How a daily commute can change an outlook on your city - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

How a daily commute can change an outlook on your city

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For Drew Mason, a different drive gave him a renewed sense of pride in, what he says, remains a ridiculed, belittled, and beleaguered city. For Drew Mason, a different drive gave him a renewed sense of pride in, what he says, remains a ridiculed, belittled, and beleaguered city.
The drive down Lamar Avenue—a notorious flat road dividing South Memphis from Midtown—consists of several stop lights and congested traffic. (Image Source: Google Street View) The drive down Lamar Avenue—a notorious flat road dividing South Memphis from Midtown—consists of several stop lights and congested traffic. (Image Source: Google Street View)
The street also has its share of blight and sometimes crime. (Image Source: Google Street View) The street also has its share of blight and sometimes crime. (Image Source: Google Street View)
Mason says his new route has shown him a new aspect of the community. (Image Source: Google Street View) Mason says his new route has shown him a new aspect of the community. (Image Source: Google Street View)

(WMC-TV) - With 153 fixed bus routes and a 24-minute commute average, Memphis does not provide several options for its residents' lift to work in the morning—resulting sometimes in a frustrating rush hour. While some find this problematic, Drew Mason makes the most of it.

"Lately, I have been taking a different route into work each morning. I now have the privilege of driving down a very long stretch of Lamar Avenue on a daily basis. Many of you who have grown up or lived in Memphis may think that is a sarcastic remark, but I mean it with the greatest sincerity," he said.

The drive down Lamar Avenue—a notorious flat road dividing South Memphis from Midtown—consists of several stop lights, congested traffic, blight, and sometimes crime. Most morning commuters would avoid it.

But for the Cooper-Young native, the drive gave him a renewed sense of pride in, what he says, remains a ridiculed, belittled, and beleaguered city—as he wrote in an opinion piece in the Commercial Appeal.

"Sure, there are still plenty of abandoned, permanently-for-sale, or just rundown buildings, and there are a few strip clubs and sleazy motels along the way too. No one has ever denied that Memphis has a rough edge to it, and for that matter most of us Memphians do too. What stands out from the blur of blight and poverty is the new store fronts and 'now open' signs," he said. "These are the bright neon signs of resilience that Memphis is known for. It seems that no matter how bad a reputation a neighborhood, street or zip code gets, someone sees it as an opportunity."

The 28-year-old drives 30 minutes from his family's home in Olive Branch to his job at the VA Medical Center. Taking a new way to work on Lamar Avenue, rather than always hitting the interstate, provided Mason with new insight into a different community.

To some, his newly preferred route may seem time consuming and inefficient, but a transportation study showed the way residents interacted with a city—particularly with travel—shaped their perception of it.

According to the Atlantic Cities, researchers found the most advanced mental maps belonged to cognitively-active travelers, which include walkers, cyclists, and drivers.

Spatial knowledge grew stronger for these commuters engaged with their environment compared to those like bus riders, who can easily disengage and stay confined to the same route every day.

Transit experts argue those focused on their surroundings while commuting obtain more than just a memory of street names and directions; observant travelers will likely have a better concept of the city they call home.

"I never intended for my morning drive to be anything more than the fastest route from point A to point B, but [the new route] has turned into so much more," said Mason. "It has become a time to reflect, a time to connect, and a time to witness."


Mason wrote Action News 5 about his Memphis pride for a topic in the Short Social Stories series. Read more about our series here. He also submitted an editorial on this topic to the Commercial Appeal.


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