Recently, a bill that would prohibit cities spending gas tax revenues for bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure was scheduled for a vote at the Tennessee General Assembly. Its approval could be a severe blow to Memphis’s recent bike friendly development, as well as a setback in the political acceptance for a post-carbon transition in the birthplace of Rock and Roll.
Although this bill shows that the political debate about investments to improve urban sustainability persists on a state level, Memphis and Shelby County have taken a leading role on the issue on a local level.
On February 1st, the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability started the We Sustain Shelby campaign that encourages individuals and businesses to take actions to improve their impact on the environment. People can take actions relating to the themes of water, energy, nature, recycling, and health. One thing that sets this campaign apart: the initiators have found a way to use our competitive nature to motivate the community to action by turning the project into a game.
The rules of the game are straightforward. New actions are issued weekly and monthly on the official website. Participants can take as many action as they want and have to submit either a written or visual (photo or video) verification of their efforts. We Sustain Shelby attributes a number of points depending on the quality (or marketability, perhaps) of the proof you provide: photos beat text, but videos beat photos. Further, you can earn extra points if you stay engaged: the more consistent your participation is, the more extra points you can earn for your participation.
Your points add up and can eventually win you the weekly or the grand prize at the end of the challenge. So far some people have won rain barrels, others gift cards. The grand prize winner will be able to celebrate with the Memphis Grizzlies.
— Sustainable Shelby (@SustainShelby) February 15, 2016
The website’s interface is very user friendly and explains the materials needed to take a particular action as well as the necessary steps. Another merit is that almost all weekly actions such as cleaning the refrigerator, picking up some litter, or skipping the sleeve in a coffee shop are very precise actions that can be handled by most — some can be made in public and thus lead to the ultimate impact: inspiring the next person to act.
“Be inspired by the spring” pushes people to use their creativity to connect with the environment. You are challenged to create a piece of art that was inspired by the spring. This action could be useful in every city to make citizens think about their relationship to nature. We’d love to see people also think about creating their environment-inspired art in the built environment. (Remember these from Lisbon?)
One of We Sustain Shelby’s partners is the Memphis non-profit Clean Memphis, which has the very ambitious goal to make Memphis the cleanest city in the US. April 2016 will be the cleanest month for Memphis as Earth Day will be celebrated all month long with daily clean-ups by volunteers. But Clean Memphis also cares about relationship building with the environment from an early age on and provides environmental education programs for all Shelby County schools.
— CBU Sustainability (@SustainCBU) October 24, 2015
Last but not least a group of students from the University of Memphis have formed the Memphis River Warriors in 2011, cleaning up the shores of McKellar Lake on selected weekends. Their action was inspired by non-profit Living Lands and Water’s alternative spring break, when a group of students also cleaned up the shores of the one-time favorite for weekend water recreation.
Political support for the post-carbon transition of Memphis may not be well-established at the official level (a pay-as-you-throw program named SMART was dropped last year), but Memphians have a long history of caring for their communities. Sustainable cities always start in the streets. And with Memphis’s unparalleled music to motivate them, there is no telling how clean the city will be.