grindhouse

Memphis Mayor Listens to Millennials

Mayor A C Wharton of Memphis held a town hall reminiscent of Parks and Rec last Thursday to hear from the city’s young professionals. The auditorium at Memphis Bioworks Foundation was stacked with A-list members of his staff and divisional heads of parks and neighborhoods, the police department, public works, finance, and housing and community development.

Mayor Wharton’s presentation kicked off with…budgets! And income streams (taxes)! The audience appeared stoic, however, the mayor did stress one major expense: protection.

Of the $613 million budgeted, nearly two thirds is spent on fire and police services each year. And who could argue? A place that’s still reeling from a silver-medal ranking as one of the most dangerous cities in America? (Forbes, feel free to dial down the flattery next time.)

What’s $600 million, really? “That’s $2.50 per person, per day. The price of two cups of coffee,” said Brian Collins, the city’s finance director. Sounds efficient for a city with 650,000 residents. But, maybe not the clearest analogy for a 20-something who started his Starbucks kick at age 12. So for Gen-Y readers, that’s roughly two Redbox rentals.

Once the PowerPoint concluded, attendees started firing questions toward city hall leaders. Some asked about lowering the city’s poverty rate (27%). Others inquired about retaining talent. “That’s why we have a full-time chief learning officer, Doug Scarboro,” replied Mayor Wharton.

Memphis is actively trying to improve its workforce by increasing the number of adults who attend college by 1% in the next five years, according to Bernice Butler of Leadership Memphis. Scarboro’s team has partnered with the Memphis Talent Dividend (MTD) and 100 other organizations to create programs and public messaging about boosting education rates for the metro area. Their retention efforts could result in an economic impact of $1 billion, according to the MTD’s website.

In honor of asthmatics and my co-workers in New York, I asked if the city had studied the merits of banning bar smoking locally. The mayor et al. said it was a Nashville decision. But so were county school districts. And wine in grocery stores. While those decisions happened inside Tennessee’s Capitol, Memphis leaders were consumed with the legislative outcomes.

Even though the topic may sound trivial, bars do concern young professionals. It’s where we network, spectate, date, and catch up on the grit and grind. At least Mayor Wharton said he’d look into it. Yet, I prefer he just read this slant article about the improved health effects that resulted from the Giuliani-Bloomberg smoking ban.

The mayor said he planned to continue having these forums because “it’s important that we meet face-to-face.” Janet Hooks, director of parks and neighborhoods, was pleased by the attendance and participation. “It was excellent! The questions were fantastic, and they spoke to the future of Memphis. They were really thought-provoking,” she said.

Overall, the town hall seemed to resonate with those in attendance. “All of this was new to me,” said John Killeen, a Scranton, Pa. transplant who moved to Memphis last year. “I came here for the music. I love the openness and authenticity of the people in the city,” he said.

Killeen has been surprised by how quickly Memphians engage in meaningful conversation. “I’ve never encountered anyone who’s irritated to talk. That wouldn’t happen in Pennsylvania,” he said. The city’s culture, people, and various local initiatives like the Memphis Teacher Residency and Binghampton’s revival have impressed Killeen so much that he’d “love to stay here for the long term.”

 

P.S. A tip for future town halls: Promote a hashtag to crowdsource questions. While none were announced, Twitter-savvy Maura Black Sullivan did uproot #ACTownhallYP mid-presentation for the conversation streamers.

Take 5: Deidra Brooks

Meet the Queen of Commuters: That Girl who works two jobs and lives within a three-block radius.

Deidra Brooks

Deidra soaks up the mighty Mississippi in her rooftop oasis.

Stage name: Deidra Brooks

Starring role: Education & Classes Coordinator for the Memphis Development Foundation a.k.a. The Orpheum Theatre

Daily script: “Impacting the future of theatre. If you expose children to theatre at a young age, they’re more likely to continue appreciating it later in life.”

Behind the Scenes at the Orpheum: “We have tons of students from Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Missouri that travel for hours to see our Student Matinee Series. These are shows that are produced by international children’s theaters that come and perform.”

Moonlighting gig: Hostess at The Majestic Grille

Insider tip? “The roasted-chicken flatbread is my favorite. And the soups are always good.”

Any notable encounters? “I did take John Mayer‘s order one time. It was the night of his concert at the FedEx Forum, and there were several entrees. The grilled salmon was initialed ‘J.M.”’

What energizes you? “I could spend hours on end” being surrounded by music and the arts. “Everyone wants to do what they love.”

Social media muses: “Follow Mindy Kaling on Twitter; she’s effortlessly funny. Beyoncé, of course. And Pinterest. I basically decorated my whole apartment based around things I saw on Pinterest.”

Walking to work? “That’s the best thing ever! I love this city, especially the spirit to just grit and grind.”

“I love Memphis” may sound cliché, but these three don’t care.

You’re 26. You live in Midtown. You boogie downtown. You go to tweet ups and meet ups. You volunteer. You happy hour. You hum the blues. You grit. You grind. You are Memphis.

So, what?! Along with the thousands of other folks? I’ve never been shy of the bandwagon, so it’s refreshing to see what will hopefully evolve from a cultural fad into lasting civic pride.

That pride is palpable, and there are entire sites dedicated to it. Let’s review a few: Choose901, I Love Memphis, and theGRIND.

Choose901 offers a robust terminal for navigating the city. Whether it’s restaurant picks, prominent local blogs, or job openings, you can find many up-to-date tidbits. Choose901 is more down-to-earth than an “official visitor’s guide” in that it includes the most interesting part of our city: the people.

  • My favorite feature is Choose901 TV where you can meet residents like Samilia Colar, an entrepreneur-seamstress, or Kevin Mattice, a math teacher turned coffee-lover. Well, maybe you can’t meet them here, but that’s my point. I feel like I have; this site builds community!
  • Helpful tips? I have no clue who’s in charge of Choose901. I want to learn about the writer(s), publisher, photographer(s), developer(s), owner(s)…some bios or added detail on the about page would suffice. Also, its “enjoy” tab leads the user to a gargantuan listing of past and upcoming events. It would be nice to have them categorized by type (e.g., music, sports, and fundraisers).

The I Love Memphis blog is operated by the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and one of its staff: full-time blogger Holly Whitfield. The blog’s extensive posts span the gamut from Elvis-related to highlighting local causes and needs (Project 50). I Love Memphis has been an activity portal for locals and visitors since its founding in 2009 by Kerry Crawford, and it’s still charming.

  • My favorite feature is 5 Things to Do This Weekend which provides a heads up on the cool and quirky events (along with schedules, venue information, and pricing) every week. If you ever come up short on plans, check it out.
  • Helpful tip? A plus to this blog is that most of its content has a long shelf-life. However, it would be nice if the latest and greatest was identified with more chutzpah. The homepage begins with page one and goes to 549; all the posts look the same. Maybe some type of color-coding or highlighting would help the reader distinguish between the new and old (rather than a fine-print dateline).

theGrind is an online magazine published by students of Rhodes College that launched last month. It presents profiles of residents, events, art, music, and photography that is unique to the city. theGrind’s crisp layout and striking imagery allows the reader to nearly feel the pulse of the city through the lens of Midtown millennials.

  • My favorite feature is the overall design and the photography section. It’s up-close and stunning! For those of you who’ve moved away from Memphis, just visit this site every once in a while to cure your homesickness.
  • Helpful tips? Overall, the navigation is straightforward and the content is organized, however, the transitions can be jarring. Several of the sections have different looks and styles to display content so it can give the impression that you’re jumping to another site. Also, Humans of Memphis does not list the names of the subjects that I assume it’s quoting. (Maybe it’s intended to be gallery-esque and not the typical interview profile?)

Super Social: Choose901 and I Love Memphis do an excellent job of engaging readers through social networks. @Choose901 recently had a t-shirt promotion where it announced a code via Twitter for people to purchase an exclusive run of shirts. They sold out faster than a Justin Timberlake concert. @ILoveMemphis has done an excellent job of responding to reader questions and sending timely reminders about events. @TheGrindMemphis is still working up its Twitter following, yet its Facebook page is loaded with content and has more than 1,000 likes.

This trio promotes Memphis and provides a service to the city. These sites are more than a billboard or brochure, they engage and listen to their audiences through social networking and fun promotions. While it may be confusing to some to see multiple Memphis-centric sites popping up, they each have a niche to fill for our natives, transplants, and passerby. Kudos to each of you and keep the hometown love comin’.