August 03, 2015

A Second Wind for Winchester Park

By Andrew Ashby
– The Daily News –

Architects, city planners, developers and regular citizens are gearing up for a six-day community and design planning process that could help the Winchester Park neighborhood on the northeast corner of Downtown.

The Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami School of Architecture (UMSA) has chosen Memphis for its annual charrette, which it will hold July 17 to 22 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 692 Poplar Ave.

A charrette is a community-wide design process in which members of the public are encouraged to share their opinions with leading designers and planners to create a comprehensive plan for a community.

The latest charrette will include 12 Knight Program fellows from across the country, as well as a design team of graduate students from UMSA. Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of UMSA and one of the founders of the Congress for New Urbanism, will oversee the charrette, which will develop a plan for the Winchester Park neighborhood that’s bordered by North Parkway, Interstate 240, Jefferson Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard. The charrette team refers to the project as Intown.

Officials with the Knight Program in May selected Memphis as the charrette city for 2006. The organization has held charrettes in Duluth, Minn.; Macon, Ga.; San Jose, Calif.; and Coatesville, Pa.

"Because I was from Memphis, I was keen to see if we could get the city selected as a charrette location for 2006," said Rusty Bloodworth, vice president of Boyle Investment Co. and one of the Knight Program fellows.

One reason Winchester Park was chosen was because it is between St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center, both of which are expanding. Both also are close to the proposed University of Tennessee-Baptist Research Park on Union Avenue.

"The Downtown area (Intown) was particularly interesting because many communities across the country have many of the same challenges as that area," Bloodworth said. "You have large and fairly robust medical institutions imbedded in Downtown areas across the nation, often gobbling up neighborhoods and communities as they expand."

Celestine Hill has lived in the Winchester Park neighborhood for more than 50 years and has witnessed its changes. She moved into the Alabama Street Apartments in the late 1950s to be near the Memphis Mental Health Center, where she worked as a food service supervisor.

"I thought it was one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Memphis," she said. "It was nice and clean with a drugstore, a grocery store and a washerette along Poplar (Avenue)."

However, the neighborhood has deteriorated over the past 25 years, with drug dealers moving in and landlords not taking care of their property, she said.

"Today, the neighborhood is very different," she said. "The only place you can walk to is church."

Hill said she is looking forward to the charrette and plans on attending every meeting. She also plans to bring as many neighbors as she can.

"I hope that we can get our neighborhood together and make a nice, clean place in which to live," Hill said. "I hope that we all work together and accomplish what we’re trying to do."

A charrette involves a wide range of professionals from different fields. The 12 Knight Program fellows who will help run the one in July range from architects to engineers to city planners.

Charrettes also emphasize input from a variety of sources. The first three days of the Memphis charrette will feature stakeholder meetings. Each meeting will consist of different local groups, such as developers, land owners and home builders.

"So the real concepts aren’t coming from the out-of-town people, they’re coming from the local people," Bloodworth said. The public is invited to participate as well. On July 17, an opening public presentation will be held, at which members of the general public may list the strengths and weaknesses of Winchester Park, as well as what they would like it to become.

"Then the charrette team works hard to try to integrate all those different, and sometimes conflicting, visions into a solution that has traction and can be implemented," Bloodworth said. "(Citizens) are also being asked continuously to visit the charrette studio and make their feelings known."

In addition to stakeholder and public meetings, the charrette will include lectures on sustaining neighborhoods, creating walkable communities and the characteristics of medical district neighborhoods.

On July 22, the charrette team will present an initial report with a strategic plan for the community and an implementation plan to achieve goals. The team will continue to work on the plan, and a final report will be given to the community about eight weeks afterward.

Carissa Hussong, executive director of the UrbanArt Commission (UAC), said she has high hopes for the charrette’s impact on Winchester Park.

"Our hope is the charrette generates interest in redeveloping that neighborhood in such a way that the current residents are being served, but that it’s also looking to the future and making sure a strong residential neighborhood is being sustained," she said.

The charrette could create a plan for a residential community that will support the growing needs of the medical center. Le Bonheur is conducting a capital campaign for a 1 million-square-foot expansion, according to the hospital’s Web site. Also, St. Jude is undergoing a $1 billion expansion plan that could bring 3,000 new jobs to the area, while the planned 1.2 million-square-foot University of Tennessee-Baptist Research Park could create 9,000 jobs over the next 10 years, Hussong said.

"It’s logical that a lot of those people will want to live within walking distance of where they work," Hussong said. "So this is a great opportunity to create a residential community that is supporting the needs of the medical facilities and, at the same time, is supporting the needs of the existing community."