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Movin' On Up

Vance Avenue residents seek neighborhood improvements.

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Residents of the downtown neighborhood around Vance Avenue have grown accustomed to the short end of the stick.

High crime rates, deteriorating homes, and poor accessibility to jobs, food, and city services have plagued the neighborhood's residents for years. But since last summer, the Vance Avenue Collaborative has been making plans to renovate the area between Crump, Beale, East, and Third.

The collaborative of city officials, faculty and students from local colleges and universities, and residents of the Vance neighborhood are competing against other urban development organizations across the country for a $45 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant.

Last Saturday, at a public meeting at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, the group presented four proposals for the redevelopment of Vance area housing. Nearly 100 residents and business owners were in attendance, as well as Mayor A C Wharton, representatives from the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, and members of the Memphis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Attendees were given the chance to vote on their favorite proposals.

"Generally, the people are informed after the plan is finished by somebody else, and you only realize that something is going on in the neighborhood when the bulldozer shows up in your front yard," said Ken Reardon, professor of city planning at the University of Memphis.

Of the options given, residents selected two during Saturday's meeting. The first option calls for nearly doubling the size of apartments around Vance by combining and improving existing units while creating more green space. The second option calls for demolishing deteriorating housing units and renovating those in good condition. New homes will be constructed in place of those that are torn down. The Vance Avenue area is home to one of the city's remaining federally funded public housing projects, Foote Homes.

In addition to physical transformations, the collaborative intends to improve educational facilities, health care, and youth development, among other services.

"We want to run [a mobile farmers market bus] six days a week into neighborhoods where you can't get access to fruits and vegetables," Reardon said.

The Vance Avenue Collaborative procured a 45-foot bus from the Memphis Area Transit Authority to serve as a mobile grocery store that will offer fresh produce and nutrition courses. Later this week, collaborative members will be meeting with architecture firm Looney Ricks Kiss about retrofitting the bus.

The Choice Neighborhoods grant deadline is April 10th, and the collaborative plans to use the input from Saturday's meeting as a guideline for their final draft.

"If we don't have the plan ready in 60 days, we could be out of the poll; waving goodbye and seeing the money go [to another community]," Reardon said.

Last Monday, the Division of Housing and Community Development hosted a meeting to discuss the Triangle Noir plan, which touts the redevelopment of Vance Avenue as an opportunity to promote African-American history and culture. Thus far, there has been little effort on their part to include Vance residents in their proposal.

"It was a little weird that they had this meeting [to discuss the Triangle Noir plan] with no notice to us. None of us were invited to it, and [the meeting was held] outside the historic center of the neighborhood [at Bridges]," Reardon said. "When they listed the stakeholders being consulted, not one of the groups we know recognized throughout this neighborhood was listed. This process has to have, at its core, the concerns and the needs of the residents.

"The Triangle Noir plan could inadvertently result in a new level of displacement and gentrification, and we don't want that," Rearden continued. "We don't want to save the neighborhood at the expense of the people who live here."

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