MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland unveiling several new initiatives to curb violence and improve the city’s infrastructure Thursday evening in his annual State of the City address.
Strickland began the address by recapping 2020. He focused on the city and county’s response to the first cases of COVID-19, which were reported in March 2020. A week after the first case was reported, the Memphis/Shelby County COVID-19 joint task force was formed.
“Our objective has always been to navigate the pandemic so that we are able to return to normal as quickly as possible, while preserving as many lives and livelihoods as we could along the way,” Strickland said.
Strickland said the task force has delivered a “unified approach” to overcoming COVID-19. He also took a moment to reflect on those in Shelby County who have lost their lives to the virus.
“Tonight, I want to pause for a moment as we reflect on those individuals, what they have meant to us and mourn their passing,” Strickland said. “But, we must remember, hope is just around the corner.”
Strickland said data is showing that Shelby County residents are following the precautions necessary to reduce transmission of the coronavirus.
“Most importantly, and we’re seeing this right now reflected in our new case numbers and hospitalizations, most Memphians have masked up, socially distanced, repeatedly washed our hands, and avoided gathering in large crowds. Thank you!” Strickland said.
He also said the hospital systems are “expertly managing” their patient load despite being stressed by the pandemic. Strickland also touched on vaccine distribution in the county, saying they won’t stop until every Shelby County resident has the opportunity to receive a coronavirus vaccination.
The mayor announced the city, the county and the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund have collectively provided more than $20 million for utility, mortgage and rent assistance, business grants, and grants to support employees whose industries have been most impacted by the pandemic. Strickland also said they’ve helped nonprofit organizations that provide essential services stay financially afloat.
Strickland stressed that the vaccination process will likely take many more months.
“There is still work to do and our journey is not over,” Strickland said. “But, with your help, we will get through it together.”
Strickland then turned his focus to the increase in violent crime in the city. He said violent crime has been one of the most frustrating obstacles he’s faced in his time as mayor of Memphis.
“With each murder, my heart breaks,” Strickland said, “to see our citizens, especially our young people, taken from their families and friends due to senseless violence.”
Strickland announced two new initiatives designed to help prevent crime. The first is the Group Violence Intervention Program (GVIP), which he says is a “comprehensive and collaborative” program targeted to those who are most likely commit or be the victims of violent crime.
Strickland says GVIP is a collaboration between “innovative policing and focused deterrence work” and will be complemented by non-police agencies who will work to perform intervention and outreach , as well as “needed services,” to the most at-risk people.
“This is a targeted, more comprehensive approach directed at those committing the violent and other more serious crimes,” Strickland said. “If we’re going to truly address violent crime and the root causes of it, this kind of individual approach must be greatly expanded and added to our current efforts.”
Strickland said he’s appointing a full-time staff of four to implement this program. The group is to be lead by former two-term Juvenile Court clerk Joy Touliatos.
The mayor also announced plans to install LED light bulbs in all 84,000 streetlights in the city to provide every neighborhood with better lighting.
“No longer will criminals have safe harbor to operate under cover of darkness and prey on our citizens in dimly lit parts of the city,” Strickland said.
Strickland closed out his address by announcing a project called “Accelerate Memphis: Invest in Neighborhoods,” which he calls a $200 million investment in “catalytic community projects” in every neighborhood and city council district in the city.
“This will help restart the momentum and accelerate our growth by improving the quality of life, driving equity and inclusion, improving housing and connectivity, and solving stubborn problems that are deeper than any single yearly budget can solve,” Strickland said.
The current plan is for proceeds from the $200 million project to be divided between neighborhood improvements, improving city parks and revitalizing city-wide assets.
At this time, neighborhood and city park improvements will be allotted $75 million each, while the revitalization efforts will be allotted $50 million. Strickland said those funds can only be used for one-time capital costs.
Strickland said Accelerate Memphis plan provides $60 million in improved infrastructure at 87 locations across the city. He also called the plan a “call to action” to business owners to also invest in neighborhoods across the city.
Some areas Strickland highlighted include the Raleigh Town Center, the Whitehaven Plaza, Soulsville, Hollywood/Hyde Park, Orange Mound and Oakhaven.
You can read the full Accelerate Memphis proposal here. More detail on plans for neighborhood investments as well as GVIP are also available.
Strickland ended the address by saying that though the city has faced many challenges over the past year, he has hope for the future.
“Over the last year, we have been dealt more fear, anxiety, and tragedy than many of us have experienced in our entire lifetimes,” Strickland said. “But, know this—as I stand here tonight, I can honestly and whole-heartedly tell you I believe the future of Memphis is brighter now than it ever has been, and these projects are just the beginning.”