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VOL. 121 | NO. 44 | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Binghampton: A Model Project

Robert Montague is executive director of the Binghampton Development Corp.

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The city's model design project for the Broad Avenue area represents a major opportunity for the residents and businesses of Binghampton. The Broad Avenue area has suffered from the flight and blight experienced across the inner-city, but was made worse by the extension of Sam Cooper Boulevard in 2002 and the resulting isolation of the Broad area. However, redevelopment efforts, new artist owners, an active business association and a new elementary school all offer hope that the revitalization of the Broad Avenue area can take hold and improve the surrounding Binghampton community.

This model project is the first test of the new Memphis and Shelby County building code, and with it comes attention and commitments that are a vital part of a successful implementation.

The event served as a demonstration of the charrette process - designing around the desires and needs of the stakeholders of this neighborhood. Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton sounded the call on Friday night, and all eyes are on this first test of the new code process. The Saturday community input session featured residents, businessmen, clergy and workers in eight teams working together to dream and draw what they value in their community. A consistent vision of an attractive, walkable residential community that also meets residents' needs for basic commercial services and employment emerged in one form or another from all the teams. More important, those involved bought into the design and took pride in it.

Just as important, the code consultants led technical discussions on a range of issues including land use, economic trends, transportation, schools and code enforcement. They organized a number of critical cross-agency discussions spotlighting key redevelopment issues that impact the entire city and would be nearly impossible to pull together separately.

At the end of the week, an exciting illustrative plan and a list of other necessary action elements emerged to preserve and enhance the residential nature of this surrounding area. The plan also encourages needed commercial development. The first phase ended with hope and excitement springing up, once again.

However, new hopes bring new expectations. This high-profile effort will fade from the news and the real test will begin. Our governments face a test of political will to fix an outdated code, to address abandoned properties and to encourage the redevelopment of our urban core.

We all face a test of will to address the needs of those in our inner city who are most vulnerable and who are left in the wake of explosive, resource-stripping suburban growth. If we balk, this will be another in a series of projects, each with its own good intentions and fancy terms signifying nothing, but speaking volumes about our values.

Mayor Wharton was right to focus his keynote comments on redevelopment planning by the people and for the people. The charrette was a strong start. But planning for the people must become development for the people. I pray it will.

PROPERTY SALES 85 205 21,165
MORTGAGES 76 206 24,338
BUILDING PERMITS 183 321 43,755
BANKRUPTCIES 48 92 13,560