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Out of the Ghetto

Vance Avenue group kicks off revitalization plan.

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For years, downtown's Vance Avenue has been characterized by crumbling housing projects and boarded-up businesses.

But last Tuesday, a group of around 100 Vance residents and stakeholders met to kick off a plan that will transform their aging, impoverished community into a thriving and safe neighborhood.

The Vance Avenue area, bordered by Third, East, Beale, and Crump, is a recipient of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development's $250,000 Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant. The grant is intended to help community members turn distressed areas into vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods.

The grant, which the city has agreed to match, is one of several developments in the neighborhood over the last few years.

In May 2010, the Calipari Family Foundation made a five-year, $1 million commitment to Streets Ministries on Vance Avenue. This past April, Cleaborn Homes, a longtime symbol of the failures of public housing in Memphis, was demolished as part of the Hope VI project. Shortly after, President Barack Obama gave the commencement speech at the Booker T. Washington High School's graduation ceremony.

The primary grantee is the Memphis Housing Authority, which made the decision to target the Vance Avenue neighborhood. Over the past few years, the MHA has been replacing public housing with mixed-income development throughout the city, and the Vance neighborhood's Foote Homes projects are the next to go.

"[The Memphis Housing Authority] wanted to do something in the Vance area, and that was reinforced by a lot of good things undertaken by the Memphis City Schools and the high level of local, neighborhood organization through the Vance Avenue Collaborative," said Kenneth Reardon, professor of city planning at the University of Memphis. "

Beginning this month, an 18-person management committee — made up of residents, city government, and the local nonprofit community — will lay out the planning process to transform housing, business, and public spaces along Vance Avenue.

"The heavy lifting really is ahead of us," Reardon said. "[We have] to make sure that we have all the key constituencies at the table and that we're efficient in learning what they would see as a successful transformation effort. And then [we have to] look at best practices around the country in similar neighborhoods."

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