I knew that live music went on at Brinson’s in downtown Memphis, but it had been years since I had been there, so when I read that the Concrete Soul Band would be playing there, I decided to drive down and check it out. Concrete Soul proved to be a very funky, tight band, playing both smooth jazz and some neo-soul, and after the intermission, we got a special surprise as former Memphian Arean Alston came on stage to perform. Alston had been in Memphis all week, and had performed elsewhere, but it was great to see her in the city again.
Rarely do gentrifiers explicitly tell you their plans, but this flyer I picked up at the Trolley Stop in Memphis sets forth exactly what the Victorian Village Community Development Corporation wants to do with Morris Park. The urban park features two basketball courts currently and the best basketball in the city, but the Victorian Village folks claim that “families” are afraid to use the park due to “100” crimes that have occurred there in the last year. Their flyer calls for a “Greener, Cleaner, Safer” park, and at first glance, what could be wrong with that? But the problem is, the folks that like to hoop in Morris Park are mostly young Black men, and by “greener” Victorian Village Inc means getting rid of the basketball courts. To be such a storied town for basketball, Memphis has few public courts. The city removed most of them in the 1990’s after residents claimed that they attracted crime. Now, if the Victorian Village CDC is successful in their efforts, there will be no place for young people to play basketball in Downtown Memphis. While crime in parks is an issue that needs to be addressed, basketball doesn’t cause it and eliminating basketball will not prevent crime.
Recently the Commercial-Appeal printed an editorial about soon-to-be-implemented changes that are coming to downtown parking. The newspaper gleefully reported as progress that Memphis will replace the old-fashioned coin parking meters with sophisticated newfangled meters that can accept credit cards. Of course, the quid pro quo for this, said the editorial, is that there will be no more free parking downtown after 5:30 PM, nor on weekends, nor on holidays. So this “progress” so hailed by the CA is actually a tremendous step backwards for the city of Memphis.
How quickly our leaders have forgotten that the cost of parking is one of the things that helped kill downtown Memphis in the first place. Shoppers no longer saw the point of driving downtown and paying for parking to shop at Goldsmith’s or Lowenstein’s when you could go do that at one of the new suburban shopping areas, where parking was provided for free.
The other thing that killed downtown Memphis was that people didn’t feel safe, particularly after several spates of downtown rioting in 1968-1969 and again in 1971. And on that point we have Friday’s incident where students at the All-West Tennessee Band and Orchestra Convention at the Cannon Center were beaten and robbed outside of Huey’s directly across from the Peabody Hotel. So Mayor Wharton and other city leaders are essentially saying, “Come downtown and spend money, but we’re going to sock it to you for parking 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you might get robbed to boot.” Who likes that proposition? Anyone?