MEMPHIS, Tennessee — It’s full of history, has a gorgeous view, and is undergoing a renaissance. It’s no wonder Memphis’ front porch is getting national recognition.
Memphis is included in the “5 of the most remarkable waterfronts in the U.S.” list by United Hemispheres. Here is what the publication said about their list: “Whether rivers, lakes, or oceans, America’s waterways have long been the lifeblood of its cities. Urban centers owed much of their success to how favorable their locations were for trade and transportation—and how effectively they utilized their waterfronts. Today, cities all across the country are once again looking to their docks as avenues for economic development. This time, however, it’s less about making outward connections than it is about bringing together their own communities. Projects such as Chicago’s Navy Pier and the redevelopment of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor have shown how a regenerated waterfront can draw new residents, businesses, and visitors. Here are five U.S. cities, each with distinct challenges, advantages, and approaches, that have set out to remake their waterfronts—and, in turn, perceptions of their cities writ large.”
Specifically, here is what United Hemispheres said about Memphis: “Perched on a bluff just upriver from the Mississippi Delta, Memphis was one of the South’s foremost commercial centers during the 19th century. The city served as a hub for steamboats headed up and down the river, and as late as the 1920s it was one of the world’s largest markets for cotton and lumber.
As Memphis grew, suburban settlements formed to the east, away from the Mississippi, but the city’s connection with the river was never lost. In recent decades, billions of dollars have been spent on the revitalization of its historic downtown, just a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, and now attention is turning to the riverfront and its six miles of connected public parks.
“I’d like for the riverfront to be the thing that comes to mind when people think of Memphis,” says George Abbott, director of external affairs for the Memphis River Parks Partnership. “Today, you’ve got Elvis, you’ve got FedEx, and you’ve got barbecue, and I want the river to be right there with them.”
At the center of this vision is the Memphis Riverfront Concept, which the architecture firm Studio Gang produced in 2017, with input from more than 4,000 Memphians. The proposal called for a series of investments in an existing network of public spaces to increase the area’s vibrancy and economic potential. Two major projects have already been completed: the five-mile River Line walking and biking trail and the $1.6 million River Garden. Work is now underway to transform the 30-acre Tom Lee Park into what Abbott says will be “the best river park in the country.” It will have basketball courts and an adventure playground, as well as outdoor classrooms and a signature canopy walk that leads visitors along an elevated path through a biodiverse forest.
Above all, the updated river-front is meant to appeal to people of all generations, incomes, and backgrounds. (River Garden, for example, was formerly Jefferson Davis Park; aside from being renamed, it saw the removal of its Confederate monuments.) “Beautiful design, beautiful spaces, and engaging programming,” Abbott describes it, “without a barrier to entry, maintaining free and equitable access, thereby being a place of mixing for our entire community.”