A Summons to Memphis 2014

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean speaks frankly about the issues facing Tennessee’s two largest cities.

Photographs by Don Perry

That old rivalry between the Bluff City and Music City is so alive in Memphis, you could almost reach out and pinch it. If you did, it might even squawk out that old chestnut about how “Nashville would be happy to sell Memphis right off to Mississippi.”

Alive or not, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean doesn’t buy it. He believes Nashville needs Memphis and Memphis needs Nashville.

That’s just what he told a packed house in June at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn when he answered Memphis magazine’s second annual “Summons to Memphis.”

“As sister cities within our great state, we share many of the same opportunities and challenges and I think we have never needed each other more,” Dean says. “We get what the future is about and we need each other. Our cities are going to shape the future of Tennessee and it’s up to us to decide what that future should be.”

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu answered the magazine’s first “Summons to Memphis” last year. But as much as Memphians love to claim New Orleans as a sister city, it’s more like an exotic cousin who lives in another neighborhood. Nashville and Memphis — as different as they are — live under the same roof, so to speak, and (generally) play by the same rules. Still, that old rivalry made his visit (and maybe even this magazine’s invitation to him) seem a bit subversive.

Like any proud mayor of any city anywhere, he bragged a little on his hometown. Dean helped the crowd remember that The New York Times called Nashville the “It” city last year and that tourism records there have been broken since the Music City Center opened last May.

Dean also shared his thoughts about the key ingredients for any city’s success. And, no, you Nashville naysayers, it wasn’t patronizing advice for little-brother Memphis. Here are ten bullet points we all could take away from his tightly focused presentation:

TALENT — “This is the most important thing for a city. Like I said, people are what make a city.”  
TECHNOLOGY — “It’s the industry that’s shaping all other industries in our country right now. We all depend on it, especially businesses who look at ways to grow and get ahead of the competition.”
TOLERANCE — “It has perhaps the biggest influence on whether or not the city attracts talented people. If people don’t feel welcome in a city being who they are, they’ll find someplace else to go. From a moral standpoint, being welcoming and open is just the right thing to do.”
TRANSIT — “Here in the South, our cities have for a long time been less dense but our populations have grown in the era of the personal automobile. We’ve been less reliant on mass transit and our development has been more spread out. With the trend of more people moving into cities, we have to accept that transit is going to be essential to our future. We need a more robust mass transit system in Nashville and in all the big cities in Tennessee if we [want to] remain the economic drivers of our state.”
IMMIGRANTS — “The most interesting, economically prosperous cites in the world are cities with diverse, evolving populations. Immigrants make cities strong. They bring ideas and culture and strengthen our workforce. When they choose to live in Nashville, that’s an incredible compliment to us.”
STRATEGIC INVESTING — “Our new [Nashville Sounds baseball park] will reactivate Germantown [north of downtown Nashville] and the surrounding areas. It’s important to invest in our urban core. Tax revenues generated downtown pay for public services across our city.”
RIVERFRONT DEVELOPMENT — “Plans for both banks [of the Cumberland River] are going to make our riverfront a true destination for families and tourists. Cultural amenities like the ballpark and riverfront are important to the city’s vibrancy and important to our quality of life and place.”
POLICE — “It’s an area we didn’t cut during the recession. We added on and now we have the largest department we’ve ever had. Last year, we had the lowest homicide rate we’ve had in Nashville in the last 50 years.”
QUALIFIED WORKFORCE — “Our public schools have created industry-based academies in high schools. There’s the hospitality academy and medical academy and legal career academy. It gives the students more direct contact with employers and people working in the field and more hands-on sort of work to do.”
TENNESSEE CITIES NEED EACH OTHER — “In the last fiscal year, the regions around Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga generated more than 80 percent of our state’s [gross national product] and over 90 percent of the job growth. Cities have the potential to shape our future more than anything else as a nation and certainly as a state. In essence, our cities’ success translates to the success of our state.”

Below please find a video of the event, as well as pictures from on the scene:

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