City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. and Memphis Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb are convening a Whitehaven-area town hall meeting next Thursday (May 29th) that Ford said is designed to get residents engaged in creating improvements or expansions for their community.
The session will be held at Whitehaven Community Center at 4318 Graceland Dr. on the same block as Hillcrest High School. It is set for 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
"We always hear criticism when the city invests in public-private improvements. So what we want to do first is find out what Whitehaven residents feel the area needs, and then show them how to make it happen," Ford said.
"What do the people of Whitehaven think the area needs? Is it more restaurants, entertainment, shopping centers? Talking isn't going to get it done," said Ford. "Citizens have to actively get involved, if they are seeking public-private improvements for their neighborhoods."
Ford pointed to recent developments in South Memphis as the model.
"Just drive over to South Parkway and Mississippi and see what can happen when citizens get together and come up with a plan. The Farmer's Market there is brand new, bright and clean and it came about because the citizens in the area got involved.
The same people that created and run the Farmer's Market, St. Andrews (AME Church) and the Works, Inc., have also expanded it to provide more services, Ford said. "The same thing is happening on McLemore Street, where the Soulsville development is beginning to gain momentum."
It happened, Ford said, "because the people in those areas not only made their concerns known, they got together and worked consistently to make them happen."
He complimented the South Memphis Revitalization Action Plan: A Blueprint for Building a More Vibrant, Sustainable and Just Community. The document was prepared by University of Memphis students in the Department of Anthropology's Graduate Program in City and Regional Planning. (theworkscdc.org/somerap)
"SoMeRap for short," Ford explained. "I took one copy of it to a recent community meeting (in his district) and asked them to make copies, distribute it and come up with a team to follow its example, if they are serious. Long before the report was done and results started showing, there were people and community groups behind the scene working very hard to make it happen.
"You can't just point fingers; you have to put hands to work. That's what we want to do in Whitehaven."
Considered one of the state's plum economic zones due to its family-based economy, disgruntlement in the Whitehaven area was brought to light by recent attempts by the non-profit group Southbrook Properties to gain city funding to renovate Southbrook Mall.
After more than two years going back and forth, funding from the city has not yet been approved for the idea. That has moved some Whitehaven residents to point to recent city investments in the areas of Broad Street, Crosstown, Overton Park and elsewhere and raise the specter of potential discrimination.
Such thoughts and feelings have surfaced despite major city contributions for improvements to Elvis Presley Blvd. in Whitehaven. But as one area resident put it while shopping at the Dollar Tree in the Whitehaven Plaza, "That's just for Graceland. Whitehaven goes way past Craft Road," the woman said, referring to the cutoff boundary for the street's renovation.
For his part, Lipscomb said, "I do not make policy decisions about where the city invests and spends money. Once the decision is made, it's my job to follow through and try to find the funding sources to improve a project and make it as sound as possible for the benefit of citizens. This is how we get citizens involved in the process. For any project, we want them to enjoy it and we want them to support it."
If Whitehaven residents care about the community's future, they should attend the town hall meeting, he said.