Decades of sprawl.  Burdensome regulations that discourage investment in historic, neighborhoods. Rising property taxes and decreasing levels of municipal services.  Increasingly fragile cities that must manage escalating demands on shrinking resources.

These challenges – and a host of possible responses – will be the focus of the inaugural Strong Towns Boot Camp for local leaders later this month.  Strong Towns is partnered with the Office of the Mayor, Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber, ULI-Memphis, Livable Memphis, Community LIFT, Hyde Family Foundations, and the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis for this three day event, which kicks off on Tuesday, April 22.

The Boot Camp will include three days of presentations and discussions hosted by Chuck Marohn, President of Strong Towns; Mike Lydon, Principal of The Street Plans Collaborative; and Joe Minicozzi, Principal of Urban3 for an audience of political, philanthropic, business, and community leaders, including directors and deputy directors from various divisions of the City of Memphis and Shelby County Government.

“The City of Memphis relies heavily on property taxes to fund our services and operations, so it is critically important that we continue to make strategic, long-range investments in how our land is used and developed,” says Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr.  “We know, however, that we have to change how we invest to create growth and how we measure our impact on neighborhoods.”

Prosperity for Memphis is not going to come from a mega-project the city undertakes or a business that can be subsidized to move to town. We’ve tried that approach,” says Marohn. “Real, enduring prosperity for the residents and businesses of Memphis is possible only with a bottom up effort that focuses on ongoing, incremental improvements through all of the city’s neighborhoods.

Each day of the Boot Camp will conclude with a public lecture by Marohn, Lydon, and Minicozzi, respectively.  These lectures, collectively titled “Bootstrap City: The Case For Agility,” are free and open to the public and will be held at the High Point Ballroom, 1 Commerce Street in the downtown Pinch District at 6:30 p.m. each evening; free parking is available and light refreshments will be served.

The topics of each Bootstrap City lecture are themed around each speaker’s specific area of expertise:

  • Marohn’s “Curbside Chat”discusses the financial health of urban places and addresses hard questions likeWhy are our cities and towns so short of resources despite decades of robust growth?and What do we do now that the economy has changed so dramatically?

  • Lydon’s Changing the Culture of a City” delves into specifics of creative placemaking and tactical urbanism, movements that seek to drive grassroots change in making tangible improvements and alterations to the public realm, even without – sometimes especially without – local government’s permission.

  • Minicozzi’s“How We Measure the City” examines how different kinds of development patterns affect municipal coffers, with the goal of ensuring that the public and private sectors work together to ensure they cultivate the most productive aspects of their communities.

“Cities are human inventions that are thousands of years old,” says Minicozzi. “Suburban-style development patterns are actually a pretty recent phenomenon and right now, governments are struggling to pay for them. Reprioritizing where we invest our resources and how we design our neighborhoods is critical to the long-term financial health of all communities.  We believe that this change in status quo thinking can begin at the Boot Camp in Memphis.”

"I'm excited about Memphis because a new approach to urban redevelopment is emerging from everywhere within the community, including non-profits, businesses, and city leaders,” says Lydon. “It's low cost, creative, and leading to real results. In this way, Memphis is a model for cities across the country. The goal of the Boot Camp is to inspire Memphians to collectively push it further."