Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has followed through on what might be a key moment in the city’s continuing quest for identity.
Wharton has made public a letter he sent to Steve Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, about the magazine’s list of most miserable cities which included Memphis near but not at the top.
The Forbes ranking is but the latest in a series of lists in which Memphis has taken a beating.
Wharton’s letter can be found at Wharton’s blog, http://mayoracwharton.wordpress.com, and Andy Meek will have more in Tuesday’s print edition.
Wharton’s outrage over the list was still fresh last week when he covered this in a speech to the Memphis Rotary Club.
But Wharton mixed the outrage with a deliberate call for Memphians to define the city’s identity for themselves. Redefining how we feel about our community might be a more daunting task than trying to convince Steve Forbes.
Incidentally, Forbes has been in Memphis before – several times – when he was seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.
Despite our best efforts, we will probably always care more about what visitors think of our city than we should.
That said, our self image remains the political issue that our candidates trip over occasionally on their way to less perilous issues like being for education and against crime.
The discussion we have must be realistic, which means right down the middle of the street on which an unrealistic blindingly bright version of the city sits on one side and an unfathomable desolate darkness is on the other.
Both are extreme caricatures built around kernels of the truth.
Our self image is not to be the product of a dispassionate review of statistics from a safe distance. Emotion will be involved. Good and bad experiences and memories will come into play. And let’s not forget all of this discussion will be built on a foundation of change – civic, cultural and the more concrete business of new neighborhoods arising where old neighborhoods stood. Our city is in a period of change on just about every front.
We don’t all have to agree on what the nuts and bolts of what that change should be. We can and should be able to dare to mix hope and reality and find our true face within.