In November 2011, Shelby County Government was awarded a $2,619,999 Sustainable 61 Communities Regional Planning Grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to prepare the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan. The 25-year plan is designed to enhance regional sustainability by establishing a unified vision for a region-wide network of green space areas, or Greenprint, which serves to address long-term housing and land use, resource conservation, environmental protection, accessibility, community health and wellness, transportation alternatives, economic development, neighborhood engagement, and social equity in the Greater Memphis Area.
The Greenprint study area includes the Memphis and West Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), covering four counties and 18 municipalities located in the states of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The study area boundaries include Shelby County, TN, and the cities of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, Memphis, and Millington; northern DeSoto County, MS, including the cities of Hernando, Horn Lake, Olive Branch, Southaven, and Walls; eastern Crittenden County, AR, including the cities of West Memphis, Marion and Sunset; and western Fayette County, TN, including the cities of Piperton, Gallaway, and Braden.
The idea for the Greenprint Plan was borne from the work of the Mid-South Greenways Steering Committee, a voluntary ad hoc group of parks, greenways, and open space stakeholders from throughout the region. The group has 34 member organizations and serves as a convener for green infrastructure planning and development.
The group boasts a strong history of collaboration and communication across jurisdictional boundaries. At the 2009 Urban Land Institute-Memphis forum “Exploring the Transformative Roles of Greenways,” Mid-South regional greenways, parks, and open space stakeholders acknowledged greenways are more than just recreational trails. They are engines of change that boast an array of enticing economic benefits, support environmental revitalization, promote healthy behaviors, and connect our multi-state communities.
This consensus provided the spark needed to bring the Steering Committee together that same year and prompted a commitment to meet regularly in pursuit of a common mission: to unite stakeholder voices and strengthen efforts to advance an integrated network of greenways in the Mid-South.
In August 2011, the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability began meeting with stakeholders throughout the region to explore opportunities that would be eligible for funding through the HUD Regional Planning Grant. The concept of connecting the region through green infrastructure quickly emerged as a top idea, validating and confirming the work of the Mid- South Greenways Steering Committee. The grant application for the Greenprint was submitted by Shelby County Government in September 2011 with letters of support from over 22 regional stakeholders, including municipalities, nonprofits, and foundations. Notification of the grant award was received in late November 2011 and the planning process began in the summer of 2012.
The planning process was driven by a consortium of governments and organizations from public, private, nonprofit, philanthropic, and community sectors. Over three years, the consortium membership rapidly grew from 22 stakeholder entities to 82, represented by over 300 individuals from the tri-state region, engaged in one of eight working groups. In addition, over 3,000 regional residents were engaged through a public participation phase including public meetings, outreach
to community groups, and online engagement.
The planning process for the Greenprint was managed by the Memphis & Shelby County Office of Sustainability and guided by the Mid-South Regional Greenprint Consortium (“Consortium”). The Consortium is made up of 82 organizations (municipalities, institutions, nonprofits, businesses and residents) and over 300 individuals that participated in the planning process over the course of the three-year period.
The Consortium was led by an Executive Committee of 25 members, representing the geographic and racial diversity of the region. There were eight working groups that supported the Executive Committee: Housing and Neighborhood Land Use, Community Health and Wellness, Alternative Transportation and Fuels, Parks and Greenways, Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection, Workforce Development and Regional Employment, Social Equity, and Data Mapping and Evaluation. The structure emphasized achieving strong representation from residents of the two Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) regions, especially from minority and low-income communities. Membership in the Consortium remained open to any group or individual wishing to join during the project.
The planning process for the Greenprint began with a visioning phase, laying the foundation for the regional plan. In addition to a detailed study of green space opportunities, existing plans, and regional sustainability indicators, the vision was supported by several, smaller plans and studies, including: the Bus Transit to Workplace Study; Health Impact Assessment; Fair Housing and Equity Assessment; and 20 subplans created by Consortium stakeholders. Each was conducted by professional consultants and coordinated to align with the ideas of the full Consortium.
The findings from each element of the process have been integrated into this final plan. Stand-alone versions of these documents can be found in the Additional Resources tab.
During the visioning phase, the Consortium held monthly Working Group meetings and bi-monthly meetings of the full Consortium in order to develop and shape the Vision Plan. The Vision Plan contained two primary elements: the Concept Map for a regional network of green infrastructure and eight Strategic Directions with associated objectives and actions. Strategic Directions were created and drafted by the Consortium working groups. LRK, Inc. served as the lead firm for the consultant team responsible for completing the Vision Plan. The primary elements of the Vision Plan form the foundation of this regional plan.
Following the development of the vision, Consortium members were encouraged to submit proposals for localized or topic-specific planning projects designed to advance concepts of the regional Vision Plan. The purpose of this phase was to begin to move projects and ideas that support the Greenprint closer to implementation, while demonstrating the potential impact of the regional plan at a local level. There were 44 proposals submitted and 20 demonstration projects were selected for funding after a competitive review process. The 20 subplans were completed by October 2014.
Throughout the course of the planning process, equity and community engagement was a top priority. There was an emphasis on capturing as many voices as possible throughout the region. Outreach for this process included: over 20 neighborhood meetings; five public forums; booths at public events; presentations to over 40 churches and civic organizations; social media; online surveys; and the U Map It! online tool which allows citizens to map spatial recommendations. Multiple, additional meetings were held in connection with smaller studies, plans, and subplans. All told, over 3,000 residents of the region engaged in the Greenprint planning process.
The primary responsibility for outreach and engagement was a shared by the Office of Sustainability, the consultant team lead by LRK, Inc., and a team led by Memphis Area Association of Governments (MAAG). The feedback from the public played a significant role in shaping initial priorities of the plan, strategic recommendations of this plan, green infrastructure connections illustrated on the Concept Map, areas of emphasis within Strategic Directions, and targets for short-term implementation. Input received from the public strongly indicated interest for the Greenprint. The first survey found 86% of respondents considered creating and protecting green spaces and improving access to green space very important goals for the region.
During the visioning phase, four public forums and 14 neighborhood meetings were held. Key public input themes from these meetings included:
- Increase and improve walking and biking facilities;
- Importance of green space to provide community gathering places;
- Develop connections across communities and cities;
- Create better access to parks from surrounding neighborhoods;
- Create better access to major waterways throughout the region, including boat access;
- Improve safety in existing and new parks, greenways, and open spaces;
- Identification of opportunities to coordinate with on-going efforts related to Greenprint such as Complete Streets;
- Ensure broad awareness and inclusion of stakeholder diversity;
- Concerns about longterm funding and maintenance;
- Preserve functional green spaces such as farms and gardens;
- Convert vacant land into productive community assets; and
- Increase transportation
In addition to public forums and neighborhood meetings, MAAG conducted a best practices and values input exercise during 20 meetings of churches and civic organizations in the region. Participants, through a dotvoting exercise, selected safe streets for biking and walking as a top priority, followed by neighborhood beautification, waste reduction, and a connected system of greenway trails and bicycle lanes. Maintenance of parks and trails and creation of new parks and trails also ranked at the top.
After the vision was developed, MAAG conducted a second round of 20 meetings with churches and civic organizations, complemented by nine neighborhood meetings conducted by the Office of Sustainability. During this post-vision phase, meeting participants helped refine the priorities of Strategic Directions by selecting the most important proposed outcomes to be acheived in the short-term. These results helped influence the targets for action in the Implementation section of this plan. The priority outcomes selected were:
- Attract and retain more businesses and jobs;
- Better public transportation;
- Reduced blight and housing vacancy;
- More neighborhood amenities and centers;
- Better maintenance of parks and trails;
- Focus investments on existing communities;
- Better storm water management; and
- Better access to recreation and activities.