Saturday, February 28, 2009

Filling the recreational void: A case for a skate park on Mud Island

This past week the Smart City Memphis blog celebrated the best of Memphis by asking Memphians to list their ten favorite things about Memphis. This post was received with a flood of enthusiasm with many citizens posting their favorites haunts, restaurants or activities. Take the time to read this post and celebrate our great Memphis!

As important as it is to celebrate, it’s easy in the midst of celebrating to gloss over some quality of life issues that Memphis needs to address. Extreme positives or high impact efforts and negatives ( a.k.a media magnets) such as crime eat up most of the media band-width. The more subtle factors that effect our day-to-day living can be lost in the shuffle.

As a recruit to St. Jude, I can say without a doubt that there are few institutions that provide the wealth of scientific support that exists at the St. Jude campus. I have been at St. Jude three years now and St. Jude rivals the best companies and universities when it comes to career advancement opportunities and top level scientific research. After having done research for three years at Stanford University, I can confidently tell you that St. Jude is on par and even exceeds Stanford in some categories.

Yet, for all the recruiting efforts of our top Memphis companies such as St. Jude or Fedex, there exists an Achilles heel that antagonizes these efforts. It’s a quality of life issue. Where a recruit moving from another city would expect to find a diverse range of fun outdoor activities for families, singles and youth, he/she instead discovers a recreational void. Memphis needs these positive physical outlets to help people achieve a better work/life balance. We need fun places to go outside and blow off some steam. More importantly our teenage youth, and eventually my two young boys, need more outlets to help them cope with all the pressures and temptations that come with growing up. In their words -they get bored and do stupid stuff.

I believe some of our dubious ranking may be directly linked or attributed to this recreational void:
• Number one Obese city (34% of Memphians are obese, 65% overweight and obese)-2007 Forbes
• Number one sedentary/least fit city – Forbes 2007
• 2nd most miserable city -2009 ( admittedly a bit unfair due to overlooked Memphis gems)

We need to foster a new culture of exercise- Memphians know how to have fun with food and music, now we need to learn how to do the same by promoting, supporting and building fun outdoor recreational venues. In top U.S cities, interconnected walking or cycling paths as well as skateboarding /roller blading parks have become integrally woven into the urban fabric of the area. While Memphis has ample recreational space for traditional team-based sports it has no safe space available for activities that have in some cases surpassed in popularity some of the traditional sports. For example, in 2004 the number of skateboarding youth eclipsed the number of youth participating in baseball.
The bottom line: Recreation is a core attribute and priority among top U.S. cities. Consider these statistics: The cities that ranked number one as the fittest and safest cities also have the largest and most number of skate parks in the U.S. Colorado Springs is the current fittest city and has the most number of skate parks. It also just opened up the 4rth largest skate park in the U.S. San Jose has held top honors as the safest city from 2002-2007 and has the largest skate park in the U.S. Denver, America’s favorite city this year, built the 3rd largest skate park in 2003. Louisville, KY was host to the largest skate park in the U.S until San Jose surpassed it last year. More importantly, it’s the top city for recruiting families. Louisville also invested hundreds of millions into revitalizing its parks.
While skate parks are not solely responsible for these rankings, their presence reflects the leadership’s understanding that recreation is strongly linked to the quality life of its citizens.
We now have an opportunity to leap-frog Memphis to a level shared by some of the most recreationally rich cities. This opportunity comes to us this March and is being made available by the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC). RDC will be partnering with the public to form a master plan for Mud Island. This master plan could be a game-changer for Memphis. I am asking Memphians to join me in advocating for a competition sized skateboard and rollerblade park.
This facility would be large enough to host the X-games or the Mountain dew tour-both of which are hugely popular events. What many are unaware of is that skateboarding and other “actions sports” such as rollerblading are now mainstream activities in cities across the U.S. In 2004, Sports illustrated called skateboarding the “greatest influence on the American youth culture of the late 20th century.” Skateboarding also transcends different cultures- the movie “Sour” documents friendships formed between Israeli and Palestinian skaters. Case in point, Memphis has a large diverse skating population that you will see first hand if you come to one of these meetings. Please join me in making Memphis as rich in it’s recreational outlets as it already is with its food and music culture.
The RDC will soon announce the meeting dates available so please go to their home page or sign up on our SkateLife Memphis email list and we will send you the information for the meeting.

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