New fellowship honors city planner’s legacy with cash prizes for Memphis placemaking projects

What’s happening: The family and colleagues of late city planner and civic leader Tommy Pacello have launched a placemaking fellowship to honor his legacy. An initial fundraising goal of $50,000 has been set for the fund, which will award cash prizes to individuals and teams shepherding placemaking projects throughout the city. The application window for the Tommy Pacello Placemaking Fellowship is expected to open next year.

Background: When Tommy Pacello passed away from complications from pancreatic cancer in November 2020, his death sent shockwaves throughout Memphis. At just 43 years old, the late city planner and civic leader accomplished a lot in his short time here, with tributes pouring in from the Memphis Business Journal, Commercial Appeal, Daily Memphian, and elsewhere. Congressman Steve Cohen even honored Pacello’s legacy with an address to the U.S. House of Representatives. President of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, Pacello is credited with making the district a more walkable place, and ushered in 36 new businesses in the Medical District in just six years’ time.

[Related: Read our 2016 profile, “Innovator of the Week: Tommy Pacello”, on High Ground News.]

What it is: The Tommy Pacello Placemaking Fellowship fund will award cash prizes to individuals and teams working on design projects and public realm improvements throughout the city. Recipients will also receive technical assistance and professional guidance in the sectors of law, project design and management, communications and stakeholder engagement, and fundraising. Awards will vary by size and number as determined by the committee, which consists of Pacello’s friends and colleagues.

Why it’s important: “Tommy Pacello introduced the notion of tactical urbanism to Memphis: thinking big and building small. He knew that the way we design our cities could be both intentional and iterative,” says Casey Shannon, one of Pacello’s close associates who is helping to organize the fund’s launch. “He believed that city-building was a process, not an outcome. Our hope for this fund to serve as a platform for driving more of the work that he devoted his career to – creating great places where people could gather and thrive.”

How it works: Fellowship applications will be released next year. The fellowship is currently in fundraising mode, with hopes to raise $50,000 in this initial round. Visit for updates and more.

Tune in to 91.7 WYXR-FM from 2 to 4 p.m. CT Wednesday, Nov. 16, for a special musical tribute to Tommy Pacello. Listen online at
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