In the process of putting together this book, I’ve become prouder than ever of our city. Proud because of what we have achieved and overcome. Proud because we never stopped until we reached our goals. Proud because of the threads that have united us for the last 200 years: big ideas. A spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. A can-do attitude. Unfailing generosity.
These threads weave together the rich tapestry of Memphis as we know it today, and they provide a strong foundation for our next 200 years. Most importantly, the Memphians who have gone before us, and those who are working to make Memphis great in our own time, have set a shining example for our future citizens.
As we celebrate our bicentennial, we’re already seeing a new generation of dreamers and doers emerging in Memphis. Our college and university system and job training programs continuously bring new talent to the city. Increasingly, however, we’re seeing a wave of people committing to Memphis for Memphis. Millennials, professionals transferring for jobs, families . . . they’re drawn here by our city’s authenticity. Because Memphis is a place where they can be themselves and make a mark like so many others have before them, from Abe Plough to Robert R. Church Sr., from Sam Phillips to Willie Mitchell, from Danny Thomas to Fred and Diane Smith and Pitt and Barbara Hyde.
When I think about our current swell of civic pride and investment, I see it as the product of two centuries of vision and hard work on the part of Memphians. In recent years, initiatives and organizations from the I Love Memphis blog to City Leadership and Choose901 have encouraged us to wrap our arms around this city tighter than ever. As Todd Richardson, co-founder of Crosstown Arts, notes, “Civic pride among Memphians is higher than it has been in decades. Civic pride leads to more people believing change is possible and they’re getting involved to make [things] happen.”
In other words, while we really kicked our vision and efforts into high gear in the 1970s, we haven’t relented. As this book goes to press, city leaders and philanthropists are considering proposals to reinvest in amenities and communities including the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Mid-South Fairgrounds and South Memphis. The Riverfront Development Corporation is evolving into the Memphis River Parks Partnership, exploring ways to amplify the power of our riverfront and its connectivity. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is in the midst of a $1-billion capital expansion. We’re preparing for a $175-million expansion and renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center. I can’t tell you precisely what our city will look like in another 200 years, but I can promise you that our people—dyed in the generous, tenacious, audacious spirit of Memphis—will make it momentous.