Memphis vs. Nashville

It was learned yesterday that Nashville has surpassed Memphis as the largest city in Tennessee. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 population estimate, Nashville is now home to 660,338 people, while Memphis comes in at 652,717.

Of course, the news has stoked the Memphis vs. Nashville crossfire, which already doesn’t take much to get going.

I love Memphis. I love Nashville. I am literally a person torn between two cities. And I simply cannot betray one against the other.

Congratulations to Nashville. The city is growing in all directions and there are many reasons why. It’s a great place to live. But don’t get the big head. Don’t forget that by virtue of being a metropolitan government, the entire population of Davidson County gets lumped into that 660,338 figure. By comparison, Shelby County is home to 934,603 people, so there are more than 280,000 individuals living in Shelby County who are outside the Memphis city limit.

Memphis isn’t growing in all directions. It is mainly growing toward the northeast, east and south. To the west, the Mississippi River acts as more or less a barrier. Granted, West Memphis, Arkansas is a decent sized place, but that’s all there is in that direction.

I feel like the parent of two brothers who don’t get along. It pains me the way Nashvillians often put down and ridicule Memphis. Really, you’re the state capital, you benefit from a consolidated city/county government, and you have three interstates running through you — Memphis only has two — and you’re just now surpassing Memphis as Tennessee’s largest city?

Also, dear Nashville, your traffic is HORRIBLE. It’s gotten to where there is hardly a time of the day or week when you can drive straight through the city without getting trapped in a jam somewhere. It’s the thing I most dislike about living here.

Now Memphis, you’ve always acted like the big brother who routinely gets beaten up by a smaller sibling. Stop it with the inferiority complex. Stop looking toward Nashville with pangs of jealousy. Nashville isn’t a utopia, either. Granted, Memphis always seems to have more than its share of problems — crime, urban blight, poverty, bad schools, productive people moving out, etc. But Memphis also has a long list of assets and reasons to be proud of itself. And do you really want Nashville’s traffic issues? No, you don’t. I assure you.

I really do wish there were greater mutual respect between residents of Tennessee’s two largest cities. I wish Nashvillians would stop looking for reasons to put down Memphis. Because if that’s all you can do, then you don’t know Memphis. And I wish Memphians would learn to be content with themselves and stop being envious of Nashville. Trust me, Nashville isn’t perfect, either.

I’ve lived in both and still consider them both my home, even though I don’t get to Memphis as often as I’d like. No matter which city you live in, we can all take pride in the fact that we live in the greatest state in the union.


2 thoughts on “Memphis vs. Nashville

  1. Great points, Mark. The put-downs of Nashvillians and the inferiority complex of Memphians are real issues that I have experienced first hand, having lived in both cities during my life. It is important to acknowledge that the relative situations of the two cities (growth, wealth, crime rates, etc.) are due largely to geography or actions/decisions made by people who aren’t alive today, rather than the brilliance or incompetence of anyone alive today. Memphis and Nashville were dealt very different hands of cards.

    Nashvillians of today can’t take credit for their city being made state capital in 1826, or the establishment of multiple universities in and around your city during the past 150 years, or the first airing of the Grand Ole Opry in 1927 (the genesis of Nashville’s entire music/media/convention/tourism empire), or the placement of interstate highways, or the consolidation of city and county government in 1962. Whatever good choices have been made by recent city leaders and citizens, Nashville was well-placed to take advantage of today’s reality: an information-age economy placing a premium on college educated knowledge workers, the rapid growth of government, and the ascent of music and entertainment as a key factor in tourist and (more recently) employment destinations.

    Memphians of today cannot be held responsible for the fact that the city sits in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, one of the two poorest regions of the country, or that the region was once populated largely by black slaves and unskilled laborers (and the socio-economic consequences of that demography), or a yellow fever epidemic in the 1870s that essentially destroyed the city, or the limited number of colleges/universities established here, or the reduced economic advantage of sitting on a major waterway, or that an out-of-towner chose Memphis as the place to kill Dr. King in 1968, or that its metro area falls under three state governments rather than just one. Given these historical circumstances and their outcomes, Memphis is just not as well placed as Nashville to thrive in today’s economy.

    In light of these facts, it would be well for people in and around Nashville to exhibit a bit more thankfulness for their city’s good fortune, and less haughtiness towards their neighbors to the west. Just because you were born in or moved to the Nashville area does not make your any better than people of similar character who live in Memphis. And those of us in Memphis need to accept our challenges and continue, as many of us are, to address them head-on with an eye towards a brighter future.


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