Giving Back: Reimagining the Civic Commons

Giving Back: Reimagining the Civic Commons

We’re experiencing a defining moment in history, not just in Memphis, but globally. At a time when we’re all bonded by the same thing, we’re at a crossroads. Human nature tells us to band together, however, an unseen enemy is threatening illness and even sometimes death if we don’t stay 6 ft apart. When things seem to be changing by the minute, it becomes imperative for us to cling to the constants, whether it be our families, daily routines, or the outdoor public spaces that are providing respite from our newfound “abnormal” of social distancing at home.

There were those who recognized the need for public spaces from a community perspective way before COVID-19. This recognition became the driving force to team community partners together with some of the nation’s notable charitable foundations, like The Rockefeller Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, Knight Foundation, and The JPB Foundation, to establish Reimagining the Civic Commons.

Reimagining the Civic Commons is a national initiative with projects in five U.S. cities that revitalize and connect civic assets. In each city, Reimagining the Civic Commons has four goals: civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability, and value creation. Participating cities include Akron, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Memphis. “One thing that makes Memphis really special is the riverfront that serves as a great gathering space. Also, Memphis is the only city that includes a library. I think the other cities are looking to us, in terms of what we do with the library here to help advance Reimagining the Civic Commons’ goals and objectives” says Memphis Public Library Branch Manager and The Fourth Bluff Civic Engagement Coordinator, Shamichael Hallman.

Memphis’ partnership with Reimagining the Civic Commons is appropriately titled The Fourth Bluff. The collaborative is convened by Memphis River Parks Partnership and includes collaborators from the City of Memphis, Innovate Memphis, Memphis Public Libraries, Downtown Memphis Commission, Hyde Family Foundation and the Memphis Grizzlies.

As a coalition that encourages people to come together, partners of The Fourth Bluff recently have had to pivot their approach. The silver lining is that the spaces that comprise The Fourth Bluff are for everyone and many are outdoors. “I think about my own life. What are the things that bind me to Memphis? I enjoy going to Grizzlies games; I like going to the FedEx Forum; there are places like Crosstown I like to go to, as well as bars and restaurants. I cannot do any of those things today. However, what I can do is go to the riverfront. The river will be there, the river will always be there. And parks are one of the places where you can actually go and spend time outside at a safe distance from other people. So, I think it’s more important than ever, especially during this time, that we recognize the importance of these public spaces” comments Memphis River Parks Partnership’s Director of External Affairs, George Abbott.

Although it is uncertain how long we will be social distancing, one thing is for sure, when all this passes Memphians will be able to take advantage of all the things The Fourth Bluff has to offer, but this time, together.

To learn more about Reimagining the Civic Commons and The Fourth Bluff visit their websites at and

Memphis Partners

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