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VOL. 131 | NO. 50 | Thursday, March 10, 2016

Klondike Wants Plan To Stave Off Gentrification

By Madeline Faber

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With multimillion-dollar investments growing up around it in the Crosstown and Uptown neighborhoods, the Klondike/Smokey City Community Development Corp. is working with the University of Memphis on a grassroots action plan to stave off gentrification.

Klondike/Smokey City residents and supporters review University of Memphis research about property values, land use, and transportation access in the area.

(Daily News/Madeline Faber) 

On March 4, nearly 50 of the North Memphis neighborhood’s residents and supporters filled the Dave Wells Community Center for a community input meeting organized by the University of Memphis Department of City and Regional Planning.

For the past semester, students in Antonio Raciti’s Comprehensive Planning Studio and Laura Saija’s Historic Preservation classes have been hyper focused on the African-American neighborhood, which is bounded by Chelsea Avenue to the north, Jackson Avenue to the south, North Watkins Road on the east and Manassas Street to the west.

But this isn’t a hypothetical walk-through for Raciti and Saija’s students. The KSCCDC is looking for ways to respond to unemployment, blight, crime and drug use at the community level. The neighborhood started to develop back in 1868, but there’s never been a comprehensive redevelopment plan like projects seen in recent years that have helped revive urban neighborhoods like Binghampton and Vollintine/Evergreen.

“It appears as if we’re the forgotten area,” said Quincey Morris, president and director of the KSCCDC. Instead of being forgotten, the neighborhood now feels in danger of being steamrolled.

“We won’t let Henry Turley over there in Uptown and Crosstown Concourse on the other side do away with us like other communities,” Morris addressed the crowd.

While no formal expansion plan has been announced, the creep of Crosstown Concourse, the $115.3 million redevelopment of a former Sears tower into a vertical urban village, is threatening to the Klondike/Smokey City neighborhood. Morris added that while the Crosstown developers have been solid partners in providing construction jobs for neighborhood residents, increased activity around the borders of a declining neighborhood is concerning.

Henry Turley Co., which developed the Lauderdale/Greenlaw neighborhood into the 100-block affordable community of Uptown, has indicated interest in growing Uptown past its eastern Manassas border into the Klondike/Smokey City neighborhood.

“It’s either the community will keep declining or the development of Crosstown and Uptown will take over,” Saija said. “The automatic outcome of that is gentrification. The social group that is living here now would be pushed out because they would not be able to afford housing and other things.”

The Klondike/Smokey City neighborhood needs outside revenue for development. Its median income is $18,357, according to Morris, less than half of the Memphis median income. More than 40 percent of households in the neighborhood live in poverty.

But residents want to ensure that any plan is aligned with their vision and not the vision of a developer.

An economic development plan for the area was designed back in the early 2000s in cooperation with the city’s office of Housing and Community Development, but the plan has been shelved ever since. Joyce Cox, with HCD, attended the community meeting and said the plan may gain better traction under the Strickland administration.

The original plan called for medical centers to accommodate the neighborhood’s substantial senior population, along with new housing and retail offerings.

The neighborhood’s hybrid name dates back to those earlier discussions. At former HCD director Robert Lipscomb’s suggestion, the two neighborhoods came under a single banner to garner greater attention from the city.

The KSCCDC doesn’t want to come up with a new plan. It has enlisted the U of M department to uncover which parts of the plan the community can develop on its own. By demonstrating the neighborhood’s momentum, the city might take notice while prospective developers could fall back.

While the plan gathered dust, the KSCCDC did what it could at a community level by creating pocket parks, community gardens and developing a resource center.

The robust CDC boasts dozens of community partners and a handful of committees. Most recently, the CDC came up with a comprehensive lock-down protocol when it learned that three neighborhood schools – charter school Klondike Preparatory Academy, Shelby County school Northside High and Church Health Center-run Perea Preschool – didn’t have one in place after a string of neighborhood shootings.

At the inaugural community input meeting, residents spoke about their vision for the neighborhood. Getting rid of gangs and improving street infrastructure were some of the group’s suggestions. One woman, who has lived in the community for 60 years, said she’d like to see the basics like a drug store, laundromat and sit-down restaurant, “like what used to be here years ago.”

At one time, Klondike/Smokey City had all these amenities on top of a strong population of homeowners and nearby employers. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Klondike was seen as the black neighborhood and Smokey City was the white neighborhood. In 1961, one of Memphis’ first integrated schools was initiated in the first-grade class of Smokey City’s Garden School.

According to Saija’s research, the tide started to turn in the late 1960s with white flight out to the suburbs. For a time, African-Americans bought up the vacant homes and small businesses flourished.

When the major employers like Firestone Auto left, the neighborhood started to decline. A lot of the residents moved out due to the crime rate and lack of employment opportunities, but the church population never faltered. For the U of M professors, Klondike/Smokey City’s strong sense of belonging and place will help their planning strategies find root.

For Morris and her neighbors, pride in the neighborhood is the necessary buy-in to turn the area around.

“When we put cinderblocks down in the community garden, all the neighbors came out,” she said. “When people learn that they have a right, and given an opportunity for their voices to be heard, I promise you everyone will benefit.”

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159