|Metropolitan Memphis .
The metropolitan or "metro" is an area of continuous
urbanization. Although the Memphis metro is comprised of two
distinct and geographically unequal parts due to the effect of
the Mississippi River, it is still one unit. Two auto and two
rail bridges connect the city across the Mississippi. While
the urbanized areas on the two sides of the river are not
contiguous, they are highly interactive and have developed
closely together. They are therefore considered to be part of
the same metro area.
The metro is a combination of
urbanized and urbanizing areas and is composed of 16
contiguous, or nearly continuous, cities. The urbanized area
contains the largest and densest concentration of people,
jobs, services and institutions in the region and forms its
core. While city limit lines give one indication of the metro
area, urban growth is expanding in front of annexation.
Therefore, the actual metro edge is a line created by the
boundary of urban growth, rather than the incorporated edge of
the contiguous cities. This edge is constantly changing due to
population growth and the effects of new development.
The metro covers almost all of
Shelby County, parts of Fayette County in Tennessee, DeSoto in
Mississippi, and Crittenden in Arkansas; but, again, it is not
defined by county lines but by the edge of continuous
The form of the metro.
The Memphis metro is a unique version of the classic
concentric and radial metro due to the effects of the
Mississippi River. The river has split the metro into two
geographically unequal parts. The largest and more densely
urbanized part of the metro area, to the east of the
Mississippi River, has a radial and concentric structure. Like
other radial and concentric metros, the radial corridors
emanate from the center city. In the case of Memphis,
essentially only one corridor extends west across the
Mississippi. This corridor originates as two corridors in
Memphis (I-40 and I-55) and merges in West Memphis. Five other
metro corridors fan out from the center city to the north,
east and south. In most radial and concentric metros, such as
Atlanta, the beltway typically rings the center city. However,
due to the influence of the Mississippi River, the I-240
beltway around Memphis is offset to the east of the center
The effect of the I-240 beltway
on the Memphis metro is significant. Until the beltway was
constructed, the metro's development pattern was primarily
radial along the arterial corridors. The beltway divided the
metro into inner and outer zones and provided the structure
upon which to fill in the quadrants between the radial
corridors. Beyond the beltway the I-40 and I-55 corridors
extend outward, providing the backbone for additional outer
beltway development. A series of north-south arterials connect
the I-40 and Nonconnah Parkway and provide the structure for
continuing eastern growth of the metro. The Nonconnah Parkway
and the Paul W. Barret Parkway are the first completed
elements in what will ultimately become a super outer-belt. It
will extend approximately 15 to 22 miles around the center of
the city and transform the I-240 beltway into an inner belt.
The development pattern.
As the metro evolved from a single city to a multi-city
urbanized area, several forces helped shape its development.
These forces include the Mississippi River, its tributaries
and topography, historic centers, residential areas,
transportation improvements including rail lines, interstates,
airports, and institutions such as hospitals and universities.
The anchor of the development
pattern is traditional downtown Memphis. It is the region's
largest mixed-use center with its offices, hotels,
entertainment, sports, convention center, historic sites and
districts and government offices. Extending outward from the
downtown is a series of radial corridors, which form the
backbone for various developmental activities. The primary
development corridor is the Poplar Avenue corridor, which
bisects the eastern section of the metro and is biased
slightly to the south. The Poplar corridor is the dominant
commercial and institutional corridor, serving as the spine
for a sequence of commercial and institutional activities,
including the University of Memphis, major hospitals, the
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis Zoo, the central
library and an assortment of office and retail centers. Ten
miles from the center city, the Poplar corridor intersects the
I-240 beltway and continues to the southeast of the metro
through Collierville. At this intersection (I-240 Exit 15), a
major perimeter commercial center typical of metro development
has emerged to form a second "pole," or anchor
point, in the metro development pattern. While the I-240
beltway/Poplar center is not as diverse as the traditional
downtown, it has developed into a large office center with a
significant retail component.
In addition to these two
commercial centers, midway along the southern section of the
beltway, is the Memphis International Airport providing the
region with access to the continental and global marketplace.
It is one of three Northwest Airlines hubs and is the location
of the FedEx Superhub. Memphis International Airport is the
largest air cargo facility in the world. The airport Memphis
International Airport has spurred an enormous concentration of
distribution, industrial and manufacturing facilities. This
growth has been a catalyst for residential growth in the
southern part of the metro, extending well into DeSoto County,
The metro municipalities.
The 16 municipalities of the Memphis metro area were once
separated by open fields and a rural landscape. Today, more
than one million people live in a continuously urbanized area
across three states in municipalities sharing common borders.
The only physical separation between the cities of the metro
is the Mississippi River. The cities, as components of the
metro area, govern and manage the life of the community. Each
city's specific role in the region is defined by its position
in the geometry of the metro structure, its demographic
characteristics and its economic, institutional, environmental
and cultural resources. Within this pattern, each city has a
definable relationship to other cities and the metro itself.
Understanding the role and relationship of each city within
the metro framework is essential if the metro cities are to
work together effectively in establishing common goals and
strategies vital to the region's future.
In a typical radial and
concentric metro such as Atlanta, Houston or Memphis, the
central city and county provides leadership and coordination
for the metro in partnership with other metro cities and
counties. Six emerging outer metro ring cities, located at the
junction of the outer beltway and each of the six primary
radial corridors, define the future of the metro perimeter.
These cities are Millington, Lakeland/Arlington, Collierville/Piperton,
Byhalia, Hernando and the Walls community. Between the metro
perimeter and the center are a series of intermediate cities
that are located in each corridor. The smaller cities are
important partners in a metro development strategy by
establishing the connectivity and continuity between the
center and perimeter necessary for any metro initiative.
Centers / Corridors /
The many diverse components that form the pattern and
structure of the Memphis metro area can be grouped into three
general categories: centers, corridors, and quadrants. The
centers are formed by a variety of urban concentrations of
varying size and function.
Centers include the traditional
downtown of Memphis and the other downtowns of the smaller
cities such as West Memphis, Collierville and Millington.
Centers also include new specialty commercial centers such as
those around the Memphis International Airport, institutional
centers like the University of Memphis and Overton Park areas,
and transportation centers such as the Memphis International
The corridors, a combination of
transportation and parallel developmental activities, were
initially formed by the Mississippi River and overland trails.
Later, with the evolution of steam power, came the railroads.
Paved arterial roads and interstate highways have evolved to
form the Memphis corridor structure as it is today. The
corridors are the region's connecting system, while the
centers are the hubs of various activities. The quadrants,
formed by the lattice of centers and corridors, are a series
of primarily residential communities and neighborhoods that
vary significantly throughout the metro.
The principal metro center is
emerging as a multi-functional area formed by a combination of
the traditional downtown and Midtown areas of Memphis. A
second, newer business district has emerged at the
intersection of I-240 and Poplar Avenue that includes more
than 1.5 million square feet of retail and almost 8 million
square feet of office space. Between these two centers along
Poplar are two other important institutional centers at
Overton Park and the University of Memphis.
The metro perimeter is defined
by a ring of six urban centers. There are seven radial
corridors (US-51, I-40 East, US-72/Poplar Avenue, TN 385/ Bill
Morris, I-55 South, US-61, I-40 West and I-55 North) and two
beltway metro corridors (the I-40/240 beltway and the TN
385/MS 304 Outer Beltway under construction) within the metro.
The corridor structure divides the area to the west of the
Mississippi River into three quadrants. The area east of the
Mississippi River is separated by the existing and planned
corridor structure into ten quadrants, three of which are
within the I-40/240 beltway and seven within the planned outer
The region's structure is
defined by its interstate, railway and development patterns.
The I-240 belt circles the intersection of I-40 and I-55 and
forms the nucleus of the metro structure. The area within the
beltway is divided into two sections. The larger eastern
quadrant is formed by a combination of I-40 and I-240. The
second, and smaller, western quadrant is formed by I-40 and
I-55. Within the beltway, the Poplar Street corridor bisects
both quadrants and forms the multi-function (i.e. retail,
office, residential and transportation) backbone of the metro
The structure of the metro area is created by a permanent and
static set of elements. While structural change takes place
slowly, it has the greatest and most significant impact on the
population distribution, the location of economic activity and
traffic flow patterns. Current plans for the completion of the
next phase of the metro structure are focused on expanding the
structure to the east in the form of the outer beltway. Plans
are in place to expand the metro structure with an outer belt
freeway that would connect the Paul W. Barret Parkway with TN
385 and MS 304.
Typically, the completion of
beltways leads to important changes in the economic and
demographic pattern of the region. As more economic activity
moves to the beltways, an important demographic shift takes
place, leaving the core areas with wealthy and poor people,
while the middle class moves beyond the beltway. As the
Memphis region constructs more beltways, a framework for more
automobile-oriented low-density development is being created.
The outer belt freeway, in
combination with parkways and arterial radials, will enable
the expansion of the metro. The completion of an outer beltway
will help create a new series of quadrants surrounding the two
inner metro core quadrants.
Metro Memphis will be defined
by the new metro centers and the emerging outer ring of six
cities. This outer ring of cities includes Millington (US-51
at Paul W. Barret Parkway), Arlington (I-40 East at TN 385),
Collierville (US-72 at TN 385), Byhalia (US-78), Hernando
(I-55 at MS 304), and Walls (US-61).
The Missing Link
The foundation of the Memphis region, and its importance to
the nation and role in the continental and global economy, is
based on its function as a key transcontinental hub linking
the eastern and western continental grids. While plans are
under way to expand the metro structure to the east,
surprisingly there are no current plans in place to expand the
connections across the Mississippi River. The region's ability
to strengthen the link between the two continental grids
continues to be one of its most important issues on a local,
national and continental basis. The construction of a third
road and rail seismic multi-modal bridge spanning the
Mississippi River would not only reinforce Memphis' position
as a transcontinental hub, it would also serve as an economic
generator for West Memphis, eastern Arkansas, and northern
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