Taylor Berger

Taylor Berger is co-owner/operator of the local restaurant group He also works as a development consultant and is an affiliate broker at Trotz Real Estate Services.

Successful cities are defined by imaginative leadership, not stasis driven by hordes of naysayers

By Updated: February 13, 2019 4:00 AM CT | Published: February 11, 2019 12:37 PM CT

There’s an undercurrent of negativity in Memphis, and it’s surfacing again now at a most ironic place, Tom Lee Park.

The plan unveiled recently really does “nail it,” as Carol Colleta, executive director of Memphis River Parks Partnership, proclaimed.

Yet with still almost half the money to be raised, we are at this place again where a few antagonistic voices are rising up to kill what could create the most beautiful frontage along the entire Mississippi River and a powerful driver of economic impact for Memphis.

They lurk on social media and the comments section of articles. They spread rumor and conspiracy like it was kudzu seed. Few have the courage to emerge from the shadows, preferring the anonymity afforded those who do nothing but shoot verbal arrows into the brave actions of their neighbors.

It’s like these people want our city to fail. They fear anything new, shouting “not in my backyard, where everything is fine.”

Cities evolve or die. Look at places like Nashville, New Orleans, Atlanta and even Louisville and Austin. Compare those to Little Rock and Jackson, Mississippi. Which do we want to be more like?

What defines successful cities is change driven by imaginative leadership, not stasis driven by hordes of naysayers.

The cynic in me says the naysayers want our city to wallow in mediocrity because they are themselves mediocre and ashamed. Why would they want to watch their neighbors, or their city, rise up and become something great while they stay frozen in time?

I feel sorry for them, and proud to have many of them as “haters.” If they want to spend their time online following people who actually do things in our city, like some stray dog looking for scraps, that’s fine.

What I cannot abide, however, is when their din rises up to sway our municipal mood and political representatives.

I would imagine that 99% of the population has better things to do than try and drag down the progress of our city. Most people have families, friends and jobs that demand their time and energy.

These people don’t go to public meetings or post comments online. Instead they trust those they elect to ignore the whining of the 1% and do what needs to be done to make our city better.

The problem is that the 1% is loud. Their bitterness compels them to show up to public meetings and spend hours online trolling the comment sections. The volume of their aggression distorts the size of their position, because the 99% simply has better things to do.

The effect is akin to if you only got your news from one source. Sure you are getting some facts, but the tone is overwhelmingly biased and distorts your perception of reality.

Tom Lee was a black man who saved 36 people from a wrecked riverboat more than a century ago. He didn’t know how to swim, but that didn’t stop him from going into action from his little rowboat in the swirling, mighty Mississippi. Surely there were voices along the shore, telling him to stay safe on dry land.

Instead of listening to the voices of fear Tom Lee listened to his heart, which demanded he muster the courage to risk his life to save a bunch of people he’d never met.

People who if the times were any indication, probably were at least a little hostile to the idea of a black man even owning a rowboat.

That is the kind of focus we need right now in our leadership. If only for a minute, step back and appreciate what the moment affords, and take a bold step forward.

Drown out the voices on the shore and do what needs to be done: make the riverfront something our city can be proud of; that will catalyze tourism; that will be boatloads of fun.


Memphis River Parks Partnership Carol Coletta Tom Lee Park

Comment On This Story

Email Editions

Sign up for our morning and evening editions, plus breaking news.