August 03, 2015

Planners to Give Makeover to Intown

By Amos Maki
– The Commercial Appeal –

National experts in urban design and planning will descend on Memphis this summer to help transform a struggling neighborhood near one of the city’s growing employment and economic development centers.

The UrbanArt Commission, working with the Memphis Medical Center, has landed the 2006 Knight Foundation Charrette, a community-wide design process that will focus on Winchester Park, the area of town most commonly referred to as Intown.

The one-square-mile area is bound by Danny Thomas, Interstate 240, I-40 and Washington. It is a link between St. Jude Children’s Hospital and LeBonheur Children’s Medical Center.

A $1 billion expansion is under way at St. Jude, and LeBonheur is embarking on a $235 million expansion. Both organizations interact regularly, with patients and doctors zipping back and forth between sites.

“That connection is really, really important, and until now we haven’t paid much attention to it,” said Beth Flanagan, director of Memphis Medical Center.

The charrette is one piece of a larger public-private effort to revitalize the Medical Center.

Two housing projects on the northern and southern end of the district – Lamar Terrace on Lamar and Dixie Homes on Poplar – are being transformed into mixed-income residential neighborhoods with the help of two Federal Home VI grants.

And the transportation bill passed recently by Congress contained $5 million for streetscape improvements in the Medical Center area.

“This is about creating a better community,” Flanagan said. “We don’t want blighted neighborhoods, and there is no reason for families to live in an environment like that in this country.

“We also want to create the best community for researchers to come and work.”

The ultimate goal is transforming the Medical Center into a world-class research and development zone with an emphasis on the growing field of biotechnology.

“We think about 35 percent of all new jobs created last year were in the biotech sector,” said Mark Herbison, senior vice president for economic development at the Memphis Regional Chamber. “That’s really important because these jobs typically pay better, have better benefits and better work environments.”

The health care industry is a major component of the region’s economic-development engine.

A 2003 study by the Methodist LeBonheur Center for Healthcare Economics at Fogelman College of Business and Economics at The University of Memphis found that about $3 out of every $10 of local GDP are provided by health care.

Intown residents were thrilled about the prospect of being involved in the potential revitalization of their neighborhood.

“The charrette process ensures that the residents are heard and that we are part of the revitalization efforts,” said Celestine Hill, a resident and community activist. “I have lived here most of my life, and I welcome any opportunity that will bring back the pride and ownership that once characterized this area.”

Twelve fellows from the Knight Program for Community Building at the University of Miami will conduct the charrette.

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Charles Bohl will lead the effort.

Plater-Zyberk is a founder of the Congress for New Urbanism, which advocates inner-city neighborhoods that are walkable, diverse and accessible to shops, parks and jobs. Plater-Zyberk is dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture.

Bohl is director of the Knight Program of Community Building at the University of Miami.

“It is an excellent opportunity to expand conversations about good urban design while leveraging existing and potential development in a neighborhood that is both rich with history and key to future success of the biomedical industry in Memphis,” said Russell Bloodworth Jr., executive vice president of Boyle Investment Co. and 2006 Knight Fellow.

“We knew this would be a great way for UrbanArt to serve as a catalyst for elevating the quality of design in our city, confirming the validity of the marriage of art, design and community involvement,” said Carissa Hussong, the director of the UrbanArt Commission.