In 2011, Memphis became one of the first five cities in the world to establish an Innovation Delivery team in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. The past decade has included much to celebrate about innovation as we have navigated a period of growth, change, and challenges – including an unprecedented global public health emergency that upended the lives and livelihoods of our neighbors. However, this challenge became a testament to the strength of Memphis, as the public sector, business and civic leaders rallied together to improve our community. Besides being highly community-oriented, we are problem-solvers here. It’s in our DNA.
A number of achievements give us cause to both celebrate and reflect on this 901 Day. We continue to show up where we are needed and work together to address the barriers that keep far too many Memphians from sharing in today’s prosperity and tomorrow’s promise. Below are nine great things Innovate Memphis and its partners can celebrate today that have helped improve outcomes for our community.
1. Where it all began: the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery team
Our organization began as the Innovation Delivery team for then-Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr.’s office. Initial programs sought to cut gun violence among Memphis youth and create greater economic vitality in target neighborhoods. A first of its kind, the city innovation model is now active in more than 30 cities around the globe.
2. Using Healthcare Navigator to help Memphians get the right service at the right time
Launched in partnership with the Memphis Fire Department, the Healthcare Navigator program helps reduce emergency medical service (EMS) use by redirecting non-urgent medical needs to the right responses on every call.
EMS responders have the training, tools and resources to connect non-emergent patients with supports such as at-home physician visits, transportation to non-emergency medical care, and mental health interventions depending on their needs, This innovative practice not only saves time and money for patients and emergency services alike, but it also expands the community’s access to health resources that can drastically reduce the need for emergency care in the long run.
3. 901 Ride Choice Program
Innovate Memphis’ 901RideChoice program is a free phone service for older adults and people living with a disability who need local, reliable transportation options to get to their destinations. It connects eligible residents to free transportation options for wellness appointments.
Powered by Innovate Memphis and funded by the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) and the City of Memphis through a federal grant, 901RideChoice is designed to give vulnerable populations transportation options to help regain their independence. 901RideChoice users receive free transportation to medical appointments through Rides to Wellness. Rides to Vaccines was previously operated an easy way for elders to access COVID-19 vaccinations, funded by LISC.
4. More informed and inclusive real estate decisions through the Property Hub
The Memphis Property Hub compiles data from multiple public sources to tell the story of Shelby County’s 351,000 parcels. Every piece of property, whether vacant land or a commercial structure, can be traced with Memphis Light, Gas and Water payments, appraisals from the Shelby County Assessor, foreclosure history and code enforcement infractions. This real estate and property resource furnishes actionable data for CDCs, researchers, planners, and citizens and drives decisions on ownership, property taxes, property delinquency, and zoning concerns.
5. Reimagining Civic Commons and transit to maximize urban spaces
Innovate Memphis has played a vital role in designing the city’s Parks Reservation system, coordinating the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative with local partners, and providing research support for the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan for parks and green spaces. In addition, the Memphis 3.0 Transit Vision offers an improved transit network and public spaces like parks, plazas, trails and libraries to unite Memphians from different backgrounds as a means to counter socio-economic divides in our city.
6. A lifeline to better, safer choices with 901 BLOC Squad
The 901 BLOC Squad is an intervention program that equips, empowers, and supports Memphis youth and their families to reduce neighborhood violence. Launched with the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery team in 2012 and now an independent nonprofit, 901 BLOC Squad provides case management and one-to-one mentoring with participants to understand their needs and help them navigate their choices to pursue a better life.
7. MEM-proving safety and engagement on our streets
The MEMFix projects have been broad and multifaceted, spanning from creating bike lanes and safer sidewalks, to holiday and festivity-related activities and programs for neighbors. These, in turn, spurred initiatives such as MEMshop, a retail incubator program that has helped revitalize a number of vacant and underutilized storefronts to build new businesses in the now-thriving Broad Avenue and Edge districts.
8. Leading the way with equity-focused civic data
Innovate Memphis serves as our city’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partner by “ensuring that their communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.” Our team collects and reports on indicators of community health, gaps and needs; we also work closely with community partners on how best to use and share data to tackle inequalities in a systemic way. Of note, Innovate Memphis recently won a national award for its Using Data to Inform Local Decisions on COVID-19 Response & Recovery grant program. Innovate Memphis partnered with Whole Child Strategies and the COMMONS, a coalition of eight place-based community organizations across Memphis in primarily African-American neighborhoods, to understand how the pandemic was affecting tenants.
9. Promoting Commute Options
The Commute Options initiative aims to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicle commute trips in Memphis while increasing the usage of transit, carpooling, bicycling, and walking to work.Whether you are an employee or employer hoping to reimagine transit for work or a student or family member exploring transportation alternatives for school or for fun, Commute Options provides a variety of education resources and activities to get you started. Learn more about our resources here.
Into the future: Greater nutritional security
In addition to the nine things to celebrate above, we offer one new initiative on the horizon that responds to one of the most stubborn challenges of our time: food insecurity.
Supply chain woes and inflation have weighed hardest on low-income neighbors, so helping to relieve pressure for food-insecure citizens is imperative. Innovate Memphis’ No Kid Hungry Fellow, Angelica Carey, is working to investigate opportunities for food systems innovations. We are working in partnership with Clean Memphis’ Memphis Food Waste Project to develop programming this year to understand interventions with the best potential to address food access and food rescue efforts – thus alleviating food insecurity for Memphians in need. This will include examining potential improvements to federal nutrition programs; researching participants’ experiences on what feels successful, stigmatizing or inconvenient about food access programs; and innovating to extend or improve programs and policies.
We are far from finished. And with our community’s collective time, talents and advocacy, we can work toward solutions that are more impactful in achieving more inclusivity and equitable prosperity in Memphis.
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