Ensuring Equity in Memphis Riverfront Development

One of the city’s biggest assets is its riverfront, but equity and inclusion need to be an important part of what development brings to residents and communities.

2 minute read

September 1, 2019, 5:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink


Memphis Riverfront

dconvertini / Flickr

Carol Coletta of the Memphis River Parks Partnership writes that Memphis has not taken full advantage of the development and investment potential of the riverfront property along the Mississippi River. The organization, she says, is not funded specifically to pursue equity strategies, but the city's high levels of poverty and segregation means this aspect of its work cannot be ignored. "Instead, we must integrate equity into all that we do, and we must do it within existing financial constraints."

She outlines the model that guides the work of the partnership. Staff development involves providing a living wage and advancement opportunities, and contractor development supports minority- and women-owned businesses. The organization has also made community engagement a top priority, says Coletta. "We believe in the importance of inviting community members in, not just as consumers, but as shapers and stewards of the riverfront."

The riverfront needs to be accessible to all residents, and projects need to connect it to surrounding communities, adds Coletta. "In particular, we are leading efforts to define pedestrian and cycling corridors between the riverfront and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as bring attention to the long-overlooked MLK Park south of downtown, to use as an anchor for new investment in the adjacent neighborhood." Free programming is another way the organization is working to promote diversity among users of the riverfront.

"Questions of equity and inclusion are always present, both in the operation of the enterprise and in the riverfront we are attempting to create. Creating a riverfront that works for everyone, every day, is the only way to achieve our mission of harnessing the transformative power of the river for all Memphians," says Coletta.

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