Our recent project with the City of Memphis, TN garnered quite a bit of interest because the Fairgrounds site is an iconic element of Memphis culture. The city set a high bar for public participation to ensure that all voices were heard in the process of identifying how the space should be used going forward.
Several consultant teams came together to offer their respective expertise in citizen engagement. The National Charrette Institute, in cooperation with PlaceMatters, hosted citywide community meetings, and UIS created an EngagingPlans platform that supplemented the meetings by providing online input opportunities.
As a result of these collaborations, the team collected more than 600 community responses on the Fairgrounds Survey, with more than 50% of those submitted via the EngagingPlans site. In particular, Memphis saw markedly more responses from young people in their late-20s and early-30s online than in person, giving the project team a more comprehensive look at community preferences than they might have had using only traditional engagement methods.
UIS also provided an Ideation Wall app from the EngagingPlans Suite to offer an online alternative to the traditional sticky note and flip chart brainstorming method that was used at community meetings. Without needing to be present at the meetings, users could submit ideas directly on the site and via SMS or Twitter hashtag. More than 200 suggestions were made, and they included everything from a new event venue and city park to sustainable urban agriculture, a rugby field, and even a Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Gathering public input was just one of the first steps on the road to redevelopment. The results of the engagement effort were shared with an advisory panel from the Urban Land Institute, which subsequently presented findings and recommendations related to development strategies and programs, land use and design, neighborhood connections, and financing and implementation. The overarching recommendation was to “preserve the purpose of the site as a regional public amenity,” including repurposing the coliseum to be a cultural events center, adding a sports and recreation complex and commercial water park, incorporating active and passive greenspace, and creating parking areas that can also be used for temporary markets.
We’re looking forward to seeing the Memphis Fairgrounds of the future, and are optimistic that the City’s residents, businesses and tourists will be excited by what comes next to this historic site.