Blight, irreparable properties, often trashed with litter and crawling with overgrown weeds, is a common sight in Memphis.
Archie Willis, president of Community Capital says these buildings, "nuisances," pose a great threat to the safety, health, and peace of mind to the neighborhoods most affected by blight.
For this reason, hundreds of activists and other community members gathered for the second annual Memphis Blight Elimination Summit on Wednesday, May 17, at the Clayborn Temple, a place Steve Barlow, facilitator of the City of Memphis' Blight Elimination Steering Team, says is poignant considering the purpose of the event.
The summit, presented by the Memphis Urban Land Institute, Neighborhood Preservation Inc., and others, was designed to recognize the efforts made by individuals and groups in the city to end blight, as well as, the goals and objectives for reducing blight in the future.
He told those there that much progress has been made in eliminating blight in the city since the first summit last year, but before moving forward there are legal and systematic challenges, holding the community back, that must be addressed.
"We're here today to encourage you," Barlow said. "We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go."
The goal, Barlow says, is to have all of the legal and systematic barriers, including any policies or programs that stymie eliminating blight removed by 2020.
Memphis' mayor Jim Strickland says the government does not have the resources to tackle blight on its own, however the City is currently trying to fight blight in ways that are obvious and some not so obvious.
Two of the obvious ways the City works to eliminate blight, says Mayor Strickland, is first working with property owners and the court system to remedy conditions that lead to blight and second demolishing buildings that can't be rehabilitated for a productive use.
Internally, the mayor says they are creating ways to measure the state of neighborhoods more often.
"We try to build broad-based prosperity that prevents blight from forming in the first place," said Mayor Strickland. "And that will give us the resources to act swiftly when it does."
The mayor attributes the city's blight to its decreasing population and the large number of people moving out— over 100,000 between 1980 and 2011.
"That's how we got into this situation in the first place," said Mayor Strickland."Our city, quite frankly, has lost population each and every year for the past 40 years."
He believes growing the city's population, bringing people back into the city, and creating demand for these vacant, abandoned properties, is the key to fighting blight.