Monday, March 24, 2014

The Resurgence of Downtown Memphis

As a child, I heard about the high crime rate and stark divide between the socioeconomic classes. I was told to never venture there alone, for doing so would put my life in grave danger. I was told that, if I should end up there, I was to leave quickly and never look back. After hearing nothing but negativity about Downtown Memphis, I grew to believe that it was in the midst of a downward spiral, falling so fast that it would one day find itself incapable of a resurgence. However, I write to you as a man corrected. 

When I’m older and far, far from here, I’ll reflect on my childhood in Memphis and find that one particularly fond memory sticks out. Looking to explore Downtown Memphis with my own eyes, I recently ventured there with a friend, parking my car just off of Union Avenue. We had no agenda; we were there to simply feel the city, to experience it for ourselves. As we walked through its streets, we were shocked to find the diverse group of Memphians that walked beside us. We inspected the various businesses, apartment buildings, and quaint parks around us. We walked past the historic Peabody, up entertaining Main Street, and emerged onto Front Street where the rays of the sunset sent chills through my body. As the sunlight struck my face, I found myself unleashing the misconceptions that had once made me fear traveling out of 38120. I’d chosen to see the city through my own eyes and open mind, and it led me to a grand realization: Resurgence is here. 

According to the Downtown Memphis Metrics 2013 Report, released by The Downtown Memphis Commission, an organization that “strives to attract and retain residents, businesses, visitors, and students by fostering the development of a vibrant Downtown that is densely populated, authentic, mixed-use, walkable, clean, safe, and fun,” Downtown Memphis is on the rise. In 2013, the average household income for Downtown residents was $58,745, an over $7,000 increase from 2010. Furthermore, the median household income rose nearly $4,000, growing from $32,839 in 2010 to $36,228 in 2013. Not only has the economy experienced a boom, but residents are growing increasingly well-educated. In 2013, 39.1% of Downtown residents had completed a bachelor’s degree, an increase from 35.3% in 2010, and 18.8% of residents possessed a graduate degree, an over 2% increase from 2010. As Downtown’s real-estate industry continues to grow, so too does the residential population. In 2013, the residential population of Downtown Memphis was estimated at 24,000, an over 18% population increase from 2000. A great deal of this growth can be attributed to a growing financial industry, with career opportunities in various law firms, hospitals, service industries, research labs, government offices, and educational institutions, among many more. 

Beyond the statistics, one can feel the hopeful spirit that pervades throughout Downtown Memphis by simply walking through its streets. Blues, jazz, and rock and roll can be heard from every corner, the scent of barbecue emanates throughout the blocks surrounding Beale Street, and a sense of optimism radiates through neighborhoods that have gone from beaten down projects to beacons of hope. At the edge of Downtown, near the border of Midtown, arts are explored through exhibits, theater performances, and concerts featuring local artists. Though irrelevant to the Jewish community, another notable aspect of revitalized Downtown Memphis is its restaurant scene, boasting innumerable local spots that are succeeding financially and bringing Downtown Memphians together. The opportunities seem endless for a Downtown that’s caught a new breath of life. 

I’m well aware that Downtown Memphis still has a ways to go in shedding its reputation of being home to an exceedingly high violent crime rate. I’m well aware that a socioeconomic divide still exists and inhibits collective growth. I’m well aware that things are far from perfect. But I’m nevertheless hopeful, as I should be, that Downtown Memphis is heading toward a bright future. It’s is in the midst of an economic, real-estate, and social revolution, inching closer to healing its fractured reputation, and heading toward prominence not for its high crime rate, but for its vibrant city-life and vast economic opportunities. The time is now to give Downtown Memphis a chance, for the future is here, and it’s incredibly bright. 

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