Tanja Mitchell

Tanja Mitchell is director of community engagement for The Works Inc. in South Memphis and serves on the Memphis River Parks Partnership board. She is former Uptown director of sustainability and former Downtown Memphis Commission board member.

A downtown for everyone

By Published: May 08, 2019 5:40 PM CT

As I was driving down Riverside last weekend, my eye caught a glimpse of River Garden, the newest space on our riverfront that opened less than six months ago. I wish I could have stopped to take a picture. To see it full of people, individuals and families from neighborhoods near and far – I could feel the energy from my seat. There was a line for the swing!

This scene was not always the reality; however, it’s what I always wanted.

<strong>Tanja Mitchell</strong>

Tanja Mitchell

I intentionally moved my family to Uptown to give my children an experience of the best of both worlds; a safe, decent and affordable neighborhood with access to a vibrant downtown and beautiful riverfront. I’ve called myself a river champion for a decade and believe now more than ever in its power to bring people together.

During my tenure as Uptown’s former neighborhood coordinator and director of neighborhood sustainability, I would hear a lot of, “Downtown isn’t for me.” I’d sit down with residents and hear their perspectives of Downtown being for the tourist, or the businessman, or the young person. “Not for me.”

It was part of my mission, personally and professionally, to prove otherwise. To prove that yoga in River Garden, the Court Square Concert Series, Touch A Truck and Beale Street Art Crawl – all of which are funded by the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) – are created for you.

Becoming a champion for and partner of these events became a foundation for my work with Uptown residents. Whenever I suggested an engagement idea to the DMC, the answer has always been “yes.” Penelope Huston (DMC vice president of marketing) will tell me that she doesn’t know how we will get to the yes, but we will work to a yes!

My job is to create connections. I worked to drive programming and opportunities to Uptown and surrounding neighborhoods that could create more viable urban communities. They could do that by providing a suitable living environment and expanding the economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income persons. 

What many may not realize is that the DMC’s investment footprint includes Uptown. Uptown is part of Downtown; over the years, we have felt and applauded the DMC’s priority to push resources in our direction.

Now, in my current role as director of community engagement for The Works Inc. (TWI) in South Memphis, I’m stretching the reach of Downtown and the riverfront’s development further South, working to activate MLK Park with fitness and community programs that the DMC continues to spread across its footprint. I’m excited about developing a TWI plan to increase engagement and deepen relationships with South Memphis residents, new audiences and affiliated organizations including the DMC. 

Have we invited every possible resident we can to experience the essence of Downtown Memphis? Not yet. But we work daily to deepen our relationships and our trust with one another and with our shared spaces.

Downtown is for me. Downtown is for you. Downtown is for all of us.


Uptown Downtown Memphis Commission The Works Inc.

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