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Building blocks
by Sara Hoover

University of Memphis researchers and students target neighborhoods for their latest community-based initiatives.

Building Blocks

Five projects throughout Memphis are changing the face of several neighborhoods with the help of U of M faculty and students.

The Strengthening Communities Initiative is a collaborative effort between the U of M, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis and the United Way of the Mid-South. The goal is to bring together University faculty and students with nonprofit community organizations to help solve issues such as safety, housing, education and beautification.

“Our students will become the leaders in the nonprofit community and in our neighborhoods,” says Dr. Stan Hyland, head of the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Memphis. “Bringing in students and faculty members from across the campus allows us to become a University that is more engaged in our communities.”

The five neighborhood-based projects were selected out of 27 submissions. Each project team includes one full-time University of Memphis faculty member. Projects began in May and must be completed within 18 months.

The Community Foundation and United Way each awarded $40,000 for the grants while the University contributed $25,000. With $76,980 being set aside for these five projects, the remaining funds will be dispersed to smaller neighborhood projects.

“We are very pleased to be a part of this important initiative,” says Robert M. Fockler, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. “Neighborhood organizations need more than money to help them fix problems. This collaboration puts faculty and students in the loop to assess where and how the grant dollars can do the most good.”

Middle School Math and Science Program
(Uptown neighborhood: $18,000)

Michael Hagge, associate professor of architecture in the College of Communication and Fine Arts, is working with BRIDGES Inc. to create a math and science curriculum that will teach kids about environmentally sound building design.

“Community engagement is very important to us,” says Hagge. “We all have a responsibility to serve humankind and to give things back to the community.”
Adds Kate Bidwell, a U of M architecture graduate student, “We will bring in our knowledge of green building design and how it all actually works in the real world to create a fully well-rounded curriculum for the schools to figure out how can this be implemented and what type of green building aspects are the most necessary so children have a basic understanding.”

Students will learn about green building design in school and on a field trip to the BRIDGES Center. The BRIDGES building is itself an example of green design. BRIDGES is a Memphis-based non-profit that provides experiential hands-on learning for youths and adults to be leaders in communities.

The first phase of the partnership was in the spring when a U of M class produced 14 interpretive panels that explain the different green features of the BRIDGES Center and will be installed throughout. Students created the text and design of each.

The second phase is the creation of the actual in-school curriculum the middle school students will learn and the third phase is experiential field trips to the BRIDGES Center where students put what they’ve learned to good use.

Professor of architecture Michael Hagge and students
U of M associate professor of architecture Michael Hagge and graduate student Kate Bidwell (right rear) work with a graduate class to develop a math and science curriculum for 7th graders that teaches environmentally sound building design.
One of Hagge’s classes will design pieces of the curriculum and the hands-on activities that will be part of the field trips. The curriculum will be piloted in three area schools: Humes, Vance and Bellevue Middle Schools.

The curriculum will improve mastery in math and science in regards to State Performance Indicators. The pilot round will be 7th grade only.

The curriculum will be two weeks during December and set up with learning challenges, including a student green-building expert checklist. The goal is for each class to come on the field trip, but every student has to master each of the components.

The final phase is a field trip after the curriculum is completed. Students will tour the BRIDGES Center and the interpretative panels. Education stations go along with each panel and include a hands-on activity.

Another part of the field trip includes bringing two diverse classes together. Students from different schools will work as a team to build a model of a sustainable school. Hagge’s classes will build the pieces the students will select from to make their model.

At the end of the field trip, students will be given their own leadership challenge. They will be charged with creating a school policy around energy efficiency. Students will assess their own school and create a procedure such as turning every computer off at the end of the school day and quantify the amount of energy that is going to save.

“The project will inspire leadership and sustainability and taking what the students learn in the classroom and teaching them in a very hands-on way how to put those things into tangible action steps they can do in their own life,” says Mollie Merry, program coordinator for BRIDGES “Ordinary to Extraordinary: Learning & Leading Green.”

BRIDGES hopes to get other schools on board when they repeat the project in May.

Oral History Project
(Beltline neighborhood: $18,000)

The U of M conducted an oral history project with Beltline neighborhood residents to preserve and honor their past.

The youth in this program led all aspects of their individual projects, from the development of oral history interview questions to film editing and production. The result was “Life in the Beltline,” a series of six, youth-directed and produced 10-12 minute films about the Beltline community.

The project, which started in June, is a partnership between the Beltline Neighborhood Association, Jacob’s Ladder Community Development Corporation, and the University of Memphis.

“We train the kids on interviewing techniques, how to edit video footage and put together the DVDs,” Keri Brondo, assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, says of the University’s role.

Six kids ages 11 to 17 participated.

Youth participants were paid a stipend. The funds were also used to purchase five cameras and other equipment.

The idea began last fall when Brondo’s classes did service-learning, including a video ethnography, in the Beltline neighborhood which is bounded by Central, Southern, Hollywood and Goodwyn streets.

Sharon Stone, president of the Beltline Neighborhood Association, suggested capturing oral histories. Stone acted as community liaison by explaining the project to residents and selecting long-time community members for the interviews.

“We want the children and people here to know the basis for how this community was started, the type of people who lived in the community because in the next five years, there’s going to be a drastic change,” Stone says, referring to the fairgrounds redevelopment that will affect the neighborhood. Part of the interviews focused specifically on the fairgrounds and that component will be made into a separate DVD for the Beltline community to have a voice in the fairgrounds redevelopment process.

The training included bringing in speakers to talk about how to use the equipment, but also interview etiquette.

The curriculum was developed by Andrew Mrkva, a graduate student in anthropology at the University, who trained the youth and instructed them throughout the project.

“We talked about how to make up storyboards and turn an interview into a story,” says Mrkva.

Aside from teaching kids about their neighborhood and digital media skills, the larger goal is to use these oral history videos, along with photos, and other cultural and historical archives, to build a Beltline Cultural Heritage Collection. The hope is the collection will be housed in a future Beltline museum, possibly produced by renovating an abandoned house.

Oral history Project
Top: Beltline youth interview Elma Pettis for an oral history project to preserve the neighborhood’s legacy. Keri Brondo and Sharon Stone (center), assist. Bottom: A civil engineering student conducts a walkability survey with a resident in the Rozelle-Annesdale neighborhood aimed at improving sidewalks and streets.
Walkability and Safe Routes to School
(Rozelle-Annesdale neighborhood: $16,600)

Dr. Stephanie S. Ivey, an assistant professor of civil engineering in the Herff College of Engineering , has teamed up with the Pigeon Roost Neighborhood Association to identify and improve the streets and sidewalks of the Rozelle-Annesdale neighborhood.

“What we’re trying to do is develop a transportation improvement plan with a series of recommendations,” says Ivey.

The idea is to make the neighborhood more walkable, so kids can ride their bikes and roller skate on the sidewalks and adults have paved, safe paths throughout the community.
Ivey will come up with the overall transportation plan. Stoy Bailey, president of the neighborhood association, informs the neighborhood through newsletters and coordinates the volunteers.

Several U of M undergraduate and graduate civil engineering students teamed up with neighborhood volunteers to distribute flyers to all the residents informing them of the project and to see if residents wanted to be involved. The students also conducted surveys to find out what residents perceive as the biggest issues in terms of transportation and pedestrian safety.

The project is developing a neighborhood Web site, which is published and updated by the U of M students.

“We’re hoping to get somebody involved from the community that will take over so it will be a sustained effort to keep their community focused and on target,” says Ivey.

The students have also done field work, including traffic counts through visual surveys and traffic counters. This information will be used to evaluate the need for traffic calming and signage.

Local high school students have conducted sidewalk surveys by taking pictures of different sections. The neighborhood has also identified walkability corridors where they want people to walk, like routes to schools or to parks.

“The main thing beyond the traffic part is to get more people in the neighborhood working together as a community and having a sense of community. We want them to recognize what could be if they got behind some of these things,” says Ivey.

With the grant funding, the project was able to pay the students and to purchase equipment like traffic counters and road tubes.

Gil Stovall and family
Top: As part of a mural project aimed at the University District, a graphic design student carefully paints at the corner of Southern and Highland Avenues. Bottom: The University Neighborhood District Corporation has partnered with the U of M art department to create several murals that will be collaborative between art students and neighborhood residents.
Mural Project
(University District: $17,980)

The University Neighborhood Develop-ment Corporation (UNDC) teamed with the College of Communication and Fine Arts’ Department of Art to create several public art projects that will include community residents and young people in the design and implementation.

“I kept hearing there was a need for some high profile visual messages and symbols that represent the change that is going on around us and the revitalization,” says U of M alumnus Steve Barlow, executive director of the UNDC.

Barlow and Cedar Nordbye, U of M assistant professor of art, went to several community meetings to let the community know about the planned project and find participants for the steering and review committee.

The first phase was to get people thinking about the project through various community meetings and temporary artwork. Barlow’s vision for the project is that the design concepts come from the community.

“I wanted the artist to be the tool of the community expressing itself. The role of artist as the brush of the community and channeling the neighborhood’s needs,” says Barlow.

After getting input from business leaders, neighborhood residents and the University, Nordbye has already completed a temporary mural and two billboards that reflected the ideas from the community meetings to generate excitement about the permanent projects. Two neighborhood residents helped complete those projects in the Highland and Southern Avenue areas. The temporary art is intended to inspire questions and thoughts.

“The community will have a say in the design. We will broadly collect input and Cedar will convey that message (in the artwork). They will critique what we’ve done so far and identify sites,” says Barlow.

More permanent murals will come out of what the community wants. One of Nordbye’s fall classes will come up with the concepts for public art projects by interviewing residents and going to community meetings. They will submit their art proposals that were created with community members and five of the proposals will be funded.

Another part of the project will be children’s art workshops offered in the spring. Eight to 10 Saturdays will be dedicated to teaching students in art education how to teach kids art. Immediately following, the art education students will lead free workshops for parents and kids.

Abandoned Housing Study
(Frayser Rugby neighborhood: $6,400)

Gene Pearson, U of M professor emeritus of city and regional planning, is embarking on a study with the Frayser Community Development Corporation (CDC) that is seeking to improve the housing values of the neighborhood.

The Frayser CDC is a nonprofit housing developer which provides foreclosure counseling and home-buyer education.

“The real estate market is in tremendous crisis everywhere, but particularly in Frayser. There are a lot of empty houses and housing values have plummeted,” says Steve Lockwood, executive director of the Frayser CDC.

The housing market caused the CDC to take a drastic step — a rental program. Although the CDC’s focus is homeownership, they wanted to address the empty houses.
“We either leave them empty, let landlords pick them up who are often not our favorite people, or we have to get them,” says Lockwood.

Since Frayser is large, the CDC chose Rugby, a historic neighborhood and gateway to Frayser.

“The housing stock is pretty degraded, but it’s beautiful — meaning it’s rolling in green,” says Lockwood.

The plan is to buy 60 rental properties, fix and rent them, then see if it will drive housing values up.

“People have already lost an awful lot of value and often times it’s more than the house is worth,” says Lockwood.

Besides lowering the density of abandoned houses, the CDC will also provide the renters with ongoing credit counseling and financial education to help improve their financial status and hopefully encourage them to become homeowners.

The purpose of the study is to collect data and help the CDC look intensely at and identify the worst stuff. The funding has supported U of M graduate student Zach Schauffler to do data collection.

Lockwood is hoping to cross reference the data and find out which ones aren’t owner occupied.

“There may well be that some problematic investors will reveal themselves. If we find that some guy owns 12 houses, all of which are empty, we’ll make a particular effort to go after those properties. You don’t know about them until you study,” says Lockwood.

Gene Pearson is a master planner and his role along with one of his classes is to take all of the information on the houses and ownership patterns and build a business plan telling the CDC how and where to buy houses.

“There are more expensive houses that are easier to get into and up and running and rented, but there are more dilapidated houses that would have a more advantageous effect,” says Lockwood.

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