A Civic Renaissance Beginning at the Mississippi River

Memphis is transforming public and civic spaces across the city with a focus on breaking down barriers, connecting to nature and creating new value for Memphians. What started at the Mississippi River, with the historic Cossitt Library, River Line Trail, River Garden and Fourth Bluff Park, is spreading to become a citywide movement of diverse neighborhoods and organizations, all operating in different geographies and on different scales, yet working together with one common goal.

"Memphis is Reimagining the Civic Commons, starting with the Fourth Bluff, to foster a sense of belonging among all Memphians and create value for all of our neighborhoods."
–Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland
Reimagining the Civic Commons in Memphis
Mississippi River Park
Cossitt Library
Cossitt Library
Memphis Park
Mississippi Riverfront
The Riverwalk
Fourth Bluff
Memphis Park
An array of diverse programs such as yoga, dancing and kayaking are drawing more and more people to River Garden, causing a splash on social media and inspiring new interest in stewarding the space, hosting events and more.
The revitalized spaces are inspiring affection from Memphians and attracting more and more people to become friends of the library or riverfront ambassadors.
Memphians of all backgrounds, from all over town, are coming together at the Fourth Bluff and having an opportunity to meet and see those who are different from them.
The removal of Confederate monuments and the addition of new trees and gathering spaces have made Memphis Park a much more welcoming host for law school students and other events.
Easy access to the Wolf River Harbor and kayak rentals is giving Memphians without boats their first opportunity to access the river and is inspiring a new sense of stewardship of the Mississippi.
The completed River Line trail sits at the heart of a significant trail system that stretches east through Shelby County and west into Arkansas, enabling car-free access to the river for thousands of Memphians.
Investment in the civic commons has sparked a riverfront renaissance, including an announcement by Brooks Museum of Art that they will move to the Fourth Bluff.
Local businesses, investors and developers have all taken notice of the new activity and are aligning their investments to build on success.

Memphis Civic Commons collaborative is transforming public and civic spaces – and the way that they are designed, programmed, managed and measured – to break down barriers between Memphians, to inspire civic engagement, to connect people to nature and to create new value.

With demonstration projects complete in The Fourth Bluff, a citywide collaborative will begin operating in a diverse set of neighborhoods and conditions. While the focus and scale of the work is different from place to place, the approach is similar and aligned.

In Memphis, the goal of Reimagining the Civic Commons is to create a set of connected, thriving civic assets that become places where citizens of various backgrounds who might not ordinarily meet come together. Great design, a new, welcoming approach to public space management and compelling programs and events give reason to gather and linger in community with one another. This civic commons can help Memphians develop a shared understanding of our history and a shared vision for the city’s future.

Throughout this work, local leaders are gathering lessons and a shared set of data that can tell a citywide story of the commons and provide pointers for collaborators.

The project connects neighbors and neighborhoods to one another, influences funding streams and changes public perception of excellent public space. As a city with a rich history that struggles with racial and economic segregation exacerbated by urban sprawl, Memphis seeks to design and create common spaces where the diverse population can come together and shape the future of the city.

Learn more about the powerful impacts of Memphis’ work to reimagine civic assets in our report, The Power of the Commons.

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A Collaborative Effort


  • Memphis River Parks Partnership


  • Bloom
  • City of Memphis
  • Downtown Memphis Commission

  • The Heights CDC
  • Hyde Family Foundations

  • Innovate Memphis

  • Kayak Memphis

  • Memphis Public Libraries

  • Overton Park Conservancy

  • The Works CDC


  • The JPB Foundation
  • John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
  • The Kresge Foundation
  • William Penn Foundation