Can Memphis boom and bust at the same time?



Sunday, May 15, 2016 - Saturday, May 15, 2027

Some of the city's movers and shakers gathered in an East Memphis hotel ballroom Tuesday to "Celebrate What's Right About Memphis."

In this case, it's the billions of dollars now being invested in big building projects from Crosstown Concourse to Central Station to remake the city.

"We're too hard on this city," Andy Cates, the local businessman and philanthropist, told the crowd at a luncheon sponsored by the New Memphis Institute and the First Tennessee Foundation.

Yes, we are.

Meanwhile, at a Downtown church, some of the city's ministers and social workers met to contemplate what's also right about Memphis.

In this case, it's the millions of dollars and hours now being invested to help homeless families, foster children and others who are just trying to make it.

"This city can be a hard place to live," said Chere' Bradshaw, executive director of the Community Alliance for the Homeless, who spoke at the Memphis Families symposium at Calvary Church.

Yes, it can.

This is Memphis 2016 — a city on the brink of boom and bust.

Or both.

It could go either way in older-ring, working-class neighborhoods like Oak Ridge.

"There are still a lot of people here who care, a lot of pride," said Joel Martin, president of the Oakridge Neighborhood Association. "We're doing all we can to keep this neighborhood strong, but it's a struggle."

Like Memphis, the Oak Ridge neighborhood finds itself tilting between prosperity and instability, between bloom and blight.

It's bordered on the north and east by local investment boomlets such as the University of Memphis, Audubon Park, and Wright Medical.

It's bordered on the south and west by Parkway Village, Barron Manor, Getwell Road and other areas battered by predatory lenders, out-of-town landlords, and public and private disinvestment.

"Over the past 10 years, Oak Ridge got just about every bad investor it could get," said Lynda Whalen, president of the Southeast Memphis Neighborhood Partnership.

"They are doing what they can to stabilize it, but they are dealing with blight and crime and so on and they don't have a lot of tools."

Sound familiar?

Nearly 7 in 10 people in Memphis live in economic distress. That's the highest rate of economic disparity among the nation's big cities, according to the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan think tank.

The big new developments will boost the fortunes of many. But will it help lower-income people, landlords and merchants, or merely push them from less affordable, rising neighborhoods into more affordable, declining neighborhoods?

Will the impressive and encouraging redevelopment of Downtown and the urban core help or hinder neighborhoods on the edge?

"Without new strategies, tactics, and systems, blighted properties will continue to spread like a virus throughout the Greater Memphis region," it says in the Memphis Blight Elimination Charter, released in March by a large and broad group of community leaders and organizations.

"Blighted properties are almost always the product of larger forces, such as irresponsible investment practices, failed public policies, extreme poverty, urban sprawl, racial injustice, or a lack of economic and educational opportunities ...

"Residents must be empowered in their fight against blighted properties with new tools and resources. The public and private sectors in Memphis must partner with neighborhoods to leverage their strengths in pursuit of our common goals."

In other words, the same larger forces that led to the decline of areas like South Main and Crosstown are (still) at work in areas like South Memphis and Frayser and Hickory Hill.

And neighborhoods on (or over) the brink will require the same creativity, collaboration, commitment and investment that is driving the big development projects.

Last month, volunteers from Clean Memphis and employees from Wright Medical and International Paper joined Oak Ridge residents to help clean up the Getwell corridor and several of the most egregious abandoned properties in the neighborhood. They removed tons of grass and trash, including 67 old tires.

"We're trying to send a signal that there are still people here who care," said Martin, who lives with his wife in the home she grew up in. "Don't forget about us."eco

Location : Memphis, TN
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