“Memphians don’t always do well with rules,” explains lawyer and city planner Tommy Pacello. Memphis-raised, he left for college and was drawn back to join the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, an effort funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies to generate neighborhood economic vitality and reduce gun violence among youth. “The city’s got this grit and soul and texture to it that comes from being a river town, I think. It’s part of our DNA as Memphians.”
But that grit and that soul, in a city that faces its share of systemic challenges, haven’t always found creative outlets. “For many years,” says Pacello, “we had lived in an environment where people felt somewhat stifled. Felt they had to wait on other people to do things for us, to find the silver bullet.” For a community to see itself as dependent on slow-moving government, or on anyone, for positive change, safety, and cohesiveness, is deeply demoralizing. Something had to give.