Smart growth is not achieved by annexing suburbs into the city, but by revitalizing the inner city, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said Monday in his keynote address to the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit, hosted by the Center for Planning Excellence at the Shaw Center.
When Daily Report asked Wharton to compare Memphis’ history of annexations to Baton Rouge’s current rift with those behind an effort to incorporate a new city of St. George from unincorporated portions of the parish, Wharton advised both parties to tread lightly.
Wharton says Baton Rouge could incur unexpected costs in having to provide more services to outlying areas, as could St. George. Wharton says breakaway school districts in Memphis were willing to tax themselves more for education, but were unaware how quickly costs would escalate.
Memphis has a history of annexing suburban land to grow its tax base, Wharton said, adding he put a stop to that policy because the city’s expenses also grew, as it had to provide services to more outlying areas. Wharton instead turned his attention to revitalizing the inner city.
“Where is the greatest room for property value appreciation? Not in the suburbs, but right in the core city,” Wharton said in his presentation Monday.
Memphis’ inner city revitalization does not simply reintroduce commerce to an area, he said, but includes strategies to also lift people from low-income neighborhoods into prosperity.
“People’s needs, start with that first. You cannot go wrong,” Wharton said.
Those strategies include anti-violence and crime prevention programs and extensive bike trails to connect residential and commercial areas.
“Nobody is going to invest where there are horrific amounts of violence,” Wharton said. “If people do not feel safe it all goes for naught.”
One of the biggest impediments to getting a job for some in Memphis is the lack of transportation. Not only is Memphis sprawling, but sub-prime car loans have exploded in popularity, Wharton said.
“We have to do more on equitable transit, not equal transit,” Wharton said.
Bike paths are also a tool in encouraging young people to move and stay in Memphis.
“I don’t want anyone thinking I am here and I am trapped here,” Wharton said. Instead, he said, they should think, “I am here because this is the city I chose. This is the neighborhood I have chosen.”
The Smart Growth Summit continues today and wraps up on Wednesday evening. Check out the agenda for the rest of the summit. —Kelly Connelly