Regional Profile


The Greenprint study area is based on the urbanized greater Memphis area. The region is defined in many ways by waterways and transportation infrastructure. The historic center of the City of Memphis is located on the bluffs on the east side of the Mississippi River. The location provides a strategic combination of elevation and proximity to the river.

The City of Memphis grew rapidly in the first half of the 20th Century and had a population of some 400,000 in 1950. A period of intense population growth followed, such that by 1970, there were some 625,000 people living in the city. Since the 1970s, however, growth in the city itself has been much more moderate; in 2010, the population was only marginally larger with 650,000.


While population growth in Memphis slowed, the urbanized area continued to add people, especially in the suburban communities in Shelby County, Tennessee and DeSoto County, Mississippi. Between 1990 and 2000, the region added nearly 200,000 people, growing by 20% over the ten year period. The region grew by another 9% between 2000 and 2010. As of the 2010 Census, the four counties containing the Mid-South Regional Greenprint study area had a combined population of 1,178,211 in 432,438 households.

The vast majority of this growth occurred in DeSoto County, which added just over 90,000 people between 1990 and 2010 and suburban Shelby County, which added more than 70,000 people over the same 20-year period. This demonstrates a clear trend of decentralization – the region overall is growing, but with population moving to DeSoto County in northern Mississippi and the suburban communities outside of the Memphis city limits. Population of DeSoto County grew 50% from 2000 to 2010 to reach 161,252 residents. Population in Crittenden County, Arkansas was flat between 2000 and 2010, remaining just above 50,000 residents, while Fayette County, Tennessee grew by over 33% to a population of 38,413.

In 2010, African Americans made up the largest share of the region with 47% of the population, followed by Whites with 44%. These figures represent a change from 2000, when Whites made up the largest share of the region (51%) and Blacks the second largest share (44%). Other minority groups also saw substantial growth rates between 2000-2010. Most notably, the Hispanic population added 35,152 persons, an increase of 131%, to make up 5% of the region’s population by 2010. Overall, population trends indicate a move toward greater diversity; however, much of the region still exhibits patterns of segregation.

In addition, it is estimated 10.4% of the Mid-South population is over the age of 65, as compared to 13% nationwide. An estimated 12.6% of the regional population has a disability, roughly equal to the percentage nationwide.



As compared with the rest of the United States, individuals living in the Memphis urbanized area have considerably less income. Since 1990, DeSoto and Fayette Counties sufficiently increased per capita income to be more in line with the national average. In 1990, for example, per capita income in Fayette County was 33% below thenational average; by 2010 it was 1% higher. Likewise, per capita incomes in DeSoto County were 13% below in the national average in 1990 and in 2010 had narrowed to 8%. Per capita income in Shelby County has remained about 7% below the national average, while income in Crittenden County is 30% below.

Like many regions, the Mid-South is recovering from the impact of the past decade’s economic recession. During the recession, some residents of the region faced job losses, pay cuts, or foreclosures, and saw resulting reductions to their household income. Income plays the most important role in helping individuals and families determine how much money they need to budget for mandatory expenditures, like mortgage, rent, or utility payments in comparison to discretionary income they may have available for living expenses or savings and investments. Household income is a strong indicator of an individual or family’s standard of living.

Throughout the region, median household income is estimated at $48,282, which is a 20% increase since 2000. Highest median incomes are in DeSoto and Fayette Counties at $58,851 and $56,297, respectively. Fayette saw the largest increase over the period, growing by 40%. Median incomes in Shelby and Crittenden Counties fall below the national median of $53,046, while medians in DeSoto and Fayette Counties are above the national mark.



The movement of housing and jobs away from a central core to outlying and suburban communities requires a parallel investment in a wide variety of infrastructure in services such as sewer, water, and schools but also transportation. For people to live or work in outlying areas, they need a way to get to and from these locations. Generally speaking, nearly all resources invested in the transportation network in the Mid-South have been made to facilitate the movement of goods or travel by automobile. Thus, as the region developed new roadways, or widened existing ones, investments were nearly solely focused on building and expanding capacity for automobiles. As a result, some of the region’s primary commercial corridors were developed without any, or only minimal pedestrian infrastructure. In 2010, over 93% of commuters in the Mid-South travel by personal automobile to access work. The remaining 7% used public transit, walked, or biked.



The Memphis urbanized area has a diverse and dynamic economy developed from a strategic location along the Mississippi River. Historically the Mississippi River was an essential arterial for moving people and goods; it is still a major transportation facility and the Memphis region continues to be a major inland hub and distribution center. More recently, the region has built on its historic role as a logistics and distribution hub to become an intermodal hub with river, rail, road and air access. FedEx’s headquarters and its use of the Memphis International Airport (MEM) as its primary hub has made MEM the busiest cargo airport in the U.S.

st judeThe Mid-South also has an emerging healthcare and medical services industry. There are currently over 19 hospitals including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is renowned nationally for research and treatment of pediatric cancer and other catastrophic childhood diseases.

Tourism is a key part of the local economy in Shelby County but also an important regional sector. Graceland,
Sun Studios, the National Civil Rights Museum, and Beale Street are major tourist destinations in the city of Memphis. In northern Mississippi, the Tunica Resorts, located 30 miles south of the city of Memphis is the third largest gaming area in the United States, after Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Tunica Resorts attracts over 12 million visitors annually.

The largest employment sector in the Memphis area is healthcare and social assistance, which employs some 75,800 people in the region. This sector has an average annual wage of approximately $43,000, which is considerably higher than the average per capita income. The next two largest sectors, retail and accommodation and food services, have high employment (58,900 in retail and 55,700 in accommodation and food services) but offer considerably lower average wages of approximately $24,600 and $16,300, respectively. The highest wage sectors, management of companies and enterprises and finance and insurance, have relatively fewer jobs, with 29,300 and 20,900 employees respectively.

The unemployment rate in the four-county area was 8.6% as of December 2013, the latest month for which data is available at the time of this writing, with an  estimated 45,909 persons looking for work. The regional unemployment rate doubled from 5.0% in 2006 to 10.1% in 2009 and has edged downward since. County unemployment rates follow similar trends, with the lowest unemployment rate in DeSoto County and the highest in Crittenden County. While DeSoto County’s December 2013 rate of 4.5% was below the national rate of 6.5%, the remaining counties and the region were above the national mark.


Parks and Open Space

Due to generally flat topography, the major natural features of the region are rivers. The Mississippi River, the primary river of the largest drainage system in North America and the world’s fourth longest river, flows through the western third of the study area. Other notable rivers include the Wolf River, Loosahatchie River, Nonconnah Creek, and Coldwater River.

The Mid-South region currently has 25 acres of park land per 1,000 residents, higher than many comparable regions. The region also currently has 164 miles of trails, or 0.15 miles per 1,000 residents. While current amount of green space is noteworthy, only 38% of the region’s population lives within ½ mile of a park or green space. Much of the region’s park space is found in large, regional parks such as Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, Shelby Farms Park, Nesbit Park, and T.O. Fuller State Park. These spaces provide regional green space destinations in the Mid-South and critical ecological hubs. However, this abundance of large park space means fewer smaller community or pocket park spaces are available throughout the region. This need for smaller community or pocket parks should not detract from the need to continue to protect large, critical ecological
areas. The land sensitivity map below demonstrates lands most important for protection based on presense of streams and floodplain, aquifer recharge areas, forest land, and steep slopes. Those lands in red and purple are classified as most sensitive for protection.



The Greenprint region as a whole is comparable to the nation in percent of population with poor or fair health at 16%. Only Crittenden County shows a percentage higher at 22%. However, there are critical health issues and disparities present in the region. Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S., and is particularly high in the Mid-South. Heart disease mortality rate in the region is measured at 182 persons per 100,000, well above the national rate of 135. Heart disease mortality rates are particularly acute for African Americans in the region, with a rate of 211. Rates of death due to stroke are also high for the region.

Close to 34% of the region’s adult population is classified as obese and 37% overweight, above national rates of 27% and 36%, respectively. These rates have implications for other chronic diseases such as diabetes. Close to 12% of the region’s population has been diagnosed with diabetes.

Many chronic diseases can be partially attributed to environmental and social factors such as physical activity and access to fresh foods. Over 29% of the region’s population reports no leisure time physical activity, above the national average of 24%. Over one-third of the regional population lives in areas with low food access, well above the national average of 24%.