a minute left. I’ve heard you speak before
about Memphis and Shelby County got a HUD grant,
$60 million HUD grant from the federal government. A resilience grant to
do some amazing work in three neighborhoods. You’ve said we would
not have gotten that if we hadn’t had Greenprint. If Greenprint weren’t there as a
base for what was happening in Memphis and Shelby County,
there was no chance of getting that money. – I think you’re
absolutely right. I mean, I think there were
so many factors of why Shelby County was awarded
that $60 million. Chief among
those factors was because we had
the Greenprint plan. We had a vision for how
green space would change our communities. And for this
particular grant application, that vision included how the
communities would adapt to climate change and become more
resilient to increased flooding, increased heat as a result of
climate change so that as we’re building out these connections,
we’re doing it in a way that builds up, you know, resilience
to those threats but also builds up communities and
community assets. – Alright. We’re going to leave it there. We’ve got 30 seconds left. Thank you all for being here. Congratulations on your new job. And the people can
go to Memphis3point0. – Memphis3point0. Point is spelled out. And we’ll talk
about our rallies. The first rally is
November 28 at 5:30, Ed Rice in Frayser. – Alright. Thank you all for being here. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [theme music]

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