Imagine a community where low-income residents can receive
home maintenance information, health screenings, mentoring
and other life-enhancement skills. That thought may soon be
a reality. Students and faculty at The University of Memphis
are drawing the blueprints for a construction project that
will rebuild a local neighborhood plagued with poverty, dilapidated
housing, crime and homelessness.
in the early 19th century, the Greenlaw-Manassas area
was once an active neighborhood with churches, businesses,
retail stores and a variety of houses, from mansions
to shot-gun style.
Empowering residents with the knowledge and tools to be
self-sufficient is the goal of the Academy of Community Building,
a new collaborative outreach program in the Greenlaw-Manassas
area of North Memphis. Through this effort, The U of M is
extending a hand to this once-thriving but now struggling
community with contemporary revitalization plans. U of M students
are stepping out of the classroom and working in this neighborhood
to evaluate public housing.
"Memphis is a living laboratory because there are so many
revitalization efforts," says Michelle Owens, a U of M graduate
assistant working with the project. "These are excellent learning
opportunities for students. You can read about urban revitalization
and watch the videos, but to actually be in the middle of
it and make an impact is invaluable."
U of M students will be directly involved in helping to achieve
the goals of the project. Students will work in the Greenlaw-Manassas
area to design the framework that will replace public housing
and then examine critically how to rebuild the neighborhood.
"We think that there is an important agenda here," says Dr.
Stan Hyland, director of the University's School of Urban
Affairs and Public Policy. "At the top of the list is connecting
the University to the community. The University can make the
city and the region a better place to live. So hopefully the
Greenlaw-Manassas area will be a better place to live. If
knowledge can make a difference, we're going to test that.
We're going to show that it can make a difference."
The revitalization of one of Memphis' oldest neighborhoods
is a collaborative effort between The U of M, St. Jude Children's
Research Hospital, the city of Memphis, Lauderdale-Greenlaw
LLC and Uptown Residents. It is unique because residents have
a voice in the rebuilding while students are able to test
their knowledge of community building. The University was
awarded a $150,000 grant from the Community Outreach Partnership
Centers Program to help create a Neighborhood Information
System so residents can be involved in the redevelopment initiative.
The Greenlaw-Manassas neighborhood was founded in 1819 and
was once an area of growth and prosperity as the first subdivision
outside the original city limits. But beginning in the 1960s,
poverty, crime and a lack of development sent the area into
a downward spiral of decay.
The University is planning for the Academy of Community Building
to be operational by this spring. The Academy begin with a
full-time staff member, student participation, faculty involvement
and 10 computers donated by the University. It will be housed
in the old Oates Funeral Home building on Auction Avenue.
1984, the Greenlaw Historic District was established to
protect the neighborhood's historic structures. After
failed attempts at renovation, several historic houses
have been left for rot.
Plans for the Academy developed from the HOPE VI (Housing
Opportunities for People Everywhere) project to replace the
deteriorating Hurt Village housing projects in the Greenlaw-Manassas
neighborhood with mixed income housing. According to HOPE
VI goals from HUD, encouraging working families and people
with mixed incomes to move into the neighborhood will benefit
the area by reducing concentrations of poverty. Other goals
include providing support services, establishing high standards
of personal and community responsibility and creating community
The Academy will consist of three important components,
including a Neighborhood Information System that will track
physical changes and the overall impact of the project through
computer mapping. A Community of Scholars program will encourage
learning and development through tutoring, mentoring and computer
training. The third component will link the project to a city-wide
community-building effort involving LeMoyne-Owen College,
MIFA and the Memphis Community Development Partnership.
The challenge of the Academy is building different knowledge
bases. Graduate and undergraduate anthropology students will
be working with residents to capture and understand their
needs and concerns. "The community, the neighborhood people,
the public housing residents-they have knowledge and it is
very important to understand it," Hyland explains. "Knowledge
isn't something that is just out here at the universities-it
takes different forms."
The Academy of Community Building grew out of a collaborative
effort between the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy
(SUAPP) and the Center for Urban Research and Extension (CURE).
SUAPP is part of the College of Arts and Sciences and was
created through a reorganization of existing departments.
The academic majors that make up the school include city and
regional planning, criminology and criminal justice, health
administration, public administration and social work. The
collaborative focus of the school is to provide students with
an interdisciplinary approach. Each academic unit though will
continue to follow their current degree programs and maintain
their individual identities.
"This is the arts and sciences way to create a knowledge
base that is interacting with the city and region," Hyland
says. "The school is the mechanism for innovation for enacting
new programs that will enrich students' interests, such as
neighborhood revitalization or public policy. This is where
you would get your feet wet; this is where the action is."
that might have once led to a family's home now go
no further than this neglected lot.
SUAPP is closely linked to CURE, which addresses the University's
urban outreach mission by facilitating research and outreach
through university and community partnerships. CURE focuses
on community issues at the University-wide level while SUAPP
consists of degree programs, students, faculty and courses.
"We see this as having two tools instead of one," says Dr.
David Cox, director of CURE. "The purpose of CURE is to try
to facilitate resources from across the whole campus, from
across all the colleges and bring them together collaboratively
and to engage them with the community. So one builds on the
In order to create a real connection with the community,
students and faculty have to approach issues and problems
as a team, says Hyland. "That is why you have a school and
that is why you have CURE. It is the recognition that it is
the team of resources, the team of talents that will have
a sustainable impact as opposed to the individual," he explains.
The goal of the program is not to devise quick fixes for
complex issues but to understand the components necessary
for long-term solutions. The philosophy of the school concentrates
on step-by-step building, working from the bottom up.
The revitalization of the Greenlaw-Manassas area is just
one example of the partnership between CURE and SUAPP. "Public
housing is such a complex problem that you need this real
accumulation of people to do something," Hyland says. "Public
housing is really a part of neighborhood revitalization; neighborhood
revitalization is part of city revitalization. You begin to
see the linkages that create this much bigger picture."
Hyland hopes the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy
will attract resources and funding to the University and allow
students to continue to expand their knowledge through urban
outreach efforts like the Greenlaw-Manassas revitalization.
"We do want to have new resources that enable our best and
brightest to continue to work on challenging problems, challenging
opportunities," he says.