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Planning for resilience in a vulnerable area of Tennessee, guided by the principles: protect, restore, and empower

Shelby County Resilience Planning and Implementation

Shelby County Public Works
Shelby County, TN
Resilience Plan: 1,500 square miles, South Cypress: 120-acre site, Big Creek: 1,600-acre site
Planning and Urban Design
Additional Services
Community Engagement
Landscape Architecture
In progress

Due to the catastrophic flooding in the Memphis metropolitan area in 2011, Shelby County was selected as an eligible applicant to the National Disaster Resilience Competition, a program sponsored by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Sasaki partnered closely with Shelby County to craft a winning proposal that outlines resiliency strategies that will prepare the area for future natural disasters. As a result of the proposal, HUD awarded $60.4 million to the County.

Four projects were funded with the award money. Sasaki is involved with three of those four projects:

  1. Mid-South Regional Resilience Master Plan
  2. South Cypress Creek Implementation and Neighborhood Action
  3. Big Creek Implementation Plan

Having secured funding, the team has worked with Shelby County to develop all the projects in unison.



Mid-South Regional Resilience Master Plan

The design philosophy for the plan is “Making Room for the River.” The powerful Mississippi River and its tributaries, are economic engines of the region that provide recreational and community building opportunities, but they also put communities at risk during natural disasters. This project focuses on helping communities to rebuild from the 2011 flood damages and to weather future storms with less damage.

The resilience plan is broken down into three main goals: Protect, Restore, and Empower.

  • Protect seeks to protect lives, livelihoods, and property from natural hazards, especially flooding. A series of open spaces and infrastructure interventions will make the Greater Memphis area more resilient in future disaster and flooding events. Rather than create a wall between people and water, this plan embraces the water, increases awareness of risk, and steps down that risk with a necklace of wetlands to buffer against flooding and absorb stormwater.
  • Restore continues the momentum of the in-progress Mid-South Greenprint—a tristate trail system—by preserving the region’s natural resources and enhancing its network of parks, trails, and open spaces. The site’s landscape typologies and native wildlife are protected through careful conservation. Native species help reduce long-term management costs of the park, protect ecosystem benefits to the community, support agriculture, and improve regional ecosystem health. The growing presence of diverse species will attract visitors to the park, possibly becoming a revenue stream to offset upkeep costs. Beloved animals can become symbols for the park—helping to promote the importance of habitat conservation.
  • Empower prioritizes resilience strategies that also benefit community health, recreation, and economic development. Memphis faces public health challenges, with rates of diabetes and obesity among the highest in the nation. Access to high quality green spaces and a robust trail system can help provide opportunities for residents to enjoy more active, healthy lives.

Sasaki worked with Barge Design Solutions and Dalhoff Thomas Design studio to develop the visioning and master plan for the project. We will continue to work with these firms through implementation to ensure continuity between master plan and built work. The project is currently in the design documentation phase.

South Cypress Creek Implementation and Neighborhood Action

The project is located near the confluence of the Mississippi River and the South Cypress Creek at the West Junction neighborhood, which was profoundly affected by the 2010 flooding. Many homes within the neighborhood were built in the flood zone and were severely damaged or destroyed in the flood. This damage has led to a high vacancy rate—68% of properties in the South Cypress Creek neighborhood are vacant or abandoned.

The team developed a resilience framework and goals based around: Leadership & Development strategies, Health & Well-being, Infrastructure & Environment, and Economy & Society. Those goals translated to a project scope that seeks to address vulnerable housing, public infrastructure and amenities, various strategies around vacant lots that include community gardening, and stream restoration and creative stormwater strategies. Throughout the process, the team has worked with the public to better understand the community’s needs and goals.

Big Creek Implementation Plan

The plan for the Big Creek Resilience Project calls for flood mitigation strategies that protect the Naval Support Activity Mid-South, a major federal airbase that was significantly damaged in the 2010 floods. Additionally, the plan makes way for recreational, economic, and other environmental goals.

The main facet of the plan is a major park that doubles as a floodplain. This floodplain will redirect and retain flood waters, protecting the airbase and surrounding community from inundation. Upon completion in 2022, this park will provide recreational and educational amenities in a natural setting, and serve as a critical link in regional hydrology and greenway systems.

For more information contact Mark Dawson.

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