City Showdown: Memphis vs. Nashville

Memphis has traditionally held the title of “Tennessee’s Largest City,” ever since westward expansion post-Civil War brought settlers across the Mississippi River. But that honor changed hands not long ago. Nashville, the state capital, is now 25,000 people greater than Memphis in population. In fact, Memphis actually has fewer residents than it did in 2000!

Mud Island 42

What is going on here? How can a city decline in population? And which city is the better one, really? Over the next several paragraphs, I’ll give my $0.02 on which city reigns supreme in categories of location, food, museums, parks and gardens, sports, nightlife, and – most important of all – overall livability.

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Tennessee-Born?

Tennessee continues to fascinate me. On the surface, the state appears to be very well run. Its Republican Governor, Bill Haslam, was instrumental in quick disaster response and aid to families affected by The Great Tennessee Snowpocalypse of 2015. Additionally, its roads are in impeccable shape, despite their high traffic content. Take I-40, for example. This east-west interstate highway is the third-longest in the country and passes through eight states. The 455-mile Tennessee stretch of highway receives more vehicle traffic per mile than any of the other seven states, including California. Yet Tennessee’s I-40 is in outstanding shape, its rest stops spotlessly clean.

Look deeper, though, and you find cracks in the veneer. Meth addiction spiraled following the financial crisis of 2008, and it’s not uncommon to encounter one or more toothless, recovering addicts on a daily basis. And while the state’s Appalachian Mountain culture is fabled as a place of folk music and simple living, the reality is closer to the movie Winter’s Bone than one might want to believe. Additionally, the state’s job growth rate is one of the lowest in the nation. Tennessee is a place of $10/hour factory and warehouse jobs; “white collar” jobs are especially hard to find once you leave the “Big Three” of Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville.

Still, a diverse number of companies have chosen Tennessee for their corporate or manufacturing headquarters. Let’s take a look at some of them!

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