The last remaining housing project in the city has worldly appeal.
More than 5,000 miles away from Memphis, a team of Italian urban planning and design students have been hatching a plot to save the endangered Foote Homes apartments and revitalize the surrounding Vance neighborhood.
Vera Pavone, Sara Tornabene, and Sergio Tarquinio visited Memphis last week to present to the Vance Avenue Collaborative their plan to retrofit Foote Homes and create a Vance Avenue historic bike trail with stops at culturally significant sites, such as Cleaborn Temple and the former site of Club Paradise.
The students, who are finishing up five-year degrees at the University of Catania in Sicily, became involved in the Vance Avenue Collaborative's effort to create an alternative to the city's Heritage Trail plan, which calls for the demolition of Foote Homes, through one of their professors.
Laura Saija, an urban planning and design professor at the University of Catania, did a fellowship at the University of Memphis recently, and, during that time, she got involved in the Vance Avenue Collaborative's work. Saija used her Marie Curie Research Fellowship to create three scholarships for Pavone, Tornabene, and Tarquinio to study Foote Homes.
"They have been studying Memphis for three months before coming here. They met residents through Skype, and then they came here for two weeks to collect physical data," Saija said.
The students' plan calls for improving ventilation in the apartments to prevent the mold growth that's prevalent in some Foote Homes units. They also call for improving the acoustics in the homes so neighbors don't hear one another through the apartments' thin walls. They want to add more outdoor lighting for security and install porches and decks on each unit. And they want to add flood-mitigation features.
The students also designed the concept for the Vance Avenue Historic Trail, a proposed bike and pedestrian path that highlights historic sites throughout the Vance neighborhood and includes an exhibit on the importance of public housing.
But if the Memphis Housing Authority has its way, Foote Homes will be demolished, and its residents will be given vouchers to relocate elsewhere. The city's Heritage Trail plan would create a commercial and residential development in the area where Foote Homes now stands.
The city has submitted a grant proposal to the federal Housing and Urban Development office to implement the Heritage Trail plan, but the Vance Avenue Collaborative is planning to submit a competing HUD grant proposal.
"If there are two applications from Memphis, it would give HUD an opportunity to encourage the mayor to convene a forum in which there could be some compromise worked out," said Ken Reardon, director of the U of M's urban planning and design program and the leader of the collaborative.
Reardon would like to see Foote Homes preserved. He also wants a full-service grocery store for the area, as well as other businesses that cater directly to residents' needs.