Connecting state and local government leaders

A New Kind of Park Along Memphis’ Waterfront

Site of RiverPlay.

Site of RiverPlay. City of Memphis


Connecting state and local government leaders

RiverPlay highlights the city’s effort to connect its civic assets to promote integration.

The underutilized Memphis and Mississippi River parks in Memphis, Tennessee, are typically bisected by a busy four-lane road, but not today.

Instead visitors will be able to shoot hoops on three basketball courts, rollerblade around a rink and eat at local food trucks in a temporary park connecting the other two.

Memphis is hailing RiverPlay as a new model for cities to activate neglected urban spaces to promote equity.

“RiverPlay leverages two of our city’s greatest unifiers—the riverfront and the Memphis Grizzlies,” said Mayor Jim Strickland in the announcement. “The Grizzlies partnership with this project demonstrates the power of sports to unite and transform communities.”

The team’s “GrizzFit” coaches will guide play and ensure the inclusion of everyone present, and they’re not the only partners on the project—open until August.

RiverPlay concept (Groundswell Design)

Over time communities have become increasingly segmented by income and technology gaps studies show, so Reimagining the Civic Commons launched nationally in 2015 to connect civic assets and encourage social interaction, economic integration and environmental sustainability. Philadelphia was the pilot, and Memphis, Akron, Detroit and Chicago received $40 million in grants last year to revitalize libraries, trails and community centers.

The Fourth Bluff, where Memphis originated, is the city’s RCC initiative—of which RiverPlay is one part.

Permanent improvements to Memphis Park are planned overtime: a daytime garden and weekend entertainment. Landscaping, wayfinding signage and street crossing upgrades that promote biking, walking and transit are planned for Mississippi River Park. New programming and furnishings will be introduced at Cossitt Library.

A pop-up ice rink in Mississippi River Park was The Fourth Bluff’s first project, drawing more than 8,000 skaters during the winter months.

The JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation and the The Rockefeller Foundation comprise RCC.

“We believe strongly that thoughtfully-designed and well-maintained public places can, with the right mix of activities and programming, bring people together across seemingly intractable economic, social and cultural divides,” said Carol Coletta, senior fellow at Kresge, in a statement. “RiverPlay will create a place for people to come together, play together, and, eventually, build the city’s future together.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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